Indiana Jones and the Fountain of Wealth

With current markets swirling with questions of trade deals, recessions, inverted yield curves, and various other political and financial uncertainties, should we be fearing a near future “Temple of Doom” scenario like intrepid archaeologist Indiana Jones in the much acclaimed 1984 movie?!? Perhaps we can learn some tidbits of info – clues, per se – from Indy that can help us in our quest for our prized possession: financial serenity, wealth management’s version of the Holy Grail. While this ultimate goal may look a little different for each of us, and the journey this may be wildly different, some of the steps we take will likely be extremely similar, and the clues below, inspired by Indy, can provide some guidance as we take those steps!

Clue #1: Diversifying your arsenal, and your portfolio!

You’ve heard it before. In fact, diversification is a word that has been mentioned so many times in TV and movies that it’s become hard to think about investing without discussing how diversified one’s portfolio is. We’re here to tell you that this relationship makes sense! Various studies have shown over the years that having a well-diversified portfolio can significantly benefit investors in the long run.

Figure 1: Hypothetical Growth of $100,000 showing Diversified versus Undiversified Portfolio*

As shown in Figure 1, having a globally allocated, well-diversified portfolio made up of investments that have low correlation to one another, with pieces of each being from the equity, fixed income, and “nontraditional investments” (or alternatives), can help investors try to protect their assets during market downturns, and participate in market upswings. Much like Indy’s arsenal of guns, knives, and his famous whip protected him, using multiple asset class holdings with low correlations can protect investors’ portfolios from extreme danger.

Clue #2: Be Educated!

As a professor of archaeology at Marshall College, Indy’s extensive years of research have provided him a wealth of knowledge to work off of when he begins each search for ancient (and sometimes alien) artifacts. Despite this, he learns quite a bit along the way on his quests that leads to his success in discovering these items. Much like Indy, our pathways to financial health and peace often seem clouded in mystery, and are often filled with confusing directions and puzzles that can lead us astray from the path to our goals. These puzzles and directions, luckily, can be illuminated in most cases by educating one’s self in the complex and intricate business of finance! Whether it’s subjects of Arks, mysterious stones, or crystal skulls, a.k.a. topics of investments, insurance and taxes in finance terms, a little bit of knowledge can go a long way towards creating the ever important map to the desired goal! Blogs like these help our clients become educated and better prepared for the financial journey ahead!

Clue #3: A Little Help From Our Friends

No matter which adventure he’s on, Indy always has a crew of fellow explorers with him to help on his search. Each play their own integral role in supporting his journey as he brushes with Nazis, Russians, and Thuggee cults. In a similar manner, wealth managers like DWM can act as your “Short Round” (an ally) in your continual journey to financial serenity and success, helping guide you through the sometimes dark and perplexing pathways. Our expertise in these “ruins” of sorts can assist with dodging the pitfalls in your financial plans and portfolios.

With or without headlines coming out about recessions or inversions or trade deals or anything else, by following these three clues, and sticking to them for the long-term, an investor can create a stable pathway to success. Just as Indy never gives up on his quests, neither should we.  Our steps may alter in ways over our lives, from accumulating wealth, to protecting it, and then to financially planning for our legacies, but each of these has the underlying pursuit for peace of mind. Please feel free to reach out to DWM if you have any questions about how we can accompany you on your hunt.

*Source: https://www.schwab.com/resource-center/insights/content/why-global-diversification-matters

Dealing With Investor Anxiety: Think Long-Term

Stock prices reflect a mix of emotions, biases and rational calculations. The bond market reflects the economy. Historically, bond markets had done a better job in predicting recessions.

The two big bond stories last week were 1) the “inverted yield curve”- when interest rates on short-term bonds are higher than long-term bonds, and 2) yields below 2% on 30 year treasuries- indicating investors expect low inflation and a weaker economy for a long time.

We all remember the 2017 income tax cut that boosted the economy and produced stock markets returns of 20% or more in 2017. These tax cuts were supposed to lay a foundation for many years of high economic growth. Since mid-2018, however, the economic data has been confirming what many of us expected. The tax cuts provided a short sugar “high,” which is now over. Instead, we have trillion dollar deficits and lack of large promised business investments, including infrastructure, which never materialized. The economy has reverted to its pre-stimulus growth rate of near 2%.

This shouldn’t surprise us. No major economy is growing as fast as it was before 2008. In almost every country, the national discussion focuses on what must be done to revive growth and ignores the fact that the slowdown is happening everywhere. The working population is declining in 46 countries around the world, including Japan, Russia and China. Demographics are a key driver of economic growth. So, we can expect to see recessions (two quarters of negative growth) more likely in the future as working populations contract. BTW- the U.S. population is growing at less than 1% per year.

Over the next few decades, we will likely see more growth decline. Ruchir Sharma, author of “The Rise and Fall of Nations,” suggests that new benchmarks for economic success should be 5% growth for emerging countries, 3-4% growth for middle income countries like China, and 1-2% growth for developed countries like the U.S. and Germany.

Yes, there are uncertainties in the market, including US-China trade tensions, a weakening European economy, and concern about a recession. These produce a huge dilemma for U.S. business owners, trying to make plans for the future. So, there are lots of piles of cash, waiting for clarity. We may or may not soon have a recession. Yet all of this uncertainty produces increased volatility and anxiety. And studies show that a 3% down day, like last Wednesday, feels about ten times worse than a 1% down day. What’s an investor to do to reduce anxiety?

We understand it is difficult to think long-term, but we highly recommend it:

1) Recognize that equities will likely produce lower nominal returns in the future. However, with inflation also likely lower, the real returns of equities will likely outpace fixed income and alternatives. Equities will continue to provide the primary engine of growth.

2) Use all three asset classes. A diversified portfolio composed on equities, fixed income and alternatives has been shown to reduce risk and increase return.

3) Review your long-term financial plan and determine what rate of return you need to meet your financial goals. The expected return of your asset allocation must be sufficient to meet your goals or you need to revise your goals and plan.

4) Review your risk profile to determine your appropriate asset allocation. Using the assumption that equities could drop 40% and you can’t tolerate a loss of 10% or more in your portfolio, then your allocation to equities should not exceed 25%. Of course, this allocation would severely limit your upside.

5) Stay invested. Don’t try to time the market. A recent report from Morningstar shows that “low cost funds”, (like those used at DWM), “lead to higher total returns and higher investor returns.” First, for efficient markets, the active managers in the high-cost funds overall produce gross results equal to the benchmarks, but then the additional costs of 1% or more is subtracted. Second, studies show that active managers attempting to time the market have failed and this subtracts another ½% per year from performance. Even highly-paid active managers can’t time the market successfully.

Lastly, in this time of overall investor anxiety, fee-only total wealth managers, like DWM, are here to rescue you. Yes, we execute a detailed process to add value every day in the areas of investing, financial planning, income taxes, insurance and estate planning. Yet, one of our most important tasks we have is to protect our clients from hurting themselves in the capital markets. Investors overall have a very human tendency to do exactly the wrong thing at the worst possible moment.

We understand it’s hard to think long-term. Today’s world moves at a very fast pace. And, the news is often designed to instill fear. Don’t succumb to emotions. Reduce your anxiety. Allowing your portfolio to compound quietly over time can be boring, yet very successful.   If your allocation or the markets are making you anxious, let’s talk.

ECONOMY CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF GROWTH: IS IT TIME TO PARTY?

Next week will mark the 121st month of the current bull market- the longest business cycle since records began in 1854. Based on history, a recession should be starting soon. Bond rates now form an “inverse yield curve” with shorter term rates above longer term, which typically signals a downturn. Business confidence is down. However, 224,000 American jobs were created in June and equities continue to soar, rising 16-20% year to date. Is it time to party or not?

The business cycle appears to be lengthening. The current expansion, coming after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, has been unusually long and sluggish. Average GDP growth has been 2.3% per year, as compared to the 3.6% annual growth in the past three expansions. The workforce is aging. Big firms invest less. Productivity has slipped. And, Northwestern Economics Professor Robert Gordon continues to assert that American’s developments in information and communication technology just don’t measure up to past achievements including electricity, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the internal combustion engine.

However, the changing economy may now be less volatile for a number of reasons. 1/3 of American’s 20th century recessions were caused by industrial declines or oil-price plunges. Today, manufacturing is only 11% of GDP and its output requires 25% less energy than in 1999. Services are now 70% of our GDP. Furthermore, the value of the housing market is now 143% of GDP, as compared to a peak of 188%. Banks have lots of capital.

Finally, inflation has been very low, averaging 1.6% in the U.S. (and 1.1% in the euro zone) per year during the current expansion. In earlier business cycles, the economy would surge ahead, the jobs market would overheat, causing inflation to rise and leading the Federal Reserve to put on the brakes by raising interest rates. Today, it’s different. Even though the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low of 3.7%, wage growth is only 3%. As the Economist pointed out last week in “Riding High,” American workers have less bargaining power in the globalized economy and are getting a smaller percentage of company profits, keeping inflation down. The Fed recently announced that it is less concerned about rising prices and more concerned about growth slowing and, therefore, will lower interest rates at its meeting next week.

Changes in the economy to slower growth, more reliance on services and lower inflation all contribute to longer business cycles. Yet, the changing economy, particularly globalization and technology, has also produced new risks.

Manufacturing that was formerly done in the U.S. is now outsourced to global producers. These chains can be severely disrupted by a trade war. This could produce a major shock- imagine if Apple was cut-off from its suppliers in China. Also, take a look at the impact that the prolonged grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX is having on the U.S. economy. It’s hurting suppliers, airlines, and tens of thousands of workers, while $30 billion of the MAX sit grounded. Global supply chains are extremely interconnected these days.

IT is significantly linked as well. Many businesses outsource their IT services via cloud-computing to a few giants, including Alphabet (GOOGL).  85% of Alphabet’s $100 billion annual sales comes from advertising, which in the past has been closely correlated to the business cycle. GOOGL invested $45 billion last year, 5 times more than Ford. In fact, the S&P 500 companies invested $318 billion last year, of which $220 billion was spent by ten tech companies. The big IT companies are now facing regulatory issues worldwide. What would be the worldwide impact if GOOGL, Facebook or others get their “wings” clipped?

Also, finance issues could disrupt the expansion. Although housing and banks are in decent shape, private debts remain high by historical standards, at 250% of GDP, or $50 trillion. And, if the prime lending rate continues to decline, banks’ profits and balance sheets will likely weaken.

Lastly, politics is a big risk. There are the threats of trade wars with China and physical war with Iran. The big tax cut that pushed markets up in 2017 could now produce lower year over year earnings for companies. On Monday, July 22nd, Congressional leaders and White House negotiators reached a deal to increase federal spending and raise the government’s borrowing limit. This would raise spending by $320 billion, at a time when the annual deficit is already nearing $1 trillion, despite the continuing expansion.

Conclusion: Changes in the economy have produced reasons why business cycles are longer, yet more sluggish. Those changes have also added new risks for a continuing expansion and bull market. No one can predict the future. Focus on what you can control: Make sure your risk level is appropriate for your risk profile. Make sure your portfolio is prepared for the next downturn. And, yes, stay invested.

Leverage for the Next Generations: How to Build Credit Effectively

According to a study done by Sallie Mae recently, the younger generations, from teens to young adults, are much more likely to make payments by debit card, cash, or mobile transfer (Venmo, Paypal), than by credit card. In fact, only around 50% of them have credit cards at all. This statistic is leaving some analysts, like those at Fortune magazine (Bloomberg) wondering if credit cards will soon go the way of the video store or Toys R Us. But what are some possible reasons for this shift away from debt lending instruments in young adults, and what lessons can they learn to ensure that picking one up doesn’t lead them to further financial struggles?

One of the big reasons that can easily be identified as an answer to the first question is the looming student loan debt floating over most of those adults’ heads. The average student leaving college in 2017 had roughly $28,650 in student loan debt. On top of this, about 11% of outstanding student loans were 90 days or more delinquent or in default. With the risks of this debt compiling and carrying out, students and young people entering the workforce are less concerned about credit scores and more concerned on making sure they can pay their monthly loan amount, on top of any other recurring expenses. However, the one piece of good news coming out of paying these student loans is that by doing so, one can build up significant credit that will help take the place of missing out on credit card payments. While this avenue won’t leave much room to start borrowing to buy discretionary items, making these payments on time and for the right amount will allow young folk to build a strong credit foundation for the future.

In addition to student loans, many other issues impede those looking to get a credit card early. In 2009, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act set forth a precedent that banks needed to have more stringent policies with which they lend money, including not offering credit cards to anyone under the age of 21 without a co-signer or proof of income. Even if these are available, with little to no credit history available, some will be turned down for credit card offers. However, most companies offer some sort of secured debt instruments at the least which ask for a deposit upfront as a collateral credit limit. These will allow those with low or new credit scores to earn it while keeping the banks/credit card companies from being at risk. One additional method for those who choose not to use these types of cards is simply to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. While at a slower pace, this can help out a young person get started even if they don’t use it at all.

Additionally, once their credit is established and starts going in the right direction, they must remain diligent to avoid having what they worked for diminished. There are many different factors that go into a person’s score, however following some key principles will be more than enough to continue pushing this score up:

  1. Use 30% max of the allowed total credit line. This 30% rule is used to ensure that one’s spending habits are in-line with how much they can borrow.
  2. Pay all bills on time. Either through setting up auto-pay or keeping a calendar with important payment deadlines written down, this is one of the most important factors.
  3. Continue using the debt instrument. Even if it’s only being used to pay for small monthly charges or gas bills, continuing to use the card will build up credit.
  4. Pay as much as is feasible. The balance set on the card is not nearly as important as the fact that it’s being used. In order to keep interest down (some go as high as 17%!), one should pay off as much of the balance as they can each month. This is especially important since roughly 25% of millennials have carried a credit card debt for over a year!

All in all, younger generations of people have sincere trepidation when it comes to using credit cards or any other item causing them to incur more debt than they’ve already been exposed to through student loans. They’re still fearful, having grown up through the Great Recession, and face several hurdles even if they decide to pursue getting a credit card. However, once they have them, and through loans, they can still build up a reasonable credit score and attain their financial dreams by remaining diligent and following advice like those points listed above. Please let us know if you have any questions on the above information for you, your family, or your friends.

Ask DWM: What is an Inverted Yield Curve and What Does it Mean to Me?

inverted_yield_curve.jpg

 

Great question. Historically, an “inverted yield curve” has been a signal that recession was on the way. As with so many things these days, though, the old “rule of thumb” may not apply. Here’s why:

yield curve is a graph showing interest rates paid by bonds. The chart is set up with the horizontal axis representing the borrowing period (or “time”) and the vertical axis representing the payments (or “yield”).   We all would typically expect that loans over a longer period time would have a higher interest. That’s “normal.”  For example, if a 30 year mortgage rate is 4%, a 15 year mortgage rate might be at 3.25%.   A one year Certificate of Deposit might earn 1% or less and a 5 year C.D. might be 2%. The situation is referred to as a “normal” or “positive” yield curve in that interest rates are higher as the borrowing period gets longer and the curve slopes upward, see below:

Normal

 

However, rates don’t always work that way. At the end of last week, the three-month Treasury bills’ yield 2.46% was higher than the yield (2.44%) for 10-year treasuries. This situation technically produced an inverted yield curve, since a shorter period had a higher rate. This also happened three months ago. Historically, “curve inversions” have tended to precede major economic slowdowns by about a year.

inverted

 

Inverted yield curves are unusual because they indicate lenders (or investors) are willing to earn less interest on longer loans. This is most likely to happen when the economy is perceived to be slowing down and faces a meaningful risk of recession. Historically, curve inversions have occurred about a year before the each of past seven recessions in the last five decades, though a recession doesn’t necessarily occur every time we see a yield curve inversion.

The U.S. economy has slowed already from the average growth rate of 2018; mainly as a result of the 35-day government shutdown and reaction to the Federal Reserve’s (“Fed”) reports of slower growth and a moratorium on interest rate hikes. Some economists feel the economy may slow even more due to the tax-cut stimulus being only a one year spike, headwinds from trade tensions with China, political uncertainties and global polarization and fragmentation.

However, other factors point to strong economic growth. We do have a solid labor market which drives consumption. Average monthly job creation is well above what might have been expected this late in the business cycle. Further, more workers have been attracted back into the labor force and wage growth has been 3%; a rate in excess of inflation. Business investment should rise and government spending is higher.

In short, an inverted yield curve is not a perfect predictor of recessions. A different portion of the yield curve inverted three months ago in December and the markets in early 2019 have rebounded sharply as fears subsided. Also, many economists believe the drop in 10-year Treasury yields is due to non-U.S. economic headwinds, like Brexit as well as the unwinding of the Fed’s balance sheet after Quantitative Easing. They believe it’s not because of serious weakening of U.S. economic fundamentals.

The current inverted yield curve may or may not be the bellwether of a coming recession. These days, there is not a simple cause and effect relationship between an inverted yield curve and recession. More likely will be the resolution or non-resolution of uncertainties such as Brexit, trade tensions, political matters and global peace. Stay tuned and stay invested for the long-term.

Understanding Benchmarks: Why is my Portfolio Trailing the S&P 500 so far in 2018?

Many investors with well-balanced, diversified portfolios might be asking this exact question when they compare their year-to-date (“YTD”) return with that of the S&P 500. To understand the answer to this question is to understand your portfolio composition and your relative performance to a benchmark which may or may not include the S&P 500.

Per Investopedia, “a benchmark is a standard against which the performance of a security or investment manager can be measured. Benchmarks are indexes created to include multiple securities representing some aspect of the total market.” Within each asset class – equities, fixed income, alternatives, cash – you’ll find lots of benchmarks. In fact, the total number of indexes is somewhere in the thousands! That said, “when evaluating the performance of any investment, it’s important to compare it against an appropriate benchmark.” So let’s start by getting familiar with the most popular as well as the most applicable benchmarks out there.

  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: Arguably the most well-known index for domestic stocks, the Dow is composed of 30 of the largest “blue chip” stocks chosen by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The Dow is not a good benchmark to compare your diversified equity portfolio because 1) 30 companies is a small sample given there are over 3000 publicly listed stocks traded in the US alone. 2) The Dow isn’t well diversified with a heavy influence to industrials and excludes big names like Apple, Amazon, & Berkshire Hathaway. 3) It is price-weighted, meaning a stock with a higher price will have a higher weighting in the index than a stock with a lower price. Change in share price is one thing, but absolute share price shouldn’t dictate measurement. Thus, this index is severely flawed.
  • The S&P 500: Another index for domestic stocks, composed of 500 large-cap companies representing the leading US industries chosen by the S&P Index Committee. It’s certainly not as flawed as the Dow, but it too has its own problems: the biggest being that it is market-cap weighted, meaning that a stock’s weighting in the index is based on its price and its number of shares outstanding. So as a company’s stock price rises and its market-cap grows, this index will buy more of that stock and vice-versa. Thus, the index is essentially forced to buy larger, more expensive companies and sell companies as they get cheaper. This “flaw” is great in times when large cap growth companies are hot: think about FAANG – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix, Google – these are all stocks that up until recently have soared and essentially the reason why the S&P500 heading into this month was one of the only 10% of 2018 positive areas amongst all of the asset categories Deutsche Bank tracks. (See graph below.) However, the S&P500 won’t show too well when growth is out of favor and investors emphasize value and fundamentals like they did in the 2000s, a decade when the S&P500 had basically zero return.
  • There are many other popular equity benchmarks such as the Russell 2000 (representing small cap stocks), MSCI EAFE (representing international stocks – in particular ones from developed regions of Europe, Australiasia, and the Far East), MSCI EEM (representing stocks of emerging regions), and lots more.
  • All of these above focus on a particular niche within the equity market. Therefore, none of them really make a good benchmark for comparison to your well-balanced, diversified portfolio. It’s like comparing apples to oranges! Which is why we favor the following benchmark for equity comparison purposes: MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index): This index is the one-stop shop for equity benchmarks consisting of around 2500 stocks from 47 countries, a true global proxy. It’s not a perfect benchmark, but it does get you closer to comparing apples to apples.

Next, we look at popular benchmarks within Fixed Income:

  • Barclays Capital US Aggregate Bond Index:  Basically the “S&P500 of bond land” and sometimes referred to as “the Agg”, this bond index represents government, corporate, agency, and mortgage-backed securities. Domestic only. Flaws include being market-cap weighted and that it doesn’t include some extracurricular fixed income categories like floating rate notes or junk bonds.
  • There are others, like the Barclays Capital US Treasury Bond Index & the Barclays Capital US Corporate High Yield Bond Index, that focus on their respective niche, but probably the best bet comparison for most diversified fixed income investors would be the Barclays Capital Global Aggregate Bond Index. This proxy is similar to the “Agg”, but we believe superior given about 60% of its exposure is beyond US borders. Not exactly apples to apples, but it can work.

Lastly, Alternatives:

  • For Alternatives, benchmarks are somewhat of a challenge as there aren’t as many relative to the more traditional asset classes of stocks & bonds because there are so many different flavors and varieties of alternatives. We think one of the most appropriate comparison proxies in alternative land is the Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index. It reflects the combined returns of several alternative strategies such as long/short, event driven, global strategies, merger arbitrage, & managed futures. As such, it can be considered as an appropriate comparison tool when comparing your liquid alternative portion of your portfolio.

Now that you’re more familiar with some of the more popular and applicable benchmarks of each asset class category, you may be asking the question: which one of the above is the best for comparison to my portfolio? The answer is: none of them alone, but rather a few of them combined. In other words, you would want to build a blended proxy consistent with the asset allocation mix of your portfolio. For example, if your portfolio is 50% equities / 30% fixed income / 20% alternatives, then an appropriate blended benchmark might be 50% MSCI AWCI Index / 30% Barclays Capital Global Aggregate Bond Index / 20% Credit Suisse Liquide Alternative Beta index. Now you’re really talking an apples-to-apples comparison!

You now should be equipped on how to measure your portfolio versus an appropriate benchmark. With 90% of assets categories being down for 2018 according to data tracked by Deutsche Bank through mid-November (see graph below), most likely you are sitting at a loss for 2018. 2018 has been a challenging year for all investors. Besides a select group of large cap domestic names (that are big constituents of the S&P500), most investment areas are down. That 90% losing figure is the highest percentage for any calendar year since 1920! Yikes! This also could be the first year in over 25 that both global stocks and bonds finish in negative territory. Wow! It’s a tough year. Not every year is going to be a positive one, but history shows that there are more positive years than negative ones. Stay the course.

Our investment management team here at DWM is made up of CFA charterholders. As such, we believe in prudent portfolio management which adheres to a diversified approach and not one that takes big bets on a few select areas. We know that with this diversified approach, it’s inevitable that we won’t beat each and every benchmark year-in and year-out, but we can be capable of producing more stable and better risk-adjusted returns over a full market cycle. Further, we are confident that our disciplined approach puts the client in a better position to achieve the assumed returns of their financial plans over the long run, thereby putting them in a position to achieve much sought long-term financial success.

Have fun with those comparisons and don’t forget to lose the oranges and double up on the apples!

Happy Labor Day: Fun Facts!

Labor Day in the 21st century means time for beaches, BBQ, ballgames and quality time with family and friends. For many, Labor Day signifies the last days of summer. But don’t worry, the official end of summer is September 21st so you still have some time to catch some waves and rays. Although Labor Day always falls on the first Monday of every September, there is a lot more to this holiday weekend than an extra day off from work and great sales. From a survey done by WalletHub, here are 10 facts about Labor Day that you may not know:

  1. 133 million Americans will enjoy a BBQ this Labor Day

 

  1. The average Labor Day shopper will spend $58

 

  1. 25% of Americans plan to get out of town

 

  1. The top three Labor Day destinations include New York City, Chicago, and Las Vegas

 

  1. Labor Day is America’s third favorite holiday behind Christmas/Chanukah and Memorial Day

 

  1. There are approximately 89 running races held over Labor Day weekend

 

  1. The number one hardest working city in America is San Francisco with an 8 hour average work day, and the laziest city in America is Columbia, SC with an average work day of 7.3 hours

 

  1. Labor Day is the unofficial end of hot dog season in America. From Memorial Day to Labor Day there are 818 hot dogs eaten per second

 

  1. Most Americans believe Labor Day is only an American holiday when really it was started in Canada

 

  1. Last but not least, yes, you really can wear white after Labor Day!

From everyone here at DWM, have a great Labor Day Weekend and enjoy some time with the family!

The Money Talk

It’s no secret that today’s standard high school and college curriculums are missing a few very important details. One of the most overlooked areas is basic financial education. Discussing finances with your children can be a difficult topic to broach, but it is critical to their success in the long run.

One common misconception of having “the money talk” is the idea that kids must be sheltered from financial issues. In some instances this is absolutely true, but having a basic discussion about finances and instilling good values in your children is important. “The money talk” shouldn’t be seen as taboo, but rather as an opportunity to guide your kids and help them navigate potentially tricky financial issues and decisions that arise.

Here are some tips to help as you approach “the money talk.”

 

1.Be honest.

 

Chances are that at some point in your life, you’ve experienced highs and lows in your finances. No need to hide it! These experiences provide a learning opportunity for your kids and allow you to be open and frank about the reality of financial decisions—they can handle it.

If you ran up debts in your past and had difficulty paying these back, this serves as an excellent teaching moment. Learning from those you respect can be just as effective as learning the lesson on your own.

Also, this may go without saying, but be careful not to spread falsehoods about your current financial situation. Remember, your kids can handle it and will almost always know when you’re not being completely honest with them.

 

2. Talk in values, not figures.

 

If you’re hesitant to share your financial situation with your children, that is normal. You are certainly not alone on this, but it doesn’t have to be scary. The good news is your kids don’t always want to know (or need to know) every detail of your financial life. Don’t sweat the small stuff—instead, focus on teaching them the basics. Ask yourself, what do they need to know, and what is often missed in standard education? Children should have a solid understanding of concepts such as saving, budgeting, paying down debt, developing healthy spending habits, and compounding interest.

 

3. Use real-world experiences.

 

Life is full of sporadic but important financial lessons that can be found in everyday experiences. It’s up to you to look for these opportunities and expand on them with your children.

If you’re going to the bank, you may consider taking your children with you. This is a great time to demonstrate how transactions work and, if applicable, how an ATM works. To take it a step further, you may even begin the discussion on how money can generate interest.

When your children start their first jobs and start receiving paychecks, this is a convenient time to discuss the importance of budgeting, paying bills, and taxes. Talk through what their goals are for each paycheck and how much they may need to save in order to accomplish these goals.

If you are planning a family trip, consider letting them in on the budgeting. Showing them your budget, planning activities you want to accomplish with this budget, and building a trip around this information will help make financial planning seem tangible to them. This may also be a good time to remind your kids that goals often require sacrifice, and not every trip activity will be accomplished.

Try giving your kids an allowance and taking them to the grocery store. The grocery store can be a clear example of “needs” vs. “wants.” Your children need nutrients but most certainly would like to have a few candies as well. However, with a set allowance, they won’t be able to afford them all!

In closing, whether you realize it or not, you play an important role in your children’s financial future. In their early years, they rely heavily on you for financial advice to help them form healthy financial habits (and the occasional $20 bill for the movies). At DWM, we feel it is essential to educate your children about finances early on, so they can be better prepared for the future. That’s why we created our new Emerging Investor program to help younger folks invest early on and get started on the path to financial freedom! To learn more about this exciting new program, check out the full description here: http://dwmgmt.com/blogs/123-2017-11-29-20-49-47.html.

Building a Portfolio for Today’s Challenging Marketplace!

At DWM, our job is wealth management. We look to help our clients secure their financial futures through comprehensive financial planning and prudent investment management. Today, I’d like to focus on the investment management part which adheres to our philosophy of protection first, growth second.

Some readers may be familiar with DWM’s approach to investment management. At its core, it starts with the identification of our clients’ goals and constraints. We do this by identifying their goals, risk tolerance, return objectives, income needs, time horizon, and other special requirements. As every client is unique, so is each client portfolio.

We then match the characteristics of their goals and constraints with a specific Asset Allocation mix tailored to them. For example, x% equities via the DWM Core Equity Portfolio, y% fixed income via the DWM Core Fixed Income Portfolio, and z% alternatives via the DWM Liquid Alternatives Portfolio.

But many of our readers may not know the logistics of building those three DWM exclusive portfolios. Here is a little bit of the secret sauce:

The three major asset classes of equities, fixed income, and alternatives are further broken down into subclasses, which also have different exposures, risks, and potential returns. For example, we divide the equity portfolio into different sectors and market capitalizations, as well as between domestic and foreign stocks. We also pay attention to value vs growth. Then, in the fixed income portfolio, we split out exposure into government debt, corporate debt, and international debt, while paying special attention to credit risk and duration.

From there, there are several ways to go about choosing the securities to fulfill the subclasses. Our affiliation with Charles Schwab & Co- and its investment platform which makes most of the public investment universe available to us, there are lots of securities – some great, some not so great – to choose from.We further filter by looking at the following:

  • What type of exposure do we want to have in that subclass (for example, is market-cap weighted okay or is better to use a different methodology like factor-weighting)?
  • Total price to own and trade that security (e.g. the Operating Expense Ratio “OER” and ticket charge if applicable)
  • Volume: does the security trade enough for our firm to take a position for our clients’ portfolios
  • Security vehicle (ETF or Mutual Fund): both come with different characteristics
  • How do the securities complement one another, keeping in mind that non-correlating assets maximize your diversification benefits

It should be noted that from a risk management perspective we aren’t big fans of individual stocks. In fact, we began phasing out the use of individual stocks within our DWM-managed portfolios over a decade ago. Why?

  1. Company-specific risk: When allocating percentages of your portfolio to individual stocks, you run the possibility of the company represented by said stock going bankrupt or having a similar setback that can greatly increase the overall risk of your portfolio.
  2. More diversification with low-cost mutual funds and exchange-traded funds: With MFs and ETFs, we can incorporate the exposures to different individual stocks in one bundle, without having to have the aforementioned company-specific risk.

As you can now see, a lot goes into building and maintaining a portfolio. Once the initial portfolio is established with the appropriate weights to various investment style exposures, it is anything but “set and forget”. These “weights” or allocations to asset classes and the underlying investment styles can significantly fluctuate and will need to be rebalanced. Or we may find that we want more or less exposure to a specific area and thus adjustments are needed. Furthermore, new products – some great, some not so great – come to the market every day. If we identify one that is potentially a better fit to our model and it passes our due diligence process, we will make changes accordingly, whereby we execute trades via our sophisticated channels.

In conclusion, portfolio management is constantly evolving. Ongoing education and research is paramount to a solid investment management practice. At DWM, we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Through diligence and care, we seek to help our investors make their money work harder by eliminating the unforeseen landmines in their portfolio. Diversification, low-cost mutual funds/ETFs, and consistent portfolio monitoring are wonderful tools that DWM implements to help accomplish this hefty task, and keep our clients on track to meeting their financial goals.

College Funding Solutions

Last night, our Palatine team at DWM performed a presentation for the parents of students attending Quest Academy, a private K-12 school right here in Palatine, IL. The focus of the night was putting a spotlight on two important topics, tax reform and college savings. We’ve covered the effects of tax reform quite a bit in blogs from the past few weeks, so we wanted to focus in on the savings portion of the presentation for our blog this week.

College costs are rising, with no end in sight. Tuition prices for public and private universities increase yearly by approximately 4-8% consistently, which put them right up there with housing and gas prices as the leaders of inflation (though college costs experience much less volatility then either of the others). Per Figure 1, we can see the effect of this inflation, with tuition at an in-state public university costing parents over $100,000 over the four years of collegiate study. With inflation rates as they are, these numbers are only going to get larger.

Tuition

Figure 1: College Tuition Costs

So, as we presented last night, how can parents of children expect to be able to pay these high price tags?

Luckily, there are several different options available to parents and children alike that can help offset the huge costs of college. These different solutions vary from federal financial aid, merit-based scholarships, savings, and loans.

Let’s start with federal financial aid. The path to being awarded federal financial aid starts at the same spot for each family, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA form. This document helps many domestic colleges determine how much, if any, federal aid your child should be allotted. To determine this, the FAFSA form interprets your financial situation based on their calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or essentially how much money the parents of a student will be able to contribute to their child’s college tuition. To determine the EFC amount, many factors including the family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or social security) are evaluated. Retirement assets are not considered in this calculation. For example, any money held in an IRA or 401k plan will not be counted towards the EFC, since those funds cannot be used for college tuition. However, money held in a checking or brokerage account will factor into the EFC when calculating federal financial aid. One important caveat to this is that any funds held in the student’s name will be weighted more heavily towards the EFC calculation than those assets held in the parent’s name. For a quick reference, please see Figure 2 below, which gives an approximate federal aid allotment based upon your EFC and the number of children you have.

EFC

Figure 2: https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/troyonink/2017/01/08/2017-guide-to-college-financial-aid-the-fafsa-and-css-profile

Another college funding solution is the use of merit-based scholarships, which are awarded by the schools themselves, based on a student’s academic, athletic, music, or other merits. If a student shows exceptional talents, colleges are likely to offer these students grants in order to entice them to coming to their college. These scholarships tend to be offered for at least four years of college depending on their eligibility, and can often be a hefty sum of the tuition costs (some being the full amount)! Besides the colleges themselves offering these scholarships, there are various online sources that have private funding that is given out to students who apply to them. We have done some research on these websites, and have included some of the most popular ones at the bottom of this blog. Please feel free to check them out with your student!

One of the major college funding methods that students and their parents utilize is through savings. Besides holding assets in a bank or brokerage account to pay for their child, parents have some other ways of saving money specifically for college funding that can be great resources also for tax purposes! One of the best of these vehicles is a 529 plan. In Illinois, we like the Illinois Bright Start and Bright Directions 529 platforms, and in South Carolina, our team likes the Future Scholar 529 platform. What these programs offer is a method for holding college funds and investing them, allowing for compounding tax-free growth! By contributing to these accounts, taxpayers can annually take advantage of a $10,000 state tax deduction ($20,000 for married couples) for Illinois, and can utilize the $15,000 dollar gift tax exclusion on the transfer as well, helping to lower the taxes for the parents, and save a lot of money for their child quickly. In comparison, South Carolina offers an unlimited state deduction for all contributions to a 529 plan. In conjunction with this, in all states parents are able to take advantage of a “Five-Year Forward” funding method, which allows for up to $150,000 to be contributed to a 529 plan in one year, and as long as no extra contributions are made in the following four years, the entire amount qualifies for five years of the gift-tax exclusion, a fantastic strategy for savings and estate planning, for parents and grand-parents alike! As part of the recent tax reform, the government has expanded the use of these plans to allow parents to use these funds to pay for K-12 private schooling, though this could prohibit the use of the state tax deduction, which is still a grey area. Stay alert for more updates on this particular change.

Lastly, there are loans. Most students and parents have come to a modern consensus that student loans are extremely hard to pay off, and as of 2018, student loan debt does indeed sit at approximately $1.5 trillion, so whenever loans are taken, it is extremely important that parents take into account how these will be paid off. There are many different options when it comes to taking these loans as well, including federal versus private loans (government vs. banks), and deferral timings (“subsidized” start payments once graduated, “unsubsidized” start payments immediately). Some important aspects of loans to look at when researching them is to ensure that they have no application fee, a soft hit on credit pulls, and no fees for paying off loans early, so you get out with the least interest accrued as possible.

All in all, paying for college is a daunting task for any parent and student. However, by planning early and utilizing the many different methods of funding, both can find peace of mind and focus on the challenges presented in reaching a higher education, and less on how they are going to pay for it.

If you have any questions on any of the above information, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Scholarship resources to check out:

bigfuture.org
cappex.com
fastweb.com