Ah, winter…colder temps, snow (even in the Carolinas)…it’s a good time for the annual ski trip. But if there are words for caution when skiing, it’s always: “Don’t get too far out over your skis!” Something for investors to think about as we talk about how the markets fared in 2017 and where they might go in 2018.

Equities: “Fresh powder!” In concerted fashion around the globe, equities rallied in 2017, thanks to strong economic fundamentals and friendly central bankers. Almost like Goldilocks’s time, where the porridge is not too hot nor too cold, so is the pace of this economic expansion: fast enough to support corporate earnings growth, but slow enough to keep the Fed from putting the brakes on too quickly. This led to a magic carpet ride for equity investors, with returns of 5.1% for 4q17 & 18.3% YTD for the average diversified US stock fund* and a 4.1% fourth quarter return and a hearty 26.8% YTD for the average international stock fund*. “Gnarly!” Growth outperformed value, with a handful of tech stocks (Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Facebook) leading the way. But it should be noted that this won’t last forever. In fact, a 2016 study** showed that the average annual price return for growth stocks to be only 12.8% vs 17.0% for value stocks. Another reason to be diversified.

Fixed Income: It was also a positive time for bond investors, as evidenced by the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index gaining 0.4% in the fourth quarter and 3.5% for the year. The inclusion of global fixed income assets led to better results with the Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index registering +1.1% for 4Q17 and +7.4% YTD. Yields on the ten-year bond pretty much finished the year where they started, with investors content with the Fed’s pace of raising rates.

Alternatives: The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, was up 1.7% for 4q17 and 4.6% YTD. Two of the most well-known alternative exposures, gold and real estate, had solid showings for both the quarter and the full year. Gold***: +1.6% and 12.9%, respectively. Real Estate****: +3.5% and 7.8%, respectively.

2017 proved to be another rewarding year for the balanced investor. But how do the slopes look for 2018? Will it be another plush ride up the mountain again? Gondola, anyone?!?

Indeed the same items – low interest rates, low inflation, accelerating growth, strong earnings – that propelled the global economy in 2017 should remain in 2018. The risk of recession seems nowhere in sight. Furthermore, the Republican tax overhaul is also expected to be a boost, at least in the near-term. But not sure if that represents “eating tomorrow’s lunch”. Moreover, two key drivers of economic growth, productivity gains and labor force expansion, have been on the downtrend. So is now the time to be thinking about the “vertical drop”???

With the bull market in its ninth year, many areas of the stock market at record highs, and volatility near record lows, it can be easy to become not only complacent but overconfident. Now is not the time to get too far out over your skis and take on more than you can chew! At some point, the fresh powder will turn into slush. Don’t be a “hot dog” or a “wipe-out” may just be in your future.

At DWM, we see ourselves as ski instructors, helping our skiers traverse the green, blue, and even black diamond runs by keeping them disciplined to their long-term plan, including the allocation and risk profiles of their portfolios. Rebalancing, the act of selling over-weighted asset classes† and buying underweighted asset classes in a tax-conscious manner, is part of our ongoing process and prudent in times like these. There are few signs of financial excess like ten years ago, but the market can only be predictable in one fashion: that it’s always unpredictable.

In conclusion, may your 2018 be a ‘rad’ one, with fresh powder on the slopes and fireside smiles in the cabin. Don’t hesitate to contact us if you want to talk or ‘shred’ the nearest run.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

*according to Thomson Reuters Lipper

**study by Michael Hartnett of Merrill Lynch

***represented by the iShares Gold Trust

****represented by SPDR Dow Jones Global Real Estate

†versus your initial investment target

TAX REFORM: THIS YEAR’S CHRISTMAS GIFT OR A FUTURE CHRISTMAS COAL?

On top of the regular holiday season’s festivities, this year we’re watching the proposed “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” likely making its way to the President’s desk for signature. The “joint conference committee” announced yesterday that they have a “final deal” and Congress is scheduled to vote on this next week.  Before we review what we specifically know about the bill (not all details have been released as of this morning) and provide some recommendations concerning it, let’s step back and review it from a longer-term perspective.

Since last year’s election, stock markets have been on a tear- up over 20%, mostly driven by increased corporate profits, both here and abroad.  U.S. GDP is growing and unemployment is close to 4%.  Most economists believe that now is not the time for a tax cut, which could heat up an already expanding economy to produce some additional short-term growth and inflation. The Fed reported yesterday that the tax package should provide only modest upside, concentrated mostly in 2018 and have little impact on long-term growth, currently estimated at 1.8%.  So, tax cuts now will not only likely increase the federal deficit by $1.5-$2 trillion over the next decade, but will take away the possibility of using tax cuts in the future, needed to spur the economy when the next recession hits.  Certainly, we would all like lower ta

xes and even higher returns on our investments, but we’d prefer to see longer-term healthy economic growth with its benefits widely shared by all Americans and steady investment returns, rather than a boom-bust scenario and huge tax cuts primarily for the wealthy that may not increase long-term economic growth.

As of this morning, December 14th, here are the current major provisions:

Individual

  • Income Tax Rates.  The top tax rate will be cut from 39.6% to 37%.
  • Standard deduction and exemptions.  Double the standard deduction (to $24,000 for a married couple) and eliminate all exemptions ($4,050 each).
  • State and Local Income, Sales and Real Estate Taxes.  Limit the total deduction for these 

    to $10,000 per year.

  • Mortgage Interest.  The bill would limit the deduction to acquisition indebtedness up to $750,000.
  • Limitations on itemized deductions for those couples earning greater than $313,800.  Repeals this “Pease” limitation.
  • Roth recharacterizations.  No longer allowed.
  • Sale of principal residence exclusion.  Qualification changed from living there 2 of 5 years to five out of eight years.
  • Major items basically unchanged.  Capital gains/dividends tax rate, medical expense deductions, student loan interest deductions, charitable deductions, investment income tax of 3.8%, retirement savings incentives, Alternative Minimum Tax, carried interest deduction (though 3 yr. holding period required.)
  • Estate Taxes.  Double the estate tax exemption from $5.5 million per person to $11 million.

 

 

Business

  • Top C-Corporation Tax Rate.  Reduce to 21% from 35%.
  • Alternative Minimum Tax.  Eliminated.
  • Business Investments.  Immediate expensing for qualified property for next five years.
  • Interest Expense.  Limit on expense to 30% of business interest income plus 30% of adjusted EBITDA.  Full deduction for small businesses (defined as $25 million sales by House, $15 million by Senate).

Another key issue, the top rate on pass through organizations (such as partnerships and S Corps), is yet to be determined. However, it appears that a reduction of 20% to 23% will be available to pass-through income, subject to W-2 minimums and adjusted gross income maximums. This would produce an effective top rate of 29.6% on pass through income.

If all of that see

 

ms confusing, you’re not alone.  Lots of moving parts and lots of details still to be clarified. Even so, if the bill passes, you will have been smart to consider the following:

Recommendations:

1) Because the bill would limit deductions for local income, sales and real estate taxes, you should make sure that you have paid all state income tax payments before December 31, 2017. If you are not sure, pay a little extra.

2) Also, make sure you pay your 2017 real estate taxes in full before 12/31/17. Because Illinois real estate taxes are paid in “arrears” it will be necessary to obtain an estimated 2017 real estate tax bill (generally due in 2018) by g

 

oing to your county link and then paying this before 12/31/17.  Let us know if you need help on this.  In the Low country, while our CPA friends indicate that paying 2018 real estate taxes in 2017 should be deductible, as a practical matter, there appears to be no way to get an estimated tax bill for 2018 and prepay your 2018 real estate taxes in 2017.

3) Meet with us and/or your CPA in early 2018 to review the impact of the Act, assuming it becomes law, on your 2018 income tax planning. It will be important to review the various strategies that may be available to make sure you are paying the least amount of taxes. 

Yes, tax reform may be here before Christmas. Not sure what it will be: a wonderful gift for this year’s holiday or perhaps a lump of coal in our stockings for Christmases to come.  Stay tuned.