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Perks of a California Retirement

Having a comfortable retirement doesn’t necessarily mean leaving The Golden State behind.

In our California-based advising firm we often see clients who would like to move out of the state at retirement (or sooner). There are plenty of reasons to re-settle, and if your only reason is “I want to” then that is good enough for us. But the retirement of your dreams doesn’t necessarily mean you need to pack up and move. Call us biased…but we love The Golden State! 

The State Tax Problem

A major concern for Californians is taxes. Our top state tax bracket is the highest in the nation. However, a retiree’s taxable income is not often in the highest bracket. The tax rates for most middle (and even upper-middle) class taxpayers are comparable to, and sometimes lower than, those in several other states.

To illustrate: in 2021 a single California taxpayer’s taxable income between $61,215 and $375,221 will be taxed at 9.3%. Compare that to a nice midwestern state like Minnesota. Their very top tax bracket is 9.85%, but it starts at taxable income over $166,041. So if your taxable income is between $166,041 and $375,221, you will pay similar state taxes whether you are in California or Minnesota.

Let’s look at a more realistic retirement income. Taxable income in retirement for an average married couple might be around $85,000. In California, their effective state tax rate for 2021 would be about 2.40%. If the couple decided to move to Arizona (a low tax state) in retirement, their effective state tax rate would be about 1.87%. That’s a difference of just $450 per year. Uprooting and moving states to save $450 in a year may not really be worth it!

It is true that state taxes are much lower in many other states. There are even states with no state income tax. But these states offset their lack of income tax with sales tax, property taxes, and other local taxes. The bottom line is: no state is going to let you put down roots for free. While California certainly is not the most taxpayer friendly state, for a large portion of residents the higher tax brackets are not going to be a factor.

Quality of Life in California

Two major considerations for quality of life are staying physically active and staying socially engaged. We know that a sedentary, perpetually isolated lifestyle is bad for your health. The mild-to-warm weather in California means your favorite activities can usually continue year-round, keeping you moving and socializing consistently throughout your life.

California has something for everyone. Do you prefer vibrant evenings out in the city or quiet mountain escapes? Yoga on the beach? Pickleball in the suburbs? Hiking in the desert? It’s all here.

Why Warren Street Loves CA

Why else does our team love California? When asked “What are some reasons a person might want to retire in California?” here is what we had to say:

  • “Many job prospects for those who want to have a part-time retirement living.”
  • “On the tax note, Prop 13 and Prop 19 can keep CA property taxes low.”
  • “Good access to medical care and good doctors in most of CA.”  
  • “Diverse population and diverse cultures in CA.”  
  • “California is a great hub for entertainment and tourism.” 
  • “Home to multiple beaches, national parks, etc.” 
  • “CA is the largest municipal bond market by issuance.” 
  • “In-N-Out.”

Every state has something great to offer. Above all, we love to see our clients happy and living their best life – before and after retirement.

Do you want to continue your California dream after you retire? Or do you want to try somewhere new? Whatever your goals, Warren Street is here to help you make them reality.

Kirsten C. Cadden, CFP®

Associate 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.

References:

https://www.thebalance.com/state-income-tax-rates-3193320

https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/taxes/california-state-tax

https://smartasset.com/taxes/california-tax-calculator

5 Bare Essentials to Consider When Retiring from SCE

Retirement can seem like the most exciting thing in the world — and the most overwhelming. On one hand, you finally get to spend your time on your terms. Maybe that’s traveling the world. Maybe it’s spending more time with your grandkids. Or maybe it’s just spending quiet evenings at home. 

Still, there’s that lingering question: “How does this all work?” So much goes into planning for retirement, as well as managing your money appropriately once you get to that point. It can be unnerving to consider how you’ll manage the nuances of your retirement plan, navigate Social Security benefits, and ensure you have the money you need to support your lifestyle in retirement. 

At Warren Street Wealth Advisors, we hear these concerns from clients often. In response, we’ve developed a specialty focus on retirement planning for Southern California Edison employees. After helping hundreds of SCE retirees navigate this crucial time, we know your retirement packages and employee benefits programs inside and out. Below are the top five bare essentials you need to know to retire from SCE.

1. Take your final distribution when you want.

It’s a common misconception that you are forced to take your final distribution at retirement, but that’s not the case. You can wait until Jan. 1, request your final distribution, and then take a direct payment to avoid penalties using the “55 Rule” if you are 55 years or older. This will also allow you to defer the income tax due until the following year’s tax return.

2. Understand that it’s possible to retire penalty-free between age 55 and 59 ½.

Here’s a scenario we see all the time: you’re 57. You want to retire. You don’t want to wait until 59 ½ to do it. But you know that there’s a 10% federal tax penalty and a 2.5% California state tax penalty if you take the money out of your IRA before 59 ½. So are you stuck? Nope.

There are a lot of moving parts to this process, but we can take advantage of IRS rules like 72(t) distributions or the previously mentioned “55 Rule” to ensure our clients do everything possible to avoid paying penalties.

3. Take advantage of your medical subsidy.

Did you know that you are eligible for a retiree medical subsidy? The most common subsidies are 50% and 85%. When you retire, Edison will pay either 50% or 85% of your current medical insurance premium as a “continuation benefit” in retirement. Simply put, what you pay today is what you’ll pay in retirement. Of course, this is as long as you reach your required benefit milestone. (Unsure what your benefit is? Call EIX Benefits at 866-693-4947 to ask what benefit you have and at what age you’ll receive it.)

4. Weigh your Social Security options.

There is all kinds of information out there about what to do with your Social Security. Let us boil it all down: you don’t have to take it at 62! When we build a financial plan for a client, we calculate all options for optimizing Social Security. It’s ultimately your decision, but we suggest weighing your options before committing to collecting the 25-30% reduced benefit at age 62.

5. Use your 401(k) efficiently.

Your 401(k) can be an immensely powerful tool if you understand how to max it out and diversify your investments. In most cases, this is the point at which you’ll want to hire a professional team to help. One tool that can help you is the Charles Schwab Personal Choice Retirement Account (PCRA) option included in your 401(k) plan. The PCRA option lets you purchase investments on your own or hire a professional advisor to do it for you. This is made available through your Tier 3 option. 

These are just a few of the tips and resources we offer SCE employees. For a deeper dive into strategies you can take to help you maximize your money in retirement, download our full SCE Retirement Handbook here.

Want to chat further? Feel free to reach out. We’ve worked with hundreds of employees with your exact plan and are glad to point you in the right direction.

Cary Facer

Founder and 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.

Did the Fed make a mistake? – “A Few Minutes with Marcia”

Welcome back to A Few Minutes with Marcia. My name is Marcia Clark, senior research analyst at Warren Street Wealth Advisors.

Today we’re going to spend a few minutes considering the pros and cons of the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee holding short-term interest rates steady at its June meeting. Most of my comments today are based on the FOMC announcement published on June 19, the press conference with Chairman Jerome Powell shortly thereafter, and remarks by Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard on June 21st.

Watch:

 

On June 19, the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee announced its decision to keep short-term interest rates unchanged at 2.25%-2.5%. Did they make a mistake?

To answer this question, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the Fed and attempt to base our opinion on the available data. The Fed should reduce rates if they see the economy struggling. Is that what they see?

During a speech in Cincinnati on June 21st, Fed Governor Lael Brainard stated his assessment that the most likely path for the economy remains solid. He noted strength in consumer spending and consumer confidence, as well as unemployment at a 50-year low.

He did note a few areas of concern: cautious business investment due to policy uncertainty, slow growth overseas, and muted inflation.

  • Mr. Brainard said: “The downside risks, if they materialize, could weigh on economic activity. Basic principles of risk management in a low neutral rate environment with compressed conventional policy space would argue for softening the expected path of policy when risks shift to the downside.” But what does he mean by ‘compressed conventional policy space’?

The Fed has limited room to maneuver because interest rates are already low, and inflation and employment have not responded to changes in interest rates as predictably as they have in the past. 

  • On the plus side, this means the labor market can strengthen a lot without an acceleration in inflation
  • On the other hand, this low sensitivity along with already low interest rates gives the Fed less ability to buffer the economy in a downturn

 

If the Fed doesn’t get their interest rate call right, the economy could begin to spiral too far up or too far down.

Let’s take a deeper look at why low interest rates present a challenge for the Fed.

  • In the past, the Federal Reserve has cut interest rates 4 to 5 percentage points in order to combat past recessions
  • The chart on slide 6 shows the current Fed Funds rate sitting at less than half where it was before the last two recessions. 
  • Clearly there is less room to run if a recession hits

 

The chart also shows GDP beginning to stabilize at the end of 2016. With GDP on a more steady path, back in 2017 the Fed started raising short-term interest rates toward a more normal level in order to have some ‘dry powder’ for the next recession.

How did we get to this delicate balance point?

In December 2018, the Fed said more rate hikes were appropriate given the strengthening economy. The stock market reacted badly as at the same time trade talks with China were going nowhere and portions of the Treasury yield curve were inverted. Recession fears were on everyone’s mind.

In March 2019, Federal Reserve officials reassure markets that they will be “patient” with increasing short-term interest rates. To quote the FOMC statement after the March meeting: “the case for raising rates has weakened…” Notice that they didn’t say the case for cutting rates has strengthened.

And in June, the FOMC held interest rates steady and stated that the current level of interest rates is consistent with its mission to promote full employment and price stability. In its post-meeting statement, the committee said that the timing and size of future adjustments will be based on economic conditions relative to these two objectives. 

After the announcement, both stocks and bonds reacted positively to the decision, with the stock market indexes touching new highs before falling back a bit at the end of the week. 

Commentators speculated that the markets reacted well because a rate cut could be imminent. Equally likely, however, is that the markets reacted to the lack of a rate hike and prospects that a recession is not around the corner. 

During a press conference after the announcement, Fed chairman Jerome Powell responded to a question by saying that being independent of political pressure or market sentiment has served the country well and would do so in the future. He stated that the FOMC will react to data and trends that are sustainable rather than individual data points that can be volatile

But despite all the evidence, as we approach the end of June an astonishing 100% of futures investors are betting on a rate cut in July. These investors are wrong. 

Why am I so sure they won’t cut rates when commentators and the futures market clearly think differently?

You may have heard the expression ‘pushing on a string’. What this means is that applying force to something with no rigidity won’t have any impact – the string absorbs the force and the force doesn’t go any further. This is the current situation with monetary policy.

Imagine pushing a sofa across your carpeted living room versus pushing a mattress across the same room.

Once the feet of the sofa get out of the dent they made in the carpet, the sofa will move fairly easily. That’s because the sofa is rigid – when you apply force at one end, the sofa moves away from the force.

But a mattress is much more resistant to shifting. That’s because much of the force you apply is absorbed by the cushioning already in the mattress. The mattress will often bend before it will move. The force doesn’t go anywhere or accomplish anything.

The current U.S. economy is like the mattress in this example. The U.S. economy has plenty of available capital and interest rates are already low. Reducing the Fed Funds target from 2.375% to 2.00% is unlikely to accomplish much other than encouraging unwise borrowing and ultimately sparking inflation.

Yes, bad things can happen to our economy and the Fed needs to guard against a recession. But a recession overseas is much more likely than in the U.S., and no U.S. recession has ever been caused by a recession overseas. Dropping interest rates to ease market concerns or satisfy political sentiment is not the Fed’s mandate and would be counterproductive.

Barring some catastrophic political event or natural disaster, the U.S. economy is unlikely to falter between now and mid-July. 

Recognizing the Fed’s dual mandate of stable prices and full employment are both being met at the current level of short-term interest rates, right now the downside risk of lowering rates outweighs the potential stimulus benefit. The FOMC should keep the Fed Funds rate steady when they meet in July.

This has been ‘A Few Minutes with Marcia’. I hope you are a bit clearer on how to assess the likelihood of Fed policy decisions going forward. As always, comments and questions are welcome!

Sources:

 

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.

Market Volatility – “A Few Minutes with Marcia”

Volatility measures the frequency and magnitude of price movements, both up and down, that a financial instrument experiences over a certain period of time. The more dramatic the price swings, the higher the level of volatility.

Learn the basics of market volatility with Marcia Clark, CFA, MBA.

Watch:

For those who prefer to read!

Welcome to A Few Minutes with Marcia. My name is Marcia Clark, Senior Research Analyst at Warren Street Wealth Advisors. Today we’re going to talk about the 4th quarter 2018 stock market dive and 1st quarter 2019 rebound in an attempt to understand more about market volatility.

Prior to 2018, the stock market had experienced 2 years of unusually low volatility, despite a few bumps along the way. After a mixed start to 2018, the Dow Jones Industrial Average looked like it was back to its winning ways, then came the 4th quarter tumble. Investors were caught by surprise by the huge swings in market prices – volatility – and started selling stocks like crazy. To better understand these market dynamics, let’s put the recent activity into context.

You may have heard of a common measure of market volatility called the ‘VIX’ – the Chicago Board Options Exchange volatility index. The VIX measures expected future volatility by evaluating the prices of put and call options traded on the exchange. If you’re looking at the slideshow, you can see how much calmer the VIX index was during the quiet years of the stock market, especially in 2017. As the market swooped up in late 2017, expected future volatility spiked shortly thereafter – remember that volatility can spike when prices go up as well as down.

When the market gave back some of its gains in early 2018, the volatility index fell back as well. Then came the market tumble in late 2018. The VIX index starts jumping around like a Richter scale during an earthquake. As we move into 2019, even with the recent pick up in volatility the graph shows that the VIX is at a pretty normal level compared to prior years. We’re just not used to ‘normal’ volatility anymore.

Where do we go from here? No one knows for sure, and if anyone says they can predict the future they’re kidding themselves and their clients. What we can say is that financial markets react to rumors and headlines, many of which don’t fundamentally change the financial landscape. This ‘knee jerk’ reaction causes market volatility, and this volatility is normal. In fact, active investment managers appreciate market volatility, because market dips based on headlines rather than fundamental changes in the economic landscape give investors with a strong stomach and an evidence-based outlook the ability to buy good assets at cheap prices. If all goes well, those assets will recover their value plus more over time, and patient investors will be rewarded.

 

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

2019 Started with a Roar!

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary for February 2019

Key Takeaways

    • Commodities took the lead in February with a year-to-date return of 13.14% as oil prices recovered from the supply/demand imbalance during the second half of 2018
    • The S&P 500 index is on pace for its biggest early-year advance in nearly 30 years, due in part to diminished investor fears about the impact of trade tensions and slowing pace of interest rate hikes
    • Forward-looking economic data is mixed: S&P 500 companies expect earnings growth to slow, but the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Indicators remain strong
    • Overseas tensions continue as the U.K. has yet to approve a ‘Brexit’ plan, trade tariffs put pressure on global economic growth, and high levels of public and private debt reduces central bank flexibility
    • Conclusion: Global economies are slowing but unlikely to enter a recession in 2019, providing support for U.S. financial markets. Market performance around the world is likely to be positive though with mixed results across developed and emerging economies.

Energy takes the lead with an impressive year-to-date return over 23%.

2019 started with a roar as commodities streaked off the starting line, gaining 13.14% in January and February (combined). The biggest winner was the Energy sector leaving everything else in the dust with an impressive 23.48% return. The rebound in oil prices was fueled in part by ongoing supply reductions by OPEC and diminishing trade tensions between the U.S. and China. Going forward, U.S. shale oil production capacity should keep a lid on oil prices despite efforts by OPEC countries to keep prices higher.

wti

Source: www.cnbc.com

1. https://us.spindices.com/performance-overview/commodities/sp-gsci
2. Source: Morningstar Energy sector analyst report

Global stocks were not left in the dust.

Despite the recent downturn, the S&P 500 is on pace for its strongest start in recent memory. This impressive performance was felt broadly across market sectors, led by Industrial companies and followed closely by Energy, Technology, and Consumer Discretionary firms.

Global stocks

Thankfully, U.S. stock market volatility as measured by the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) calmed down from the frantic pace of the 4th quarter, perhaps due to investor fatigue as much as anything else. In truth, news has indeed gotten better: the FOMC indicated it would remain patient with the pace of normalizing interest rates; trade negotiations with China are progressing toward a workable conclusion; and corporate earnings for the 4th quarter are coming in better than investors feared.

vix

Source: www.bloomberg.com

3. https://www.wsj.com/articles/history-shows-stock-rally-could-have-more-legs-11550840401

International stocks are also benefiting from economic and political tailwinds, pulling slightly ahead of the U.S. in February with a return of 3.58% versus 3.21% for the S&P 500. The U.S. remains in the lead year-to-date: +11.48% compared to +9.57% for the developed markets equity index (MSCI ACWI.) Emerging Markets stocks are solidly in the middle of the pack at 0.22% in February and 9.01% year-to-date. U.S. bonds lagged the field with a negative return of -0.06% in February and 1.0% year-to-date, despite over $25 billion of inflows from mutual fund investors fleeing the stock market volatility of the 4th quarter 2018.

Asset Class Winners and Losers as of February 2019

Asset Class Winners and Losers as of February 2019

Source: Morningstar Direct

4. Source: Morningstar Direct
5. https://ici.org/research/stats/flows

With such a great start to the year, you might be wondering “where do we go from here?”

As reported in the Wall Street Journal and calculated by Dow Jones Market Data, the U.S. stock market continues in the same direction it started 64% of the time. Whether this relationship will apply in 2019 depends to some degree on the cause of the strong start. Given the sharp sell-off in the 4th quarter of 2018, some of the rally in early 2019 is likely attributed to stock prices finding a more rational foundation after being oversold, with the remainder based on fundamental factors outlined above. These aren’t powerful reasons for the rally to continue the rest of the year, but no reason to decline either.

It is encouraging to see Industrials leading the way rather than Technology, as the returns of industrial companies tend to be more closely tied to longer term economic trends. The breadth of the rally is also hopeful, as the number of stocks rising versus falling each day hit new highs in February.

Another bright spot is the Conference Board’s ‘Leading Economic Indicators’ index which remains strong despite declining a bit in January.

conference board

6. Source: Dow Jones Market Data

What could go wrong?

On the less optimistic side of the equation, most S&P 500 companies are forecasting earnings growth to slow in 2019. Overseas, economic tensions persist as the U.K. has yet to come up with a ‘Brexit’ deal acceptable to both the European Union and the British Parliament, and trade tariffs are hitting European automakers particularly hard. Add to this the worrisome growth of debt among many public and private entities worldwide, including the U.S. government, leaving central banks with less flexibility if the global economy stumbles.

The International Monetary Fund recently published an eye-opening study about the amount of debt accumulated around the world. (see chart below) The large light blue circle in the ‘Advanced Economies’ section at the top of the chart represents U.S. public and private debt at 256% of GDP. Japan is the green circle at the top right with nearly 400% debt to GDP(!), and Germany is the medium blue circle at the top left with 171% debt.

The dark blue circle in the middle ‘Emerging Markets’ section represents the debt load of mainland China at 254%. The lower section reflects ‘Low Income’ countries including Bangladesh, the light blue circle in the middle with 76% debt, and Vietnam in dark blue at the far right of this group with 189% debt to GDP.

Global Public and Private Debt as a Percent of GDP

Global Public and Private Debt as a Percent of GDP

7. https://blogs.imf.org/2019/01/02/new-data-on-global-debt/

Is all this debt a problem, especially for the U.S. government with over $22 trillion debt outstanding?

You might be comforted to know that though the U.S. government debt load is growing ever higher – due in some part to the ever-expanding U.S. economy – the interest servicing cost is only 1 ½% of GDP, compared to about 3% of GDP in the much higher interest rate environment of the 1980s and 1990s.

 interest rate

Source: www.treasurydirect.gov

As long as government borrowing and spending doesn’t ‘crowd out’ the private sector capacity to lend and spend, the debt shouldn’t be a problem. However, if government debt becomes so large that the government’s need to borrow pushes up interest rates for the rest of us, the economy could slow, kicking off a vicious cycle of unsustainable borrowing to keep the economy afloat. But there’s no need to panic just yet! Government debt is nowhere near the danger level and is unlikely to get there any time soon.

How do we weigh the positive and negative economic data?

Based on the available information, it’s hard to say whether 2019 will be an outstanding year for financial assets, below average, or somewhere in between. The International Monetary Fund is forecasting an economic slowdown – not a recession – across most developed markets in 2019 and 2020 (including Europe and the U.S.)

Growth Projections

On balance, there is enough positive data to support the case that a recession is not on the horizon. This outlook is becoming more widely held, which should enable the financial markets to hold their position and cross the finish line in positive territory by the end of 2019.

As always, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors will keep a sharp lookout for confirming or contrary evidence as the year unfolds, and will base our investment decisions on the best information we can find. While the future remains unclear, we promise to keep you informed as we journey forward.

8. https://www.treasurydirect.gov/NP/debt/current
9.https://www.ftportfolios.com/Commentary/EconomicResearch/2019/2/22/debt,-the-economy-and-stocks
10. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/crowdingouteffect.asp

Quiz:

Referring to the IMF ‘Debt Around the World’ blog post at https://blogs.imf.org/2019/01/02/new-data-on-global-debt/, which of the following countries has the largest debt as a percent of GDP, including both government and private entities? (Hint: click on the link, then move your mouse over the circles to see the details for each country)

  1. United States
  2. China
  3. Japan
  4. Germany

If you’re the sort of person who likes to draw your own conclusions, we highly recommend the IMF website from which we source much of our global information. Click on this link to see global economic data: https://www.imf.org/external/datamapper/NGDP_RPCH@WEO/OEMDC/ADVEC/WEOWORLD

Answer below…

 

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

 

Quiz Answer: Japan

 

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary

WSWA Monthly Market Commentary for January 2019

Key Takeaways

  • All major asset classes were up strongly in January, one of the best yearly starts in recent memory, despite the month-long partial government shutdown in the U.S. and continuing uncertainty internationally about the economic impact of trade tariffs and the U.K. ‘Brexit’ negotiations
  • Global real estate took the lead with a monthly return of 9.7%, followed by commodities and U.S. growth stocks at 9% each. The S&P 500 posted an 8% return for the month
  • Recession fears in the U.S. receded as job growth was strong despite the unemployment rate edging up to 4%;Corporate profits continued to grow in the 4th quarter of 2018, though will slow in 2019
  • Fears of a recession due to rising interest rates diminished with Federal Reserve officials holding short-term rates steady at their January meeting and commenting on being ‘patient’ with future rate increases

What a way to start the year!

All major asset classes were up strongly in January, one of the best yearly starts in recent memory, despite the month-long partial government shutdown in the U.S., continuing uncertainty about trade tariffs’ impact on international growth, and the failure of U.K. ‘Brexit’ negotiations.

Global real estate took the lead among major asset classes with a monthly return of 9.70%, followed by commodities and U.S. growth stocks at 8.99% each. The S&P 500 gained 8.01% for the month, with emerging markets equities up 8.77% and developed international equities up 5.72%. U.S. bonds also had a strong month, rising 1.06%.

Morningstar Direct

Source: Morningstar Direct

Among commodities, crude oil prices led the way with a strong rebound from the December 24th low of $42.53, ending the month at $53.79. The S&P GSCI Agriculture index, the second largest component of the S&P GSCI index, stabilized after declining steadily in recent years[1].

West Texas Crude Oil Price
West Texas Crude Oil Price

Source: www.macrotrends.net

GSCI Agriculture Index

GSCI Agriculture Index

International equity markets are well priced for future growth.

Emerging Markets equities (EEM) led the international equity markets in January, followed by the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI), with Europe, Australasia, and Far East (EAFE) markets not far behind.


[1]https://us.spindices.com/indices/

European markets posted solid returns despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan being voted down by Parliament. After the Brexit agreement was rejected, Prime Minister May survived a ‘no confidence’ vote and promised renewed efforts to negotiate an acceptable exit plan with European Union leadership.

According to Harris Associates, manager of the Oakmark International fund, international markets have been the victim of “overly emotional equity markets” in recent months[2] and U.K. businesses are generating the highest percent free cash flow in the world (6%[3]). Prominent companies such as Daimler, Lloyds, and Tencent are trading at significant discounts to intrinsic value, and the Oakmark International portfolio has a Price/Cash Flow ratio of 4.8x compared to 7.5x for the world, indicating the shares held in the fund are priced significantly lower than the world markets.

Oakmark International, MSCI ACWI, EAFE, and Emerging Markets Equity Returns

Oakmark International

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

Worries about a near-term recession in the U.S. receded as corporate earnings continued to grow in the 4th quarter of 2018 and employers added more new jobs than expected.

Unemployment in the U.S. remained near historic lows, edging up to 4%[4] due to the temporary addition of government workers furloughed during the partial government shutdown. The labor participation rate continued to increase slowly and job creation exceeded expectations in January with 304,000 jobs added[5].

Fears of rising interest rates derailing the U.S. economy diminished with Federal Reserve officials holding short-term rates steady at their January meeting and commenting on being ‘patient’ with future interest rate increases[6].


[2]https://www.im.natixis.com/us/markets/finding-value-in-overly-emotional-equity-markets
[3] As presented Natixis National Sales Meeting January 10, 2019 Source: Corporate Reports, Empirical Research Partners Analysis as of November 30, 2018. Excluding financials and utilities; data smoothed on a trailing six-month basis.
[4]https://www.wsj.com/articles/global-stocks-edge-up-after-a-january-surge-in-the-u-s
[5]https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
[6]https://www.federalreserve.gov/monetarypolicy/fomcpresconf20190130.htm

U.S. Unemployment Rate, Participation Rate, and 10-yr. Treasury Yield

Corporate earnings for the 4th quarter were generally near the 5-year average with 10 of the 11 S&P sectors reporting year-over-year earnings growth.

Energy, Industrials, and Communication Services led the way with double-digit growth rates in the 4th quarter, though earnings estimates for 2019 are trending lower across most sectors[7].

4th Quarter 2018 Actual Earnings Growth vs. 12/31/2018 Projections

2019 Forecast Earnings Growth vs. 12/31/2018 Projections


[7]https://insight.factset.com/earnings-season-update-february-1-2019
The investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors held the line through a difficult 4th quarter of 2018, reaping the reward with a strong start to 2019.

Despite some negative headlines in December, the U.S. economy does not seem poised for a recession and we will remain fully invested across market sectors until evidence to the contrary becomes clear. With the Federal Reserve cautious on raising interest rates, job growth and wages increasing, and trade talks moving forward, we expect market volatility in 2019 to settle closer to historic norms, though not without some bumps along the way.

Despite recent weakness in overseas markets relative to the U.S., we are strong in our conviction that international markets are poised to rebound as stock prices stabilize at attractive levels, particularly in Europe and Emerging Markets, and negative headlines diminish. While economic and fundamental data appear mixed globally, we continue to be broadly diversified as international markets work through the next phase of political and economic developments.

As always, if you have any concerns or questions, the investment and financial planning teams at Warren Street Wealth Advisors want to hear from you! Call, write, or drop by our Tustin or El Segundo offices any time. We are here to help.

 

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. 

 

 

 

Does PG&E’s Recent Bankruptcy Announcement Scare You?

Here Are The Things All Employees Should Be Aware of Regardless of Where You Work

By Justin D. Rucci, CFP® 

As many of you are likely aware, PG&E recently announced a bankruptcy filing as the result of roughly $30B in potential liabilities stemming from recent California wildfires. Regardless of whether or not you work for a public utility, it is only natural to have questions around what to expect or what precautions you should be taking with your own money. With that said, below are some items you will want to remain cognizant of should more wildfires occur or things change.

Things to Think About:

401k

While your 401(k) account is technically “tied” to your employer, your contributions and vested matching contributions will not be at creditor risk should your company go bankrupt. As part of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974(ERISA), your 401(k) assets are required by law to be held in trust separate from the company. This means the assets are not commingled with the company’s general operating funds and are not accessible to the company should they need operating capital or funds to pay creditors. Your investments within the 401(k) are always subject to your own investment risk, so be sure to contact Warren Street Wealth Advisors if you would like guidance on the plan’s investment options.

Pension

Pension plans are another common concern for those worried about their company potentially filing for bankruptcy. Luckily ERISA comes into play here as well. As part of the enacting of ERISA, a government agency titled the Pension Benefit & Guaranty Corp.(PBGC) was formed. This agency is designed to step in to pay benefits should a private pension plan fall to bankruptcy. This agency will step in to pay receipt of your pension benefits at normal retirement age, annuity benefits to your survivors, disability benefits, and most early retirement benefits. The PBGC will not however pay for severance packages, vacation pay, or similar benefits. While benefits are guaranteed by the PBGC, they do enforce limits on what is covered by the agency, meaning it is possible that you would not necessarily receive your entire benefit. Maximum benefit guarantees can vary, but more information is available on the PBGC website here.

Retirement

How should you time your retirement if you are worried about your company going bankrupt? The short answer is, you probably shouldn’t dictate your retirement decision based solely on the possibility of a corporate bankruptcy. While the possibility of benefits being cut and severance package offerings are very real for companies that are struggling financially, often times it makes sense to take an individualized approach to analyze the situation before making a rash decision on retirement. Pension plans may change from a defined benefit annuity stream to a cash balance “lump sum” in some cases, but this does not necessarily mean it is time to retire. I would recommend speaking to an advisor should you have questions about your specific company and situation to determine what the best course of action may be for you.

What Should I Do?

For those interested in learning more about retirement and would like to meet with professional advisors, Warren Street Wealth Advisors hosts many events throughout the year. You can view our upcoming events here.

If you have any questions, contact info@warrenstreetwealth.com or call 714-876-6200. We are well versed in interpreting company benefits and are happy to talk through any of your questions or concerns.


Justin D. Rucci, CFP®
Wealth Advisor
Warren Street Wealth Advisors

 

 

 

Justin is an Investment Advisor Representative of 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. Changes in investment strategies, contributions or withdrawals may materially alter the performance, strategy, and results of your portfolio. Historical performance results for investment indexes and/or categories, generally do not reflect the deduction of transaction and/or custodial charges or the deduction of an investment-management fee, the incurrence of which would have the effect of decreasing historical performance results. Economic factors, market conditions, and investment strategies will affect the performance of any portfolio and there are no assurances that it will match or outperform any particular benchmark. Nothing in this commentary is a solicitation to buy, or sell, any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. We may hold securities referenced in the blog and due to the static nature of the content, those securities held may change over time and trades may be contrary to outdated posts.

 

Sources

https://www.bankrate.com/retirement/your-pension-when-the-unexpected-happens/

https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/on-retirement/2010/12/14/what-happens-to-my-pension-if-my-company-goes-bankrupt-

Market Commentary – December 2018

Market Commentary – December 2018

Key Takeaways

  • Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (S&P 500 -4.38%)(1), investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%.) International stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE(2) index were down -8.96%, giving up just over half of 2017’s gains (16.84%), and the Barclays Aggregate U.S. bond index ended the year flat at +0.01% after a very strong November and December.
  • Though market turbulence in the 4th quarter felt extreme, volatility over the year didn’t approach the peaks seen after the Dot Com bubble burst in 2001-2002 or during the financial crisis of 2008-2009.
  • Global financial markets tend to exhibit a ‘sector rotation’ pattern of recent losers becoming the next period’s winners. If the pattern holds true, international stocks are poised for a strong year in 2019.
  • 2018’s poor performance followed an unusually steady 10-year period of growth. Investors bold enough to put their money at risk after the market plummeted in 2008 were handsomely rewarded. Investors willing to do the same in 2019 may be rewarded once again.

 

 

 

It wasn’t pretty, but the year is finally over and we already see indications of better times ahead in 2019.

Though the U.S. stock market closed the year with its first annual loss since 2008 (-4.38%) , investors retained the vast majority of gains earned in 2017 (21.83%) and the previous 9 years of recovery post the 2008 financial crisis. Though European stock markets fell behind the U.S. last summer and never caught up, these markets also ended 2018 well ahead of where they started in 2017. International stocks as measured by the MSCI EAFE index were down -8.96% in 2018 compared to +16.84% in 2017, and U.S. bonds ended the year flat after recovering strongly late in the 4th quarter.

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

Market sectors which lagged in the strong quarters, especially bonds (AGG) and gold (GLD), provided welcome relief during the 4th quarter downturn. International stock markets avoided some of the December tumble and rebounded into January 2019, easing some of the pain from lagging the robust U.S. market earlier in the year.

The return of stock market volatility in the 4th quarter surprised investors, especially compared to an unusually stable 2017.

Volatility in 2018 was more than double that of 2017, though did not approach the peak volatility seen during the financial crisis of 2008-2009 and post the Dot Com bubble/credit crisis in 2001-2002. The pattern seems to be that periods of unusual stability are often followed by a spike in volatility. We know that the past isn’t always reflective of the future, but as Mark Twain is reported to have said: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Just as periods of stability are often followed by turbulence, extreme market moves are commonly followed by reversion toward the mean (average).

This tendency is illustrated by the two charts below. The first chart shows the drop in the SPY and EFA ETFs in the period between July-November 2011. Notice the jagged ups and downs just after the drop, followed by a fairly steady up-trend through 2013, though not without some negative surprises along the way.

We see a similar pattern in the 4th quarter of 2015 before the start of the bull market of 2016-2017.

And while the downturns are painful, they tend to be relatively brief compared to the recovery period.

 

  • Dot Com bust lasted from early 2000 to early 2003, followed by 5 years of positive returns
  • Financial crisis crash lasted from late 2007 to early 2009, followed by 9 years of mostly positive returns
  • Less dramatic declines in 2011 and 2015 were followed by 3 years of positive returns

Asset class returns tend to follow a ‘sector rotation’ pattern with prior period winners commonly falling in the rankings in subsequent periods, and prior period losers tending to rise in the rankings.

Source: Morningstar Direct

Though historical context is helpful, we need to face forward when making investment decisions. Following the crowd and expecting history to repeat itself without considering the underlying drivers of returns isn’t likely to be a successful strategy in the coming year.

Though market conditions vary from year to year, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors believes international stocks in particular have been hit by political and economic ‘headline risk’ more than actual financial distress. Many European companies such as BNP Paribas (one of the largest banks in Europe), Daimler (maker of Mercedes Benz), and Lloyds Banking Group (a leading U.K. financial service firm) are poised for a strong rebound in 2019. In emerging countries, stalwart firms such as Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor remain solid global players, with disruptors such as Alibaba and Tencent making their presence felt beyond their home base in AsiaPacific.

Another important thing to remember is that the stock market is not the real economy. Fundamental strength in corporate balance sheets should keep the global economy, and the markets, positive in 2019.

GDP reflects the value of goods and services produced in a country – ultimately, GDP reflects corporate earnings. Robust U.S. GDP growth early in 2017 led to tight labor markets and rising inflation, supporting the Federal Reserve’s plan to ‘normalize’ short-term interest rates(3). Though GDP growth is expected to slow in 2019, the Federal Reserve forecasts a positive growth rate of approximately 2%. Not stellar, but certainly not in recession territory. And not so strong as to require the Fed to increase their pace of raising short-term interest rates, since modest GDP growth is unlikely to spark inflation. The International Monetary Fund is projecting similar modest positive growth for developed nations, and near 5% growth for emerging economies.

 

 

Growth Projection for U.S. GDP

Source: Factset

 

 

Growth Projection for the World

Source: International Monetary Fund

 

Economic fundamentals should ultimately find their way into stock prices, but the markets often become overly optimistic or pessimistic along the way.

As we mentioned in our November commentary, S&P 500 corporate profits were very strong in the 4th quarter of 2018. And for the calendar year, growth in corporate profits was 20.3% due in part to the reduced corporate tax rate(4). This is the highest growth rate we’ve seen since 2010 when profits jumped nearly 40% coming out of the Great Recession of 2008-2009. All 11 sectors of the S&P 500 reported positive growth for the year, with 9 of the 11 sectors reporting double-digit growth.

 

 

You might be surprised to see that Energy companies reported the highest calendar year earnings growth of all the 11 sectors. Despite the 4th quarter fall in oil prices, oil has actually increased when compared against the prior year-end. Materials and Financials also posted strong earnings growth in 2018, a fact not reflected in their December closing stock prices.

As shown in the chart above from Fidelity Research(5), the biggest losers in the S&P 500 were not Technology companies which were grabbing most of the news headlines, but rather Industrials, Financials, Materials, and Energy firms. Industrials and materials were hard hit by concerns over trade tariffs and a slowing, though still strong, pace of new home building(6). Energy equipment and services firms suffered from falling oil prices hurting profit margins. Financial firms also struggled as increasing short-term funding rates squeezed investors’ profit expectations.

Conclusion: Though we can’t predict the future, periods of extreme market movements are often followed by reversion toward the mean. The underlying economic data remains solid and sooner or later investors will incorporate this reality into global stock and bond prices. In the meantime, the investment team at Warren Street Wealth Advisors is watching the data, rebalancing into weakness, and looking forward to a smoother ride in 2019.

 

 

 


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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Sources

  1. All returns retrieved from Morningstar Direct
  2. EAFE = Europe, Australasia, Far East
  3. https://insight.factset.com/2017-look-back-2018-predictions-0
  4. https://insight.factset.com/sp-500-2018-earnings-preview-highest-earnings-growth-in-eight-years
  5. https://eresearch.fidelity.com/eresearch/markets_sectors/sectors/sectors_in_market.jhtml
  6. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-states/housing-starts