Eight “Best/Worst” Wealth Strategies During the Coronavirus

The utility of living consists not in the length of days, but in the use of time.

-Michel de Montaigne

For better or worse, many of us have had more time than usual to engage in new or different pursuits in 2020. Even if you’re as busy as ever, you may well be revisiting routines you have long taken for granted. Let’s cover eight of the most and least effective ways to spend your time shoring up your financial well-being in the time of the coronavirus. 

1. A Best Practice: Stay the Course 

Your best investment habits remain the same ones we’ve been advising all along. We build a low-cost, globally diversified investment portfolio with the money you’ve got earmarked for future spending. We structure it to represent your best shot at achieving your financial goals by maintaining an appropriate balance between risks and expected returns. We stick with it, in good times and bad.

2. A Top Time-Waster: Market-Timing and Stock-Picking

Why have stock markets been ratcheting upward during socioeconomic turmoil? Market theory provides several rational explanations. Mostly, market prices continuously reset according to “What’s next?” expectations, while the economy is all about “What’s now?” realities. If you’re trying to keep up with the market’s manic moves … stop. It is not a good use of your time.

3. A Best Practice: Revisit Your Rainy-Day Fund

How is your rainy-day fund doing? Right now, you may be realizing how helpful it’s been to have one, and/or how unnerving it is to not have enough. Use this top-of-mind time to establish a disciplined process for replenishing or adding to your rainy-day fund. Set up an “auto-payment” to yourself, such as a monthly direct deposit from your paycheck into your cash reserves. 

4. A Top Time-Waster: Stretching for Yield 

Instead of focusing on establishing adequate cash reserves, some investors try to shift their “safety net” positions to holdings that promise higher yields for similar levels of risk. Unfortunately, this strategy ignores the overwhelming evidence that risk and expected return are closely related. Stretching for extra yield out of your stable holdings inevitably renders them riskier than intended for their role. As personal finance columnist Jason Zweig observes in a recent exposé about one such yield-stretching fund, “Whenever you hear an investment pitch that talks up returns and downplays risks, just say no.”

5. A Best Practice: Evidence-Based Portfolio Management

When it comes to investing, we suggest reserving your energy for harnessing the evidence-based strategies most likely to deliver the returns you seek, while minimizing the risks involved. This is why we create a mix of stock and bond asset classes that makes sense for you; we periodically rebalance your prescribed mix (or “asset allocation”) to keep it on target; and/or we adjust your allocations as your goals change. We also ensure that we structure your portfolio for tax efficiency, and choose the ideal holdings for achieving all of the above. 

6. A Top Time-Waster: Playing the Market 

Some individuals have instead been pursuing “get rich quick” schemes with active bets and speculative ventures. The Wall Street Journal has reported on young, do-it-yourself investors exhibiting increased interest in opportunistic day-trading, and alternatives such as stock options and volatility markets. Evidence suggests you’re better off patiently participating in efficient markets as described above, rather than trying to “beat” them through risky, concentrated bets. Over time, playing the market is expected to be a losing strategy for the core of your wealth. 

7. A Best Practice: Plenty of Personalized Financial Planning

There is never a bad time to tend to your personal wealth, but it can be especially important – and comforting – when life has thrown you for a loop. Focus on strengthening your own financial well-being rather than fixating on the greater uncontrollable world around us. To name a few possibilities, we’ve continued to proactively assist clients this year with their portfolio management, retirement planning, tax-planning, stock options, business successions, estate plans and beneficiary designations, insurance coverage, college savings plans, and more. 

8. A Top Time-Waster: Fleeing the Market

On the flip side of younger investors “playing” the market, retirees may be tempted to abandon it altogether. This move carries its own risks. If you’ve planned to augment your retirement income with inflation-busting market returns, the best way to expect to earn them is to stick to your plan. What about getting out until the coast seems clear? Unfortunately, many of the market’s best returns come when we’re least expecting them. This year’s strong rallies amidst gloomy economic news illustrates the point well. Plus, selling stock positions early in retirement adds an extra sequence risk drag on your future expected returns. 

Could you use even more insights on how to effectively invest any extra time you may have these days? Please reach out to us any time. We’d be delighted to suggest additional best financial practices tailored to your particular circumstances. 

Justin D. Rucci, CFP®

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

PPP Flex Act

There was some good news for our small business owners as the Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020 was signed into law today (aka PPP Flex Act).  The PPP Flex Act amends certain provisions of the CARES Act relating to PPP loans.  You can view the full text here:  Text – H.R.7010 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020

Highlights include: 

1. Minimum PPP loan maturity of 5 years, and an allowance that lenders and borrowers can mutually agree to modify loan terms. 

2. Borrowers now have until the earlier of 24 weeks after loan origination or 12/31/20 to spend potentially forgivable loan proceeds (the original deadline was 8 weeks after loan origination).  

3. Borrowers may qualify for loan forgiveness without regard to reduction in full-time employees if they can document:   inability to hire or rehire employees OR inability to return to normal business activities due to HHS, CDC, or OSHA guidance or requirements.  

4. To qualify for forgiveness, 60% of loan proceeds must be used for payroll costs (the original requirement was 75%).  This means that up to 40% of the forgivable loan proceeds can be used for mortgage payments, rent, or utilities.  

5. Small businesses that receive PPP loan forgiveness can also now defer the Employer portion of Social Security taxes from 3/27/20 through 12/31/20.  

6. Notably, the PPP Flex Act did not fix the issue of expenses paid by forgiven loan proceeds being non-tax-deductible.  We do expect this technical fix to come eventually.  

We expect more clarification as additional legislation is passed this year, so stay tuned.  Please reach out to us with any questions as to how these changes apply to your business.  

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Update: Relief Is On The Way: A CARES Act Overview

This is a follow up to our first piece https://warrenstreetwealth.com/relief-is-on-the-way-a-cares-act-overview/ so if you have not yet read this first blog, please do so as this is a follow up to it.

With frequent updates from Washington and elsewhere regarding the policy response to COVID-19, we will continue to provide you with summary updates.  Please reach out to us with any questions you might have.

CHECKS

Many of you have received your stimulus checks via direct deposit.  If not, here is some additional information.  

If you did not file a 2018 or 2019 tax return, but are still eligible for a stimulus check, you can enter your information into this IRS website to receive your check: 

Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here

If you did not request direct deposit on your 2018 or 2019 tax return, but you would like to receive your stimulus check via direct deposit, you can enter your direct deposit information on this IRS website:

Get My Payment

It has been reported that both of the websites above have experienced technical issues since being launched, so patience and perseverance may be required.

If you prefer to receive your stimulus payment by paper check, you may have to wait several weeks for the payment to arrive. 

TAXES

The Treasury Department and IRS have delayed the Federal tax filing deadline for 2019 taxes to July 15, 2020.

California, along with most states (though not all), has conformed to the Federal deadline.

2020 Q1 and Q2 Federal estimated taxes are also now due July 15th. 

SMALL BUSINESSES

There are several updates regarding small business relief offered in the CARES Act.

1. EIDL

Originally the CARES Act called for the SBA to offer one-time emergency grants of $10k per business through the EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan) program. Many of our small business owner clients applied. Recently, the SBA released an email to EIDL grant applicants, announcing that due to high demand, they’ve limited the one-time EIDL grant to $1k per employee (with a maximum of $10k total).

2. PPP

The demand for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans has been extremely high. So high, in fact, that just 14 days after the program opened, the SBA announced that it had committed all of the originally allotted $349 billion.  As of Friday, April 24th, Congress and the President approved an additional $310 billion in funds for the program which offers potentially forgivable loans for small businesses and non-profits.  We expect this second round of funding to go quickly, so please reach out to us for guidance if you have not yet applied.  $60 billion of the new funding was specifically set aside for loans made by smaller institutions like credit unions and community banks, so we recommend considering one of these options first.    

3. Main Street Lending Program

Another relief option for small to medium sized businesses (up to 10,000 employees) may be the Federal Reserve’s new Main Street Lending Program: 

Main Street Lending Program

Details of the program are still being clarified, but as of this writing, here are some highlights:

  • Borrowers who received SBA PPP loans are eligible to apply for the MSLP as well.
  • Unlike PPP loans that can be potentially forgiven, MSLP loans do not offer a forgiveness provision.
  • Current proposed terms are 4 year repayment, $1 million minimum loan size, principal and interest payments are deferred for one year, relatively low interest rates.
  • Several other restrictions apply.  If you are a small or medium size business owner in need of funding, please reach out to us for further discussion.

CHARITABLE GIVING AND WAYS TO HELP

Food banks around the country have seen increased demands over the last several weeks. If you are looking for a way to help, you might want to check with your local food bank.  

The Red Cross is also reporting a severe blood shortage as a result of donor cancellations across the country.

This concludes our quick update.  News is flowing rapidly and changes to some of this information are inevitable.  We will continue to provide updates, but please contact us with any questions, comments or concerns.  Wishing you health and safety during these unprecedented times.  

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Relief Is On The Way: A CARES Act Overview

Last Friday, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, President Trump signed into law The CARES Act, a $2 trillion economic stimulus bill.

This bill, which appears to be the largest ever of its kind, will be studied and analyzed for months to come. 

Every Warren Street client will be impacted in some way.  Accordingly, we are reviewing every client situation to determine what proactive steps you can take to maximize the benefits available within this legislation.  We will provide some highlights here, and will be following up with each of you directly over the coming weeks.  As always, please reach out to us at any time with questions. 

In General

  • CHECKS!  : Most Americans can expect to receive rebates from Uncle Sam. Depending on your household income, expect up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per dependent child under age 17. To calculate your payment, the Federal government will look at your 2019 Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) if it is available, or your 2018 AGI if it is not. However, you will receive an extra 2020 tax credit if your 2020 AGI ends up lower than the figure used to calculate your rebate.
  • Taxpayers with Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) above certain thresholds start to lose benefits.  The phaseouts start at:

Married Joint:  $150,000

Head of Household:  $112,500

All Other Filers:  $75,000

From Michael Kitces at Nerd’s Eye View; reprinted with permission.

  • The reported plan is to send the rebates to direct deposit accounts linked to Social Security payments or the most recent tax return on file.  Paper checks will be sent to last known mailing addresses. 
  • ****TWO TIPS:
  •  If your 2019 income is lower than 2018 and moves you below the phaseout range, file your 2019 tax return ASAP.
  •  If you have recently moved, notify the IRS via this form:  Form 8822 (Rev. October 2015)
  • Retirement account distributions for coronavirus-related needs: You can tap into your retirement account prior to age 59.5 in 2020 for a coronavirus-related distribution of up to $100,000, without incurring the usual 10% penalty or mandatory 20% Federal withholding. You will still owe income tax on the distributions, but you can prorate the payment of these taxes across 3 years. You also can repay distributions to your account within 3 years to avoid paying income taxes, or to claim a refund on taxes paid.

***If cash flow is a problem right now, please reach out to us and we will help you strategize. 

  • Various healthcare-related incentives: For example, certain over-the-counter medical expenses previously disallowed under some healthcare plans now qualify for coverage. Also, Medicare restrictions have been relaxed for telehealth and other services (such as COVID-19 vaccinations, once they become available). Other details apply.

For Retirees (and Retirement Account Beneficiaries)

  • RMD relief: Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) go on a holiday in 2020 for retirees, as well as beneficiaries with inherited retirement accounts. If you have not yet taken your 2020 RMD, don’t! If you have, please be in touch with us to explore potential remedies.

For Charitable Donors

  • “Above-the-line” charitable deductions: Deduct up to $300 in 2020 qualified charitable contributions (excluding Donor Advised Funds) if you are taking the standard deduction.
  • Donate all of your 2020 AGI: You can effectively eliminate 2020 taxes owed, and then some, by donating up to, or beyond your AGI. If you donate more than your AGI, you can carry forward the excess up to 5 years. Donor Advised Fund contributions are excluded.

For Business Owners (and Certain Not-for-Profits)

  • Paycheck Protection Program loans (potentially forgivable): The Small Business Administration (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program is making loans available for qualified businesses and not-for-profits (typically under 500 employees), sole proprietors, and independent contractors. Loans for up to 2.5x monthly payroll, up to $10 million, 2-year maturity, interest rate 1%. Payments are deferred and, if certain employment retention and other requirements are met, the loan may be forgiven.
  • Economic Injury Disaster Loans (with forgivable advance): In coordination with your state, SBA disaster assistance also offers Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to qualified small businesses and non-profits, “to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing.” Interest rates are under 4%, with potential repayment terms of up to 30 years. Applicants also are eligible for an advance on the loan of up to $10,000. The advance will not need to be repaid, even if the loan is denied.
  • Payroll tax credits and deferrals: For qualified businesses who are not taking a loan.
  • Employee retention credit: An additional employee retention credit (as a payroll tax credit), “equal to 50 percent of the qualified wages with respect to each employee of such employer for such calendar quarter.” Excludes businesses receiving PPP loans, and may exclude those who have taken the EIDL loans.
  • Net Operating Loss rules relaxed: Carry back 2018–2020 losses up to five years, on up to 100% of taxable income from these same years.
  • Immediate expensing for qualified improvements: Section 168 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended to allow immediate expensing rather than multi-year depreciation.
  • Dollars set aside for industry-specific relief: Please be in touch for a more detailed discussion if your entity may be eligible for industry-specific relief (e.g., airlines, hospitals and state/local governments).

For Employees/Plan Participants

  • Retirement plan loans and distributions: Maximum amount increased to $100,000 on up to the entire vested amount for coronavirus-related loans. Delay repayment up to a year for loans taken from March 27–year-end 2020. Distributions described above in In General.
  • Paid sick leave: Paid sick leave benefits for COVID-19 victims are described in the separate, March 18 H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and are above and beyond any benefits received through the CARES Act. Whether in your role as an employer or an employee, we’re happy to discuss the details with you upon request.

For Employers/Plan Sponsors

  • Relief for funding defined benefit plans: Due date for 2020 funding is extended to Jan. 1, 2021. Also, the funding percentage (AFTAP) can be calculated based on your 2019 status.
  • Relief for facilitating pre-retirement plan distributions and expanded loans: As described above for Employees/Plan Participants, employers “may rely on an employee’s certification that the employee satisfies the conditions” to be eligible for relief. The participant is required to self-certify in writing that they or a direct dependent have been diagnosed, or they have been financially impacted by the pandemic. No additional evidence (such as a doctor’s release) is required.  
  • Potential extension for filing Form 5500: While the Dept. of Labor (DOL) has not yet granted an extension, the CARES Act permits the DOL to postpone this filing deadline.
  • Exclude student loan pay-down compensation: Through year-end, employers can help employees pay off current educational expenses and/or student loan balances, and exclude up to $5,250 of either kind of payment from their income.

For Unemployed/Laid Off Americans

  • Increased unemployment compensation: Federal funding increases standard unemployment compensation by $600/week, and coverage is extended 13 weeks.
  • Federal funding covers first week of unemployment: The one-week waiting period to start collecting benefits is waived.
  • Pandemic unemployment assistance: Unemployment coverage is extended to self-employed individuals for up to 39 weeks. Plus, the Act offers incentives for states to establish “short-time compensation programs” for semi-employed individuals.

For Students (or those with student loans)

  • Student loan payments deferred to Sept. 30, 2020:  No interest will accrue either. Important: Voluntary payments will continue unless you explicitly pause them. Plus, the deferral period will still count toward any loan forgiveness program you’re in. So, be sure to pause payments if this applies to you, lest you pay on debt that will ultimately be forgiven.
  • Delinquent debt collection suspended through Sept. 30, 2020: Including wage, tax refund, and other Federal benefit garnishments.
  • Employer-paid student loan repayments excluded from 2020 income: From the date of the CARES Act enactment through year-end, your employer can pay up to $5,250 toward your student debt or your current education without it counting as taxable income to you.
  • Pell Grant relief: There are several clauses that ease Pell Grant limits, while not eliminating them. It would be best if we go over these with you in person if they may apply to you.

For Estates/Beneficiaries

  • A break for “non-designated” beneficiaries: 2020 can be ignored when applying the 5-year rule for “non-designated” beneficiaries with inherited retirement accounts. The 5-Year Rule effectively ends up becoming a 6-Year Rule for current non-designated beneficiaries.

You’re now familiar with much of the critical content of the CARES Act! That said, given the complexities involved and unprecedented current conditions, there will undoubtedly be updates, clarifications, additions, system glitches, and other adjustments to these summary points. The results could leave a wide gap between intention and reality.

As such, before proceeding, please consult with us and other appropriate professionals, such as your accountant, and/or estate planning attorney on any details specific to you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and comments. It’s what we are here for.

Emily Balmages, CFP®, CRTP

Director of Financial Planning, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

If you have questions about any of this or would like to schedule a complimentary review you can Contact Us or call 714-876-6200 to book a free consultation.

DISCLOSURES

Reference Materials:

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Coronavirus: Here’s a Portfolio Treatment Plan

Wow! Our last published piece on the blog was “2019: A Year for the Record Books”. Two months later and the peace and quiet of yesteryear seem a distant memory. Scary days have arrived, thanks to the concern over how coronavirus might impact our global economy. As we draft this update, headlines are reporting the biggest weekly stock market losses since 2008.

We do not know whether the current correction will deepen or soon dissipate. It is important to remember that what was good advice in mild markets remains good advice today. Given the current climate, let’s take a look at a sound unemotional treatment plan for your nest-egg.

We continue to advise against panicked reactions to market conditions, or trying to predict an unknowable future. That being said, we are aggressively looking for ways to help our clients make lemonade out of this week’s lemons – such as through disciplined portfolio rebalancing and strategic tax loss harvesting. On Friday February 28th, we executed both on behalf of our private wealth clients.

Other lemonade ideas include refinancing your mortgage as interest rates have hit historic lows or executing a ROTH conversion while your portfolio is down, turning the recovery into tax free growth. More than anything, as you’ll see below, a long term perspective during an epidemic pays.

*First Trust

In 11 of the 12 cases above, the U.S. Stock Market was positive 6 months after an epidemic broke out, with an average return of 8.8%. In 9 of the 11 cases the U.S. Stock Market was positive 12 months after with an average return of 13.6%. It’s also important to note diversification worked last week with U.S. Bonds actually netting a positive return while U.S. stocks were down 11.5%.

@StockCharts – US Market represented by SPY. US Bonds by AGG.

If we can be of assistance or you want to talk through any of this, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do right now while markets are at least temporarily tanking.


1. Don’t panic (or pretend not to). It’s easy to believe you’re immune from panic when the financial sun is shining, but it’s hard to avoid indulging in it during a crisis. If you’re entertaining seemingly logical excuses to bail out during a steep or sustained market downturn, remember: It’s highly likely your behavioral biases are doing the talking. Even if you only pretend to be calm, that’s fine, as long as it prevents you from acting on your fears.

“Every time someone says, ‘There is a lot of cash on the sidelines,’ a tiny part of my soul dies. There are no sidelines.” – Cliff Asness, AQR Capital Management


2. Redirect your energy. No matter how logical it may be to sit on your hands during market downturns, your “fight or flight” instincts can trick you into acting anyway. Fortunately, there are productive moves you can make instead – such as all 10 actions here – to satisfy the itch to act without overhauling your investments at potentially the worst possible time.

“My advice to a prospective active do-it-yourself investor is to learn to golf. You’ll get a little exercise, some fresh air and time with your friends. Sure, green fees can be steep, but not as steep as the hit your portfolio will take if you become an active do-it-yourself investor.” – Terrance Odean, behavioral finance professor


3. Remember the evidence. One way to ignore your self-doubts during market crises is to heed what decades of practical and academic evidence have taught us about investing: Capital markets’ long-term trajectories have been upward. Thus, if you sell when markets are down, you’re far more likely to lock in permanent losses than come out ahead.

“Do the math. Expect catastrophes. Whatever happens, stay the course.” – William Bernstein, MD, PhD, financial theorist and neurologist


4. Manage your exposure to breaking news. There’s a difference between following current events versus fixating on them. In today’s multitasking, multimedia world, it’s easier than ever to be inundated by late-breaking news. When you become mired in the minutiae, it’s hard to retain your long-term perspective.

“Choosing what to ignore – turning off constant market updates, tuning out pundits purveying the latest Armageddon – is critical to maintaining a long-term focus.” – Jason Zweig, The Wall Street Journal


5. Revisit your carefully crafted investment plans (or make some). Even if you yearn to go by gut feel during a financial crisis, remember: You promised yourself you wouldn’t do that. When did you promise? When you planned your personalized investment portfolio, carefully allocated to various sources of expected returns, globally diversified to dampen the risks involved, and sensibly executed with low-cost funds managed in an evidence-based manner. What if you’ve not yet made these sorts of plans or established this kind of portfolio? Then these are actions we encourage you to take at your earliest convenience.

“Thus, the prudent strategy for investors is to act like a postage stamp. The lowly postage stamp does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well – it adheres to its letter until it reaches its destination. Similarly, investors should adhere to their investment plan – asset allocation.” – Larry Swedroe, financial author


6. Reconsider your risk tolerance (but don’t act on it just yet). When you craft a personalized investment portfolio, you also commit to accepting a measure of market risk in exchange for those expected market returns. Unfortunately, during quiet times, it’s easy to overestimate how much risk you can stomach. If you discover you’re miserable to the point of breaking during even modest market declines, you may need to re-think your investment plans. Start planning for prudent portfolio adjustments, preferably working with an objective advisor to help you implement them judiciously over time. 

“Our aversion to leverage has dampened our returns over the years. But Charlie [Munger] and I sleep well. Both of us believe it is insane to risk what you have and need in order to obtain what you don’t need.” – Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway


7. Double down on your risk exposure – if you’re able. If, on the other hand, you’ve got nerves of steel, market downturns can be opportunities to buy more of the depressed (low-price) holdings that fit into your investment plans. You can do this with new money, or by rebalancing what you’ve got (selling appreciated assets to buy the underdogs). This is not for the timid! You’re buying holdings other investors are fleeing in droves. But if can do this and hold tight, you’re especially well-positioned to make the most of the expected recovery.

“Pick your risk exposure, and then diversify the hell out of it.” – Eugene Fama, Nobel  laureate economist


8. Tax-loss harvest. Depending on market conditions and your own circumstances, you may be able to use tax-loss harvesting during market downturns. A successful tax-loss harvest lowers your tax bill without substantially altering or impacting your long-term investment outcomes. This action is not without its tricks and traps, however, so it’s best done in alliance with a financial professional who is well-versed in navigating the challenges involved.

“In investing, you get what you don’t pay for.” – John  C. Bogle, Vanguard founder


9, Revisit this article. There is no better time to re-read this article than when the going gets tough, when yesterday’s practice run is no longer an exercise but a real event. Maybe it will take your mind off the barrage of breaking news.

“We’d never buy a shirt for full price then be O.K. returning it in exchange for the sale price. ‘Scary’ markets convince people this unequal exchange makes sense.” – Carl Richards, Behavior Gap


10. Talk to us. We didn’t know when. We still don’t know how severe it will be, or how long it will last. But we do know markets inevitably tank now and then; we also fully expect they’ll eventually recover and continue upward. Since there’s never a bad time to receive good advice, we hope you’ll be in touch if we can help.

“In the old legend the wise men finally boiled down the history of mortal affairs into the single phrase, ‘This too will pass.’”
Benjamin Graham, economist, “father of value investing”


Blake Street, CFA, CFP ®
Founding Partner
Chief Investment Officer
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

April 2019 Market Commentary

April 2019 Market Commentary

Key Takeaways

    • 1st quarter GDP beat expectations at 3.2%, due in part to increasing net exports and inventories
    • The U.S. stock market reached new highs as economic data and corporate earnings were stronger than expected, though stock prices of companies with disappointing results have been punished
    • Despite slowing GDP in China and continuing budgetary and political challenges throughout Europe, economic growth overseas remains modestly positive
    • The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators Index® increased in February and March, though is expected to weaken slightly going forward; new home sales and job growth beat expectations
    • Though central banks are on hold for now, interest rate ‘normalization’ will resume when inflation gains traction, which could happen later this year due to tight labor markets and rising commodity prices
  • Conclusion: Enjoy the party! Global stock markets have had a good run so far, and recent earnings announcements and economic data suggest a positive environment for the rest of the year.

The death of the U.S. economy has been greatly exaggerated.

1st quarter GDP beat expectations at 3.2%, due in part to increases in net exports and inventories. This strong growth came despite the consensus view earlier in the year that the U.S. economy was nearing a recession. In fact, the U.S. economy is still benefiting from several sources of stimulus such as low interest rates, 2017 corporate tax cuts, and deregulation. While it’s unlikely we’ll see such strong GDP numbers going forward, there’s no sign yet that these supportive factors have fully played themselves out.

Time to celebrate! The U.S. economy is not dead!

The strong GDP growth was also reflected in the U.S. stock market.  As of April 26, 77% of S&P 500 companies reporting actual earnings during the 1st quarter of 2019 were higher than expected. The chart below compares projected quarterly corporate earnings (gray bar) to actual earnings (blue bar) over the past few years. Actual earnings surpassed estimated earnings in the 4th quarter of 2018 and are looking to do the same in the 1st quarter of 2019. Add to this the size of the positive surprise so far in 2019 being larger than the historical average, and you have the U.S. stock market hitting new highs in April.

But it isn’t all roses and sunshine. The U.S. stock market has rewarded upward earnings surprises for sure, but has been unusually harsh with companies reporting disappointing earnings. According to the Wall Street Journal, the stock price of companies reporting actual earnings below estimates has fallen an average of 3.5% in the two days before and after their earnings announcement, compared to a historical average decline of only 2.5%. Investors don’t seem convinced that corporate profits are going to continue to grow.

One indicator of this lack of trust in the strength of the economy is very low bond yields. Despite decent earnings growth and high stock prices, the yield on the 10-year Treasury bond remains very low at about 2.5%, barely above inflation. The fact that investors are willing to buy bonds at this very low yield indicates skepticism about where the global economy is headed and how quickly we’re likely to get there.

Countries outside the U.S. are also facing economic uncertainty. Europe continues to struggle with trade tariffs and political unrest, and tensions between the U.S. and China remain unsettled. The U.K. hasn’t yet figured out how to exit the European Union gracefully, Italy missed its budget deficit target (again), and business sentiment in Germany is falling.

One bright spot is stronger-than-expected first quarter growth in China. But international investors are now worried that Chinese authorities will slow the pace of policy easing and the economy will fall back. While Europe and the U.K. seem to be navigating their challenges well enough, heaven help us if the expected resolution of the U.S.-China trade talks gets derailed! Given the uncertain state of global economies, skittish investors may run for the sidelines at the slightest negative news about escalating trade tensions.

But don’t let me be a ‘Debbie Downer’! Global stock markets are doing great so far this year.

If the year ends with no more gains than we already have, the S&P 500 return for the first four months of 2019 will be in the top third of historic returns for an entire year. As you can see in the graph below, developed and emerging global markets are also having a good run in 2019 (blue and red lines). Even bond market returns are positive, as shown by the green line at the bottom of the graph.

https://stockcharts.com/h-perf/ui

 

There is one cautionary note on the U.S. stock market, however: higher-than-average stock valuations. According to Factset, the forward 12-month Price/Earnings ratio for S&P 500 companies has risen to 16.8. This is higher than both the 15-year and 10-year average, and a signal that the market may not have much more room to run.

So far, so good…but for how long?

In mid-April the Conference Board announced its Leading Economic Indicators Index® (LEI) for the 1st quarter of 2019. The LEI posted a gain of 0.4% in March after increasing 0.1% in February, primarily due to strength in the labor markets, improved consumer outlook, and better-than-expected financial conditions. Eight out of the 10 LEI factors were positive in March, with 2 factors holding steady (average weekly manufacturing hours and building permits.) New home sales also rose unexpectedly in March, the third gain in a row. The three-month average sales rate is close to its best since December 2007.

Despite the recent strength in economic data, the trend in the LEI is leveling out, suggesting the U.S. economy will slow toward its long-term potential growth rate of about 2% by year end. This trend is reflected in the reduced pace of home price appreciation in March and a slight drop in labor participation.

The Fed echoed this ‘slow growth’ story in the statement released after the May 1st FOMC meeting. The committee highlighted a slowdown in household spending and business investment, as well as inflation below its 2% target, but indicated this weakness was probably “transient” and short term rates were appropriate at the current level.

All in all, the data continue to support the conclusion we’ve been talking about since late 2018 – the U.S. economy is slowing, but a recession is not imminent. In fact, the surprise that might spook investors later this year isn’t recession, but inflation.

With stronger than expected economic data so far in 2019, is inflation around the corner?

The tight labor market and increasing commodity prices might catch up with us later this year. As shown on the graph below, the cost of personal consumption has fallen recently but ticked up again in March (blue line). The Employee Compensation Index increased 0.7% for the quarter, though the 12-month growth rate slowed a bit (red line.) And the job report released in early May reported non-farm payrolls up 263,000, while the unemployment rate fell to 3.6%, the lowest level since 1969. It’s reasonable to expect higher wages to boost consumer purchases going forward, which may enable businesses to pass the increased labor cost on to consumers.

If you add increasing commodity prices such as oil (red line) and copper (blue line) to the rising wage trend, we may finally see the increase in inflation many of us have been watching for during the past few years of the economic recovery.

What is the end result? If commodity prices remain high and sales of goods and services absorb price pressure from increased labor and input costs (inflation), the Fed may have to revisit its mission to ‘normalize’ interest rates to keep the U.S. economy from overheating later this year. Market participants aren’t expecting this. Investors tend to react badly when caught by surprise, so we’re keeping a close watch on the data in the hope of being one step ahead of the crowd when the time comes to head for the exits.

Source: https://www.cmegroup.com/trading/interest-rates/countdown-to-fomc.html

Conclusion: Enjoy the ride! (for now)

While we can’t predict when the party will end, that’s no reason not to enjoy ourselves in the meantime. A higher proportion of people are participating in the workforce than at any time since the 2008-2009 recession. Wages are rising, political tensions are easing, corporate profits aren’t as bad as feared, and interest rates remain low. What’s not to like?!

Just keep an eye out for warning lights as we get closer to the end of the year.

ASSET CLASS and SECTOR RETURNS as of APRIL 2019

Source: Morningstar Direct

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

 

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research Analyst
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

 

 

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

 

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200

 

Have You Heard of the “Mega Backdoor Roth IRA”?

Chances are if you are reading this, you’re already at least somewhat familiar with a Roth IRA. While the contribution limit will vary over time, in 2019 the limit is $6,000, plus an additional $1,000 catch up contribution for individuals over the age of 50. This limit is per individual, allowing married couples to contribute up to a maximum of $12,000-$14,000 depending on their age. Direct contributions to a Roth IRA also have an income phase-out limit that you’ll need to be aware of, which starts at $122,000 for single filers and $193,000 for joint filers.

What if I told you there was a way to contribute to a Roth IRA well beyond these limits, regardless of your income level? At some employers, you can.

The typical “backdoor Roth IRA” is a strategy for individuals to contribute to a Roth IRA that are over the income phase-out limitation for a direct contribution. This can be beneficial for many people, but still caps your contributions at only $6,000 or $7,000 per year. In some cases, your 401(k) may allow the ability to contribute on an “after-tax” basis, which opens up a world of possibilities for additional Roth contributions.

Roth contributions are contributed on an after-tax basis(meaning no current tax deduction), but earnings grow tax-free as long as you meet all the withdrawal eligibility rules set by the IRS. This means you must be at least age 59 ½ and meet the IRS’ “5 year rule” at the time of withdrawal.

An “after-tax” contribution works similar to a Roth contribution, but the taxation differs slightly. A pure after-tax contribution also provides no current tax deduction, but earnings associated with the money grow only tax-deferred and are later taxable at ordinary income rates upon distribution. As you can see, Roth dollars are generally more valuable than pure after-tax dollars.

The good news is, there is a fairly easy way to convert your pure after-tax dollars into Roth dollars so that all earnings grow tax-free. Once you hit the $19,000(plus $6,000 catch up for individuals over the age of 50) annual limit for your pre-tax and/or Roth contributions into your 401(k), you will want to begin contributing on an after-tax basis.

Pure after-tax contributions are not subject to the typical annual contribution limit of $19,000 or $25,000. Instead, they are capped at an overall 401(k) contribution limit of $56,000 or $62,000. This overall limit includes all of your pre-tax, Roth, employer matching, and after-tax contributions combined. In other words, if you make $100,000 per year and are under the age of 50, your pre-tax/Roth contributions are $19,000, your employer match is $6,000, and your maximum after-tax contributions are $31,000. ($56,000 – 19,000 – 6,000 match = $31,000 of remaining after-tax contribution ability). This additional $31,000 could then be rolled into a Roth IRA, allowing for the “mega backdoor Roth” contribution. This means you can potentially get up to $37,000 per year into a Roth IRA!

There is one caveat to this however. When you convert your after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA, any earnings that are associated with the after-tax contributions that enter the Roth IRA will be taxable. If you contributed $10,000 after-tax and that money has since grown to $12,000, you will pay tax on the $2,000 should you put the full $12,000 into the Roth IRA. This can be circumvented by removing only the pure after-tax contributions(basis) and leaving account earnings in the 401(k) account to grow tax-deferred and be withdrawn at a later date. For this reason, the sooner you can get the money from the after-tax 401(k) to the Roth IRA, the sooner your money will be growing for you tax-free. Once the money is in the Roth IRA, you are open to the entire world of investing beyond what is offered in the 401(k) plan. You have the ability to have the money invested in mutual funds, ETFs, stocks, bonds, and with the oversight of professional management should you choose.

This is a great savings strategy for individuals who are looking to increase the amount of their retirement savings and want to do so in a tax-advantaged way. For individuals who have the excess cash flow and budgetary means of doing so, the “mega backdoor Roth” is a no brainer. While this strategy can be complex, once initially set up the ongoing maintenance is minimal. Warren Street Wealth Advisors is here to assist and facilitate after-tax contributions, conversions to Roth accounts, and the underlying investment management. For individuals looking to take advantage of this huge tax savings opportunity, be sure to contact us for help getting this strategy implemented for your situation. Please bear in mind this strategy is only applicable to individuals who are already maximizing their current pre-tax or Roth contributions in the 401(k).

If you have any questions on the strategy or investments and tax planning in general, be sure to reach out and contact us as we are happy to help. As with nearly everything financial planning, specific rules and details will need to be implemented on a case by case basis, so be sure to contact us with the specifics of your case.

Justin D. Rucci, CFP®

Wealth Advisor

Warren Street Wealth Advisors

 

Justin D. Rucci, CFP® is an Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. Investing involves the risk of loss of principal. Justin D. Rucci, CFP® is not a CPA or accountant and the information contained herein is considered for general educational purposes. Please seek a qualified tax opinion or discuss with your financial advisor as nothing in this publication is considered personal actionable advice.

March 2019 Market Commentary

Key Takeaways

    • The rally in U.S. stocks slowed in March but still posted the best 1st quarter in recent memory at 13.65%, though stock markets remain volatile as investors seem to overreact to fears of the Fed increasing interest rates too much or not increasing rates at all
    • A slightly better-than-expected jobs report for March helped calm fears about mixed economic data in the U.S., supporting the Fed’s decision to keep short-term interest rates low for the foreseeable future
    • The OECD lowered its forecast for European GDP growth to a paltry 1.0% in 2019 and 1.2% in 2020; German government bonds fell into negative territory after the ECB reported weak manufacturing data
    • Overall, improved labor conditions, lower headline inflation, and accommodative monetary policy should help support real income growth and household spending in most developed countries

 

  • Conclusion: Recent market swings seem driven more by fear than by fundamentals. Economic data isn’t great, but the data doesn’t support a forecast for a global recession; U.S. markets are likely to hang on to gains until or unless weakness in the economy becomes more clear.

 

 

Is the U.S. economy getting better? Or getting worse?

The S&P 500 had its best 1st quarter return in recent memory, yet the Federal Reserve Bank kept interest rates low to avoid derailing the economy. Which of these forward-looking indicators is correct? To answer this question, let’s start at the beginning. You may have learned in school that GDP – the primary measure of economic strength – is simply the value of all goods and services sold in a country over a given period of time. In essence, GDP represents the value of business transactions. These transactions flow into company financial statements and impact the ability of these companies to pay dividends or launch new ventures. This increased cash flow is recognized by investors, who become willing to pay more for shares of those businesses in the stock market, pushing stock prices up. If the economy is up, stock prices are up too.

Easy, right? All the dominoes line up and we understand how the market works…or maybe not?

Here is the conundrum: stock prices are a ‘leading economic indicator’ because investors buy today expecting gains in the future. Interest rates are also leading indicators because investors need to forecast future interest rates – which typically move up and down with economic activity – before they’re willing to tie up their money for 10 or 20 years. Stock and bond prices don’t usually go up together.

Source: https://www.pimco.com/en-us/resources/education/everything-you-need-to-know-about-bonds

If interest rates go up, prices of existing fixed-rate bonds go down in order to compete with new bonds issued with higher coupon (interest) rates. But rising interest rates usually indicate more demand for funds, which is often associated with a strong economy, which means more profits, and consequently higher stock prices.

The upshot of all this is when stock prices go up, bond prices are usually flat or negative. Conversely, when stock prices go down, bond prices are usually positive as investors sell volatile stocks and seek safer assets such as government bonds.

Source: https://stockcharts.com/h-perf/ui

As you can see from the chart above, bond prices as represented by the long-term Treasury ETF (ticker ‘TLT’ – blue line) usually go up when stock prices go down (represented by the Dow Jones Industrial Average – black line), and vice versa. This effect was particularly dramatic during the 4th quarter of 2018.

Despite the strong start for stocks in 2019, if you look back 6-months from October to March, bonds have been among the best performing asset classes. Bonds may not be sexy, but they sure are welcome when markets get rough! But wait – look at the red box in February and March. Bond and stock prices are moving together. Why??

The charts below from the Bureau of Economic Analysis may hold some of the answers. In a nutshell, the problem is Change. And I don’t mean the kind of change you find in your sofa cushions…

Chart 1: The U.S. economy is growing, but slower than in recent quarters.

 

Consumer spending takes a breath after spiking in April

Chart 2: Disposable income is increasing, but consumer spending is down.

Chart 3: Companies are adding value to GDP, but at a slower pace than previously.

The economic data is okay, but clearly slowing from the strong levels of 2017-2018. Does ‘slowing’ economic activity mean a recession is around the corner? I don’t think so, and many commentators are coming around to this view. What’s really moving the market, then? In addition to economic fundamentals, the stock market seems to be overreacting to the possibility of interest rates going up…or going down. Does being afraid of both situations make any sense? Probably not.

If the Fed increases rates too aggressively, they could indeed stall the economy. But we should take comfort in the persistent ‘data dependent’ stance of the Fed. They have no intention of being aggressive with interest rate hikes, so the stock market should probably find something else to worry about. In fact, institutional investors seem to agree that short-term rates are going nowhere any time soon. Federal Funds futures contracts are predicting the Fed will decrease rates by the end of 2019, though the Fed’s own ‘dot plot’ shows a possibility of one rate increase by the end of the year.

Source: https://www.cmegroup.com/trading/interest-rates/countdown-to-fomc.html

Source: https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/files/fomcprojtabl20190320.pdf

The Fed is also cautious about raising short-term rates too quickly and causing the Treasury yield curve to become ‘inverted’. An inverted yield curve is one where short-term interest rates are higher than longer term rates. This isn’t normal! Investors and lenders usually require higher rates to lock up their money for a longer period of time. An inverted curve is usually driven by…here’s that word again…Change.

The yield curve can invert under three basic scenarios:

 

  • The Fed is aggressively increasing short-term interest rates to cool down an overheated economy

 

  • Investors are demanding less return for longer maturities because they believe inflation, and consequently future interest rates, will be lower than they are currently

 

  • Differing supply and demand pressures on the short and long portions of the yield curve, sometimes driven by interest rate differentials between the U.S. and other developed countries

 

 

 

An inverted yield curve has preceded many recessions in the past few decades, which is why it makes people uncomfortable. But the inversion has happened as much as 2 years before the recession, so I’m not sure that the curve is actually predicting anything. It’s more helpful to analyze the economic situation driving the curve shape, rather than drawing conclusions from the curve alone. You might take comfort in knowing that post-inversion recessions have only happened when the 10-year Treasury yield was at least 0.50% below the Fed Funds rate, which we’re nowhere near. Right now my money is on Option #3 – a supply demand imbalance, not an imminent recession. Nonetheless, the current Treasury curve is slightly inverted between the 1 year and 5 year maturities and the Fed doesn’t want it to get worse and spook investors.

Source: Morningstar.com

It doesn’t make much sense for investors to be afraid of interest rates going up and also afraid of interest rates going down. But that seems to be the case at the moment and is a key driver of recent volatility in the U.S. stock market. Let’s be ‘data dependent’ for a minute and draw our own conclusions based on what we can see in the global economic landscape:

  1. The Fed is being cautious about raising or lowering interest rates because economic data doesn’t point strongly either up or down and they don’t want to spook the financial markets
  2. Though corporate earnings forecasts are lower than 2018, the majority of S&P 500 companies reporting slower earnings projections for the 1st quarter of 2019 have experienced positive stock price movement; S&P 500 gains year-to-date have been felt broadly across many sectors
  3. U.S. manufacturing output slipped to its lowest level in 2 years, despite trade tensions between the U.S. and China moderating somewhat rather than getting worse
  4. Challenges persist overseas, particularly in Europe, as trade tariffs hit European and Asian businesses harder than the U.S.; factory output in the Eurozone fell in March at the fastest pace in 6 years
  5. Manufacturing data in China, the second largest economy in the world, was stronger than expected in March; the Chinese economy is expected to slow to a still robust 6% GDP growth in 2019 and beyond
  6. European markets are stabilizing as the U.K. Parliament seems to be making progress identifying a viable ‘Brexit’ strategy; economic disaster in Europe due to stalled trade with Britain seems unlikely
  7. Trade tariffs aside, improved labor conditions, lower headline inflation, and accommodative monetary policy should help support real income growth and household spending in most developed countries
  8. Emerging economies are avoiding much of the global slowdown as many smaller countries benefit from strong capital investment, improving income growth, and economic and political reforms in recent years

What conclusions can we draw from all this data?

The economic data is certainly mixed, but most indicators point to slower growth in 2019, not a recession. From what we can see today, global economies, and consequently financial markets, should stay in modestly positive territory for the near term. We can sleep well at night knowing the ship is headed in the right direction…for now.

 

ASSET CLASS and SECTOR RETURNS as of MARCH 2019

Source: Morningstar Direct

Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices

Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA
Senior Research Analyst
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Warren Street Wealth Advisors, a Registered Investment Advisor. The information contained herein does not involve the rendering of personalized investment advice but is limited to the dissemination of general information. A professional advisor should be consulted before implementing any of the strategies or options presented. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. 

DISCLOSURES

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

 

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications.

Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200