SC Business Review Interviews Les Detterbeck: “Consider Alternatives!”

Press Release:  Tomorrow morning, May 23, at 7:50 a.m. ET on NPR/WSCI Radio (89.3) Mike Switzer will conduct his SC Business Review.  I will be his guest. The 6 minute segment was taped three weeks ago. The topic is “Liquid Alternatives.”  Please tune-in if you can.

Mike Switzer:  Hello and welcome to SC Business Review.  This is Mike Switzer.  As stocks continue their long-term upward trend, many are concerned about what will happen to their portfolios when the bull market ends.  Today, we are talking with Les Detterbeck, a wealth manager with Detterbeck Wealth Management.  Les is one of the few professionals in the country who has attained a CPA certificate, is a CFA charter holder and a Certified Financial Planner professional.  Welcome, Les.

Les Detterbeck:  Good morning, Mike.  It’s a pleasure to be with you this morning.

MS:  Les, the markets keep going up.  What happens when the bull market ends?

LD:  Mike, of course, no one can predict the future.  We will have a pullback, correction or crash sometime in the future. We just don’t when and how much.  Right now, we’re in the midst of the second longest bull market in history- 8 yrs and counting.  There is still optimism about tax reform, deregulation and infrastructure additions boosting the economy and the markets.

MS:  Yes, Les, but what are some of the concerns?

LD:  Mike, there’s been a recent ramping up of potential global conflicts, there is significant political risk both here and abroad, and stock valuations are at an elevated level, just to name some of the major ones.

Let’s remember what happened in 2008 when the financial crisis turned a bull market to a bear.  Equities were down 40-50%.  Most investors lost a major part of their portfolio.  However, prepared investors stayed invested and only lost 5-8%.  And, they didn’t have to climb out of a big hole when markets reversed in March 2009.  Many of these investors who did well owe their results to alternative investments, designed to participate in up markets and protect in down markets.

MS:  Les, what do you mean by an alternative?

LD:  Basically, these are not traditional equity or fixed income investments.  Alternatives provide diversification and therefore reduce risk and volatility.  They are not correlated to the equity market and therefore can provide a return even when stocks are not doing well.  For those investors whose primary focus is protection and secondary is growth, alternatives are a great addition to a portfolio.

MS:  Could you give us some examples?

LD:  Certainly.  Gold and real estate are alternatives.  They are not part of the traditional asset class of equities or fixed income.  Other examples are non-traditional strategies, such as market-neutral funds, arbitrage funds, and managed futures funds.  All designed to perform in both up and down markets.  New alternatives come to the marketplace regularly.  Recently we have reviewed and added to our client portfolios alternative assets investing in the global reinsurance industry and online consumer lending.

MS:  Les, tell us why and how alternatives work?

LD:  First, they provide increased diversification.  We all have heard “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”  Second, lower correlation.  They don’t perform in lock step with stocks.  Harry Markowitz won a Nobel Prize by showing that combining assets which do not exhibit a high correlation with one another gives investors an opportunity to reduce risk without sacrificing return.  Studies, including those by the CFA, show that inclusion of at least 15% of alternatives can reduce the volatility and increase the returns of portfolios.  As a result, clients can get comfortable with their allocation and stay fully invested.  No need to try to time the markets-which is a loser’s game.

MS:  How did you get into alternatives and how are they used?

LD:  My son Brett and I started our business in 2000, the year of the dot.com bubble burst.  Stocks lost 15% and our clients did slightly better than that.  We didn’t take any solace in beating the S&P 500- our clients had lost money.  In 2001, the stock markets were again down and again, our clients lost money.  We realized we needed to find an answer- how do we protect our clients’ money and grow it as well?

We researched, reviewed and investigated everything we could find on alternatives. And, bought them ourselves so we could “test drive” them.  In early 2008, at a time somewhat like now, when valuations were high and there were concerns that the bull market might be ending, we knew it was time to prepare our clients for the end of the bull market.

We compiled and issued a report to them in January 2008 entitled “The Bubble Bust” which outlined our concerns about the coming end of the bull market and how alternatives could protect their portfolio.  We met with our clients and, in general, reduced equity allocations and substituted alternatives.  When the crisis came that fall, our clients were prepared.  Their overall portfolio losses were minimized.   Today, virtually all of our clients use three assets classes; equities, fixed income and alternatives.  Asset allocations vary by client and alternatives compose 15%-40% of a typical client portfolio.

MS:  Any final thoughts, Les?

LD:  If your focus is on protecting and growing your portfolio, consider adding liquid alternatives; designed to participate in up markets and protect in down markets.  In times like this, they can really reduce risk, increase returns and provide great peace of mind.

MS:  Les, thank you so much for visiting us today.  We hope you will join us again.

LD:  Mike, I will look forward to that.

Ask DWM: “Please Explain how Investment Returns are Calculated”

Excellent question from a valued client and an extremely important one.  You need to know how your investments are performing.  Are you on track to meet your goals?  Are any changes needed?

To start, focus on your “total return.” In simplest terms, this is the total increase in your portfolio for the period. Let’s say you had $100,000 in one account at the beginning of the year and you didn’t add money or subtract any money during the year. At the end of the year, this account has grown to $111,820.  Your total return is $11,820 ($111,820 ending value minus $100,000 beginning value).  This is an 11.82% total return ($11,820 divided by $100,000).

Next, let’s drill down a little further.   The total return is composed primarily of two parts; the change in market value during the period plus dividends and/or interest earned.  Let’s assume, for simplicity sake, that this $100,000 portfolio only had one investment on January 1, 2016 and it was invested entirely in the Schwab S&P 500 Index Fund (SWPPX).  Those shares were valued at $31.56 per share at the beginning of that year- 3,168 shares with a total value of $100,000 (3,168 times $31.56).   Here is what actually happened with those shares in 2016:  Their value went up to $34.42. The $2.86 per share increase ($34.42-$31.56) amounted to a $9,062 increase in value.  And, in December, dividends were paid totaling 87 cents per share, a total of $2,758.  So, the account increased by a total of $11,820, of which there was a $9,062 price increase (9.1%) and a $2,758 (2.7%) dividend return.  Overall, an 11.82% total return for 2016.

Dividends and interest are the income received for holding the security and are called the “yield.”   Some investors focus on a high yield and ignore the potential impact of market increases or decreases.  We believe that is a mistake.  Historically, there are times, such as periods of low inflation, when dividend-paying stocks have outperformed.   And, there are times, such as the 1990s, when tech stocks with limited earnings and no dividends outpaced dividend payers by nearly 5% per annum.  Focus on total return (and, of course, diversification).

Now, let’s look at the situation where money is added or subtracted from the investment portfolio during the year.  When this happens, the performance results are generally calculated and shown as “time-weighted returns” which eliminates the impact of money coming in or going out and focuses on daily returns. Our DWM/Orion reporting system calculates the daily return for each holding and multiplies the daily returns geometrically to determine the time-weighted return.

The DWM/Orion reports show gross total returns for all holdings and asset classes and deduct management fees in calculating the time-weighted return.  Furthermore, reports covering a period of less than a year are not annualized.  For example, if the time-weighted return for the first three months is 2%, the report shows 2% and does not annualize that number (assuming the next three quarters will be similar results) and show an 8% annualized return.  However, on reports covering a period of more than one year, the overall results are reduced to annual amounts.  For example, if a performance report covering a three-year period shows a time-weighted return of 6%, then the overall return for that total period is approximately 18%.

The CFA Institute, the global association of vetted investment professionals, including Brett and me, which sets the standard for professional excellence and integrity identifies clear, trustworthy investment reporting as the most valuable tool for communicating investment information.  Early on, we at DWM determined that we and our clients needed a robust reporting system to calculate, help monitor and report on your investments.  Schwab as custodian provides regular statements for each account showing balances and activity during a given period. However, the statements don’t show performance vs. benchmarks on a percentage basis.  It also only shows one account at a time. Our DWM/Orion reporting system can show you performance at various levels: asset, asset class, account and household for a more complete, holistic review.

In today’s world, when there is so much data and so much news and much is either fake or biased, it’s important to know that your investment returns with DWM are calculated in an objective basis and compared to benchmarks for any time period.  This allows proper monitoring and facilitates modifications, when needed.

Thanks again for the question and let us know if there are any follow-up questions.

Let’s Make Taxes Simpler and Fairer!

Last Wednesday, President Trump’s one-page Tax Reform Proposal was released.  We expect the Administration will soon discover that Tax Reform is similar to Health Care Reform.  President Trump’s February 27th “epiphany” concerning Obamacare was expressed this way:  “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.”

Tax Reform isn’t simple either.  The last major Tax Reform was in 1986 and it took years of bipartisan effort to get it done.  In 1983, Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Bill Bradley of NJ introduced a tax reform bill to cut rates and close loopholes.  The proposal was predictably attacked by special interest groups and didn’t gain much traction.

In 1985, President Reagan met with a bipartisan group of senators to push forward revenue-neutral tax reform. Four key principles were established:

  • Equity, so that equal incomes paid equal taxes
  • Efficiency, to let the market allocate resources more freely
  • Simplicity, to reduce loopholes, and
  • Fairness, to ensure those who have more income pay more tax

Dan Rostenkowski, Democratic chairman of the House Ways and Means committee and Bob Packwood, Republican chairman of the Senate Finance Committee were tasked with getting the bill passed.  It wasn’t easy.  Ultimately, many loopholes and “tax shelters” were eliminated, labor and capital were taxed at the same rate, low-income Americans got a big tax cut, corporations were treated more equally, and the wealthy ended up paying a higher share of the total income tax revenue.  In the end, the bipartisan 1986 Tax Reform Act, according to Bill Bradley, “upheld the general interest over the special interests, showing that clear principles, legislative skill and persistence could change a fundamentally unfair system.”

The current Tax Reform proposal is, of course, only an opening wish list, but it has a long way to go.  The current proposal would basically give the richest Americans a huge tax break and increase the federal debt by an estimated $3 trillion to $7 trillion over the next decade.  As an example, it would eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax, which would have saved Donald Trump $31 million in tax on his 2005 income tax return (the only one Americans have seen). Furthermore, there’s lots of work to be done on corporate/business rates, currently proposed to be revised to 15% (from a current top rate of 40%).  Workers of all kinds would want to become LLCs and pay 15%.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the time of presenting the proposal last week stated that the Administration believes the proposal is “revenue-neutral.”  The idea is that tax cuts will produce more jobs and economic growth and therefore produce more tax revenue.  We’d heard estimates that real GDP, which was .7% on an annual basis in 1Q17 and 2% for the last number of years, would grow to 3-5% under the current tax proposal.  However, there is no empirical evidence to show that tax cuts cause growth and, in fact, can result in severe economic problems.  The latest disastrous example was the state of Kansas.  The huge tax cuts championed by Governor Sam Brownback in 2012 haven’t worked.  Kansas has been mired in a perpetual budget crisis since the package was passed, forcing reduced spending in areas such as education and resulting in the downgrading of Kansas’ credit rating.

Furthermore, we’ve got some additional issues that weren’t there for President Reagan and the others in 1986.  First, our current federal debt level is 80% of GDP.  It was only 25% in 1986.  Adding another 25% or 30% of debt, to what we have now, could be a real tipping point for American economic stability going forward. Second, the demographics are so much different.  Thirty years ago, the baby boomers were in their 30s and entering their peak consuming and earning years.

Tax Reform is needed and can be done.  It’s going to take a lot of work and bipartisan support.  It was great to see Congressional leaders reach a bipartisan agreement on Sunday to fund the government through September, without sharp cuts to domestic programs, an increase in funding for medical research, and not a penny for Trump’s border wall.  On Monday, Republican Charlie Dent (PA) and Democrat Jim Hines (CT) put together a great op-ed in the Washington Post calling for compromise and cooperation.  It concluded:  “Ideological purity is a recipe for continued bitterness. …Failure to seek commonality or accept incremental progress will threaten more than our congressional seats and reputations.  It puts our systems of government at risk.  We owe it to our country to do better.”

Hear! Hear!  Yes, let’s make the tax system fairer.  Let’s do tax reform correctly- the way they did it in 1986- putting our country’s interests ahead of personal or special interests.

Digital Legacy

With all of the various accounts, passwords and files that make up our digital identity today, it is easy to see why organization of this information is essential. While this is a subject that many do not like to discuss, it brings up the interesting concept of digital legacy and how important it is to maintain and preserve your digital identity in the event of incapacity or death.  

It is becoming a more and more common practice for financial advisors, including DWM, as well as estate planning attorneys, to advise their clients on a plan to preserve their digital legacy. According to a survey conducted by NAPFA, two-thirds of NAPFA members said that they do in fact advise their clients on digital legacy.

As part of our DWM “Total Wealth Management” process, we provide our clients with an “Estate Flow.”  This has three parts. First, a concise and easy to read recap of all of their estate documents to make it easier to review so that they can assess whether their documents outline their current wishes or if changes need to be made.  Second, a review of titling and beneficiary designations, to make sure the disposition of the estate is as desired and its administration is as hassle-free as possible.  And, third, our recommendations. We have recently added a review of our clients’ digital legacy as part of this process.

It is vital that all information is stored in one designated place to ensure that your entire estate is transitioned smoothly and easily.    There are many applications and services that can help you store passwords to preserve digital legacy. Having a password manager for your passwords so that someone can log in to your accounts in the event of your incapacity or passing and take care of your digital assets is essential. Many cloud-based digital services will actually wipe your data after an account is closed, so it is imperative that your loved ones have a way to access this information before that occurs. Some of the more useful password tools that enable the user to assign heirs include PasswordBox and Zoho Vault.

Aside from password protection, there are other steps individuals can take to ensure their digital legacy is properly handled, such as the introduction of “digital heirs.” As digital legacies begin to become a common hindrance in postmortem estate processes, more companies, such as Google’s Gmail, are instituting ways to improve the flow of digital legacies. Through Gmail’s Inactive Account Manager, found in your account settings page, you can now specify what you would like to have done upon account inactivity. After three, six, nine, or twelve weeks, the user can choose to have his or her data automatically deleted or have a notification email sent to trusted contacts. By enabling a contact email to be sent, the user is allowing this contact to access his or her account, which may contain sensitive information, so it is important to choose this contact selectively. 

The bottom line is this: It is necessary to develop and implement a plan to preserve your digital legacy and ease the transition for your loved ones, making it as simple as possible for them to take care of your digital assets, including financial accounts.  Specifically, at DWM, we would recommend three key components:

  1. Take and record an inventory of all of your digital assets including your user names and passwords and store that information in a secure place.
  2. Work with your estate planning attorney to make sure that digital asset provisions are included in your estate documents. These provisions should allow your successor Trustees or executor/executrix the power to access, view, modify and make use of any electronic accounts including online financial accounts.
  3. Consider providing your successor trustee or executor/executrix now with information about your digital assets.

At DWM we believe your digital assets are a very important part of your legacy.  Getting things in order now can significantly help your loved ones in the future.

Computers and Technology- A Current Potpourri

Gary Kasparov

Gary Kasparov has always interested me.  Born in the Soviet Union, he was a world champion chess player from 1985-2005.  He has long been a vocal activist opposing Putin’s policies. Today Mr. Kasparov is the chairman of the Human Rights Foundation in NY.  But perhaps he is best remembered for what happened on May 11, 1997.  That day he “resigned” and became the first world chess champion to be beaten by a machine-IBM’s Deep Blue.

Newsweek’s cover article the next week called the match “The Brain’s Last Stand.”  As no surprise, Mr. Kasparov hated losing, but over the last twenty years, after learning more, he became convinced that we need to stop “seeing intelligent machines as our rivals.”  They are not a threat, but help provide great opportunities to extend our capabilities and improve our lives.

While most of us won’t face head-to-head competition with a computer the way Mr. Kasparov did, many Americans will be challenged, surpassed and replaced by automation.  Every profession will eventually feel the pressure and that’s what we should expect as humanity makes progress.  We shouldn’t fight it.  Here’s Mr. Kasparov’s analogy: “Waxing nostalgic about jobs lost to technology is little better than complaining that antibiotics put too many gravediggers out of work.”

The human vs. machine narrative was a major topic during the Industrial Revolution.  In the 60s and 70s, robots starting replacing union workers and then in the 80s and 90s the information revolution eliminated millions of jobs in the service and support industries.  There is no going back.

Learning to Think Like a Computer

President Obama’s “Computer Science for All” initiative was launched in 2016 and focuses on expanding computer science knowledge by learning how to code.  Kindergarten students are now learning using wooden blocks.  The blocks have bar codes with the instructions such as “forward,” “spin” and “shake” that are used to program robots.  By sequencing the blocks and having the robot scan in information, the children are directing the actions of the robot.  Studies show that after the kids have learned to program the robots, they become better at sequencing picture stories, or even listing the steps required to brush their teeth.

The job market is hungry for coders.  Since 2011, computer science majors have doubled. At Stanford, Tufts and Princeton, it’s the most popular major.  And, even non-majors are cramming into computer science classes.  Learning to think like a computer can help all of us in our daily lives. In addition, the digital age has brought us great access to information.

Steve Ballmer’s Treasure Chest of Real Data

You may remember Steve Ballmer as Bill Gates’s right hand man and CEO at Microsoft from 2000-2014. Or as the high bidder ($2 billion) of the LA Clippers basketball team in 2014.   A few years ago, he started a website, USAFacts.org designed to answer in detail the question:  “What does government do with all the money we taxpayers send it?”  He wanted to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.  The site, USAFacts.org, went live yesterday.

In an age of fake news and accusations about manipulating data to fit biases, Mr. Ballmer’s website is a welcome resource. Certainly, people can come to different opinions on the same subject, but shouldn’t they at least start with the same believable common data?  USAFacts.org was designed to do that.

There is lots of interesting data from 70 government sources.  Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets?  And what percentage of Americans suffer from depression? It’s there. Here’s a good one: how many people do you think work for government in the U.S.?  Remember, this includes those in education, the military, law enforcement, government hospitals, etc.  Answer: 24 million.  Take a look.  You’ll like it.

Think Like a 94-year Old

Lastly, many over the age of 70 think that they were born too late to be part of the computer/tech revolution.  Someone forgot to tell that to 94-year-old John Goodenough.  Mr. Goodenough’s team at the University of Texas has just filed a patent application for a new battery that would be so cheap, lightweight, and safe it would revolutionize electric cars and put an end to petroleum-fueled vehicles.  This is not Mr. Goodenough’s first major patent. In 1980, at age 57, he co-invented the tiny lithium-ion battery.

As a society, we often tend to assume creativity declines with age.  Yet, some people actually become more creative as they grow older.  In the U.S., the highest-value patents often come from inventors over the age of 55.  Mr. Goodenough figures it this way: “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to put ideas together.”  He also said that his old age gave him intellectual freedom.  At 94, he said, “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”

Conclusion

For those of us of all ages, computers and technology should be our friends, not our enemies.  With the information it provides and our continued learning and lifetime experiences, hopefully we will all benefit from the great digital age in which we live.  Here at DWM, we embrace technology and strive to make our processes as automated, robust and efficient as possible.  However, we recognize that some of the most important aspects of our work are accomplished through personal interactions with our clients and friends.  Don’t worry-we have no plans to have one of Deep Blue’s cousins doing that favorite part of our job for us.

Health Savings Accounts – Understanding the Benefits

Health care is a very hot topic in 2017.  The new administration made it their leading agenda item, though we have yet to see a plan agreeable to both sides of the aisle.  As Republicans contemplate how to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) with a good alternative, Health Savings Accounts or HSAs are expected to figure prominently.  President Trump has made the expansion of access to HSAs an important measure for his health-care plan and conservative proposals are using expanded eligibility and increased contribution limits as key elements in their plans.   We think it is a good time, therefore, to understand how these plans might fit into an overall health care and investment strategy.

Health care costs are rising and the costs and inflation associated with health care are a tremendous consideration for retirement planning.  There are varying estimates of costs for retirement health care –some estimates show that a 65 year old couple will need an average of $260,000 for 20 years of healthcare spending.  At DWM, we actually look at health care as a separate spending goal in our financial plans because of the higher inflation and importance of adequately preparing for these costs. 

Here is where an HSA may come in.  HSAs offer an opportunity to take advantage of triple tax benefits to pay for some of this cost.  HSA contributions can be deducted or paid pre-tax, there is tax-free compounding while in the account and no tax is paid on qualified withdrawals for health care.  It’s a trifecta of tax advantage!  After age 65, you can make withdrawals for any reason and pay regular income tax just like you would for an IRA, but there are no required minimum distributions.  However, using the funds for non-qualified expenses before you are 65 results in a stiff 20% penalty plus the normal taxes.

 Let’s look at how HSAs currently operate.  You are eligible to contribute to a Health Savings Account if you are part of a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and as long as you have not signed up for Medicare.  There is an annual contribution maximum and, for 2017, it is $3,400 for an individual and $6,750 for families.  A HDHP, in 2017, means your deductibles must be at least $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family with maximum out-of-pocket expense requirements of $6,550 for an individual or $13,100 for a family policy.  The lower premiums charged for this kind of coverage have attracted consumers and employers alike.  Given the ACA’s requirements that certain preventive screenings, annual visits or prescription drugs be covered regardless of deductibles, these policies are now more attractive and palatable to average health care consumers.  These plans are also becoming more popular as employers look for ways to manage their employee benefit costs. 

You can make withdrawals from the Health Savings Account for many traditional healthcare expenses and the qualified expenses can also include things that you normally pay for with after-tax dollars, like vision or dental care and supplies.  It might be a good way to pay for braces for your child or eye exams that might not be otherwise covered.  This might be one way to use HSAs – as a tax-free payment for the costs of the deductibles on the HDHP, as well as some additional medical expenses.  The other beneficial use is as an extra savings vehicle to be used in retirement for those future retirement health costs, including some of the long-term care costs that Medicare doesn’t pay. Also, the pre-tax contributions that you are allowed to make to these accounts can be in addition to your contribution maximums for other qualified accounts.  You can also, like IRAs at age 50, make $1,000 “catch-up” contributions to your HSA at age 55.  

There are some downsides to these accounts.  High deductible plans might not be the right choice for everyone; each individual or family will have to evaluate their situation carefully.  Also, the HSAs are not offered by every financial institution and the investment choices and administrative costs should be investigated before committing to one.  It also takes disciplined saving to make the most of the tax advantages. 

We do think there could be a place for these accounts in certain circumstances and, as the political negotiations continue to unfold, it is good to understand their pros and cons. We recognize the importance that health care costs play in preparing for financial independence.   As your holistic financial advocate, we would be glad to help you evaluate how a health savings account might fit into your overall plan to help you reach your goals.  

DWM 1Q17 Market Commentary

Did you know that after 146 years, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus is shutting down? No worries. It seems our friends in Washington are taking it over as it has been a circus-like atmosphere filled with noise for the last few months. Ironically, for the market, it’s been just the opposite, with 1Q17 going down on record as one of the “quietest” quarters in the last 30 years, as represented by the S&P500 posting an average daily move of just 0.32%. But even though the stock market was calm, that does not mean it didn’t produce. Because it did, with the three major asset classes – equities, fixed income, and alternatives – all up.

What’s interesting is that it was not a continuation of the “Trump trade” that has powered the recent advance. After the November election, shares of financials and smaller US stocks jumped based on hopes that looser regulations and tax cuts would benefit banks and more domestically oriented companies. However, so far the Trump administration has not lived up to the campaign hype. The failure of the Republicans’ health-care bill has led investors to question if this administration can push anything through, including any significant shift in U.S. trade policy. That has led to a sector rotation within the equity asset class. Things that were strong post-election like financials and small caps are being sold for US multinationals, particularly those in the trade-sensitive technology sector, and emerging markets. This shows in the following results:

Equities: The MSCI AC World Equity Index had a great start to 2017, up 6.9%. Domestic large cap stocks as represented by the S&P500 came in at a solid 6.1% as large caps dominated small caps*, up only 2.5%. The big winner was emerging markets**, up 11.5%.

Fixed Income: The Fed lifted rates during the first quarter based upon promising US economic forecasts. The personal consumption expenditures price index, which is the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, ticked in at over 2% for the first time in over five years. It wasn’t too long ago that people were worried about deflation, so this achievement is very good news. The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index gained 0.8% in the first quarter. The Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index enjoyed slightly better returns, +1.8%, thanks to stronger results overseas. Again, emerging markets was the place to be, up 4.2% as represented by the PowerShares Global Emerging Mkts Sovereign Debt ETF.

Alternatives:  The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index was just above break-even, +0.1%.  The handful of liquid alternatives (which could be an alternative asset or strategy) that DWM follows fared better. Alternative assets like gold*** surged 8.4% and MLPs**** advanced 2.6%. An alternative strategy like the RiverNorth DoubleLine Strategic Income Fund, which takes positions in the inefficient closed-end space, registered a 1.4% return. The only real losing alternative category we follow were managed futures funds (an example of alternative strategy), like the AQR Managed Futures Fund which lost 1.0%. These funds struggled from the rotation change mentioned above. It should be noted that these type of funds exhibit extremely low correlation to other assets and can provide huge protection in down times.

Put it together and it was a very handsome start to 2017 for most balanced investors.

Looking forward, we are encouraged as we believe economic growth will continue to advance not only in the US but also globally. Consumer and business owner sentiment is very strong. American factory activity has expanded significantly in recent months.

Concerns include:

  • Elevated US equity valuations: Current valuations of 29x cyclically-adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) are much higher than the long-term average of 18x. This doesn’t necessarily mean a huge pullback is in front of us, but it could be pointing to a much more muted return profile. Frankly, we would view a small pullback as a healthy development.
  • Pace of Fed rate hikes: We think the Fed has done a decent job handling and communicating rate changes. They need to continue this practice and avoid further acceleration to avoid making investors nervous.
  • The return of volatility: After the record “calmness” mentioned above, volatility most certainly will rise. Hopefully, it advances in a manageable fashion.
  • Heightened Political risk: 2016 was full of political surprises and more are possible in 2017 given the rise in populism and the heavy global calendar. See below.

I’ve written a lot of these quarterly market commentaries and I cannot remember one so consumed with political policy. There’s a lot of uncertainly right now. But what is certain is that we live in some interesting times. Every day brings a new headline, and a lot of them are political. So far, the market has worked through it handsomely. Let’s hope our strong economic outlook continues to offset any ugliness coming out of the Barnum & Bailey Circus…err, I mean, Washington.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the Russell 2000 Index

**represented by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index

***represented by iShares Gold Trust

***represented by the ALPS Alerian MLP ETF

Your Choice- $1 Million or $5,000 per Month for Life?

Most of our readers will likely have to make that type of decision someday.  From our perspective, it’s a pretty easy answer.  As Cuba Gooding, Jr. famously told Tom Cruise in “Jerry Maguire”:  “Show me the money!!”

Yet, an article in the WSJ on Monday tried to make the decision sound really tough, with losers on both sides.  It would have you believe that many will suffer from either an “illusion of poverty” or an “illusion of wealth” and are likely going to experience a disappointing retirement.  Really?

Researcher Daniel Goodwin at Microsoft Research asked people how adequate they would feel if they have $1 million at the time they retired.  He used a seven-point system with one being “totally inadequate” and seven being “totally adequate.”  Then, he asked them to rate instead an income each month in retirement of $5,000.

In theory, the choices are similar based on pricing of annuities. If a 65 year old paid $1 million for a “single premium immediate annuity” they could receive payments of $5,000 each month for their life.  Actuarially, a 65 year-old is expected to live 18-20 years.  So, 19 years of monthly payments of $5,000 would be $1,140,000 and represent a 1.4% annual return on the investment.

Yet, believe it or not, many people, feel that $5,000 per month is more adequate than the $1 million lump sum.  Mr. Goldstein says that this group suffers from the “illusion of poverty.”  Apparently, these folks are “inclined to think about wealth in terms of monthly income” and don’t want the “burden” of a lump sum which could run out someday.  Hence, they dial down their expenses, eliminate any wants or wishes and make do on their $5,000 per month.

Mr. Goldstein then suggests that I and most people may suffer from the “illusion of wealth.”  He thinks that those selecting the lump sum, through a false sense of security, may spend too much and run out of money. In fact, the larger the lump sum, the more likely the “extra millions will lose their meaning.”  Really?  Do we all suffer from illusions, as Mr. Goldstein suggests?  Are we all on the road to an unsuccessful retirement regardless of our choices?  It certainly doesn’t have to be that way.

Perhaps I should contact Mr. Goldstein and invite him (and his wife) to go through the DWM Boot Camp.  First, we’d sit down and help them with their goal setting. We’d help them identify their needs, wants and wishes.  We’d look at their assets, health care costs, income taxes, expected inflation and investment returns, and insurance and estate matters.  Ultimately, we’d help them design a financial plan.

If Mr. Goldstein was under an “illusion of poverty,” we’d show him that his $5,000 per month program is a poor choice.  To begin with, his $5,000 per month would lose its purchasing power each month due to inflation.  With 3% inflation, after 15 years of retirement, his $5,000 would only buy $3,200 worth of goods in today’s dollars.  Second, if he did a “personal annuity” by simply taking the lump sum, investing it, earning 6%, e.g., and withdrawing the $5,000 per month, his family would still have the $1 million in principal when he passed away.  No need for an illusion of poverty here.

On the other hand, if Mr. Goldstein was under an “illusion of wealth”, the plan would help him identify his needs, wants and wishes and would have helped evaluate whether those potential expenses were affordable based upon his assets, expected investment returns and the other metrics.  We would have created numerous scenarios to ultimately result in a plan that was successful.  The plan would be stress tested for items that could negatively impact that plan and monitored and modified over time.  In short, the plan would not suffer from an illusion of poverty nor of wealth.

We’re glad contributors Shlomo Benartzi and Hal Hershfield ran the article Monday focusing on Mr. Goldstein’s findings. Retirement/financial independence planning is extremely important.   However, we don’t agree that it has to be a dire situation with poor choices, lots of suffering and disappointments.   It’s simple: take the lump sum and put together your realistic plan with a fee-only adviser like DWM and then have us help you monitor it for the changes that will undoubtedly occur in the future. You’ve worked hard for your money, the time will come to enjoy it. As Ginny’s blog http://www.dwmgmt.com/blogs/82-2017-02-07-23-30-00.html pointed out a few weeks ago, retirement/financial independence should be a time for “jubilation” not illusions or disappointments.  Proper planning with the right team can make that happen.

What’s Ahead for the Global Economy and Financial Markets?

Last week, the Federal Reserve raised rates- the third increase since the financial crisis.  Yet, despite world economic growth and the stock markets surging since President Trump’s election (until yesterday), the Fed is still cautious about the future.

The world economy has been picking up.  The Economist reported last week that “today, almost ten years after the most severe financial crisis since the Depression, a broad-based economic upswing is at last underway.”  This is a big change from the early months of 2016 when stocks were down 10% or more due in part to anxiety about China’s economy and related plunging raw material prices.  Fortunately, China, through controls and stimuli, turned things around and by the end of 2016, China’s nominal GDP was growing again.

At the same time, global manufacturing has gotten stronger.  Factories are much busier in the U.S., Europe and Asia.  Taiwan and South Korea are rocking.  Worldwide equipment spending is up; growing at an estimated annualized rate of 5.5% in 4Q16.  American companies, excluding farms, added 235,000 workers in February.  The European Commission’s economic-sentiment index is at its highest since 2011.  Japan, whose growth has been anemic, has revised their 2017 forecast from 1% to 1.4%.

The stock markets have, until yesterday, risen dramatically based on both current economic growth stats and expectations about the future.  With Mr. Trump’s election, there has been hope that taxes and regulations will be reduced which would help businesses and increase corporate profits.  Further, the expected return of $1 trillion of untaxed cash held overseas by American companies could be coming back (repatriated) at new low tax rates.  These funds could produce a big boom in business investment.  And, then add to this the possibility of a $1 trillion private-public infrastructure push for America. Mr. Trump has been talking about growth of 3.5-4%.  There’s been lots of optimism.

Yet, Fed officials forecast growth of only 2.1% this year; about where it has been for 8 years.  So, what’s their cause for relative skepticism?

The list of concerns includes fears about protectionism stifling trade, political disruption in Europe, China’s ability to sustain strong growth, and closer to home, whether or not the White House and Congress can work together to get legislation passed.  If the repeal of Obamacare gets sidetracked, there is concern that tax reform and infrastructure will endure the same fate.  And, of course, we haven’t even talked about a black swan- an unexpected event of large magnitude and consequence.  All bets are off in the case of major problems such as war, terrorism or some other major catastrophe.

We could be on the precipice of a new era with the cutting of taxes and regulations and a huge infrastructure boom creating a turbocharged economy.   Or, we could have a repeat of the many times in the past decade when optimism at the start of the year faded as the year progressed.  No one knows what the future holds.

Yesterday’s stock market declines of roughly 1% were, in large part, a concern about the ability of the White House and Congress to enact their legislative agenda, starting with the repeal of Obamacare.  People are nervous that if the health-care bill doesn’t pass or gets delayed, what will that mean for other policies.    Tax cuts could be delayed and even face a tougher fight in Congress.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had earlier thought that tax reform would pass Congress by August and now he is hoping for early next year.  And, infrastructure would come after that.

With all of that in mind, the Fed understandably is cautious and we at DWM are as well.

Why is Alphabet Soup Important to You?

When I first joined the Detterbeck Wealth Management team, I knew it would not be long until I started my designation pursuit. Three of the most respected designations in the financial services industry are the CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst), CPA (Certified Public Accountant), and the CFP® (Certified Financial Planner). Each of these designations are considered to be the best of the best in their niche. “The CFA designation is considered the gold standard among financial professionals worldwide (Finance Professional Post, New York Society of Security Analyst); meaning someone who holds this designation is a chartered professional when it comes to portfolio and investment management. If the CFA is considered the gold standard of finance, it is easy to see the CPA has the same importance with respect to accountancy. Where the CFA and CPA focus on portfolio management and accountancy/tax, respectively, the CFP® focuses on comprehensive financial planning as a whole.  Someone who holds a CFP® designation has proven competence in all areas of the financial planning process including: financial statement preparation and analysis, investment planning, income tax planning, education planning, risk management, retirement planning and estate planning. DWM founders, Brett and Les Detterbeck, understand the importance of continuing education and have set the bar high for the rest of the team. Brett holds his CFA, CFP®, and AIF; while Les holds his CPA/PFS, MBA, CFP®, CFA, and AIF®. They understand what it takes to become true financial planning experts and help pave the way for the rest of the DWM team.

The CFP® or CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ certification is the most respected financial credential for financial planners, financial firms, and those seeking the advice of a financial planner. Therefore, the CFP® is a designation new DWM team members set their sights to obtain, however, there are many other well respected designations in the industry as well. Rather than jumping right into the CFP®, the team and I decided to go after a different designation; one that is specific to our clients and is a great stepping stone to the CFP®. I decided to pursue becoming an Accredited Wealth Management AdvisorSM (AWMA®).

“The AWMA® professional education program is the nation’s original and most well-respected designation for providing financial advice to high net worth clients”. The coursework consists of roughly 2,000 pages of material, 25 hours’ worth of video sessions, and a 4 hour examination that must be taken within 6 months of signing up for the class. DWM team member Grant Maddox is also pursuing the AWMA® and will be sitting for his test later this month.

While the AWMA® is a great program and allows a individual to become specialized in working with high net worth clientele, it is not the only path to becoming a financial planning professional. For example, DWM team member Ginny Wilson took a different path by obtaining the CRPC® or Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠. The CRPC® is the nation’s premier retirement planning credential and someone who holds it is considered to have mastered every step of the retirement process and can create a “roadmap to retirement” for almost any client.

As the entire DWM team knows, it is a bit of an adjustment working during the day and studying at night/mornings/on the weekends, but most of the information is very interesting and gives us the knowledge to help clients on their path to financial freedom. I learn something new every time I sit down to study. While I find investment strategies to be the most interesting coursework topics, I probably benefitted the most from learning all of the different estate planning techniques, as I had zero experience with this aspect of financial planning prior to joining DWM. The most eye-opening part of this entire process is just how complicated financial planning can be. If someone does not have the correct asset allocation funded in the proper kind of account, proper estate planning, or doesn’t fully understand all of the different tax ramifications that can come with financial planning, etc., it is possible they could hamper or damage their plan. Planning for your money must be done thoroughly and correctly.  The entire DWM team has dedicated thousands of hours on continuing education, and we are still all learning every day. Working with an advisor who lacks the proper credentials could end up costing you money.

Even though I am still just starting my wealth management journey, I am thrilled I was able to obtain my first designation, AWMA®, two weeks ago. On top of that, I realize now more than ever how important it is to work with a firm like DWM because the alternative could mean working with someone who is not as qualified, thus, costing the client money, servicing and care.  Continuing education is a valued process at DWM and we recognize its importance to our clients. All designations require continuing education classes, seminars, etc., which we welcome as an opportunity to expand our knowledge and be in a position to provide even greater value to our clients.