As we approach the new year, it is a good idea to examine and review a financial health checklist and make changes as necessary. Here is a list of some of the items the CIG Capital Advisors Wealth Management team recommends you review as part of your resolution for better financial health in the new year and to help establish good personal finance habits in the years to come:
- Review and update beneficiaries. Confirm who is designated as your beneficiaries on your retirement accounts. For many people, naming beneficiaries happens one time, when they set up the account or policy. However, life changes (birth, marriage, divorce, death) are inevitable, and when these changes occur, you, or your family, may find that the designated beneficiary on your retirement account is not who you think it should be now.When it comes to planning for wealth transfers, it’s extremely important to review your beneficiaries periodically, especially if you have had children, divorced, or remarried since you first established your retirement account. This also applies if you had previously named a charity or trust as your beneficiary upon account setup and that organization no longer exists.
- Review and/or prepare for Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) If you’re 70½ or older, you’re required by the IRS to take RMDs from certain retirement accounts by December 31—or face a penalty equal to 50% of the sum you failed to withdraw. If you turned 70½ this year, you have until April 1, 2020, to take your first RMD, albeit with potential consequences. Additionally, if you will be turning 70½ soon, now is the time to review your distribution strategy.
- Retirement Plan Contribution Increase. The contribution limit for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan, is increased from $19,000 to $19,500 for tax year 2020. Consider reviewing and changing your contribution limits if appropriate.
- Review Living Wills and Trusts. Most often people wait to do their estate planning and draft a Will until they absolutely have to, which is often after they have children, get married, buy a house, start a significant business or have a spouse or family member convince them of its importance. If nothing sudden or significant has happened such as the birth of a child, divorce, marriage, death of a family member, change in jobs, or change in your balance sheet or assets, then a good benchmark for reviewing your estate plan is once every five years. Otherwise, it’s a healthy habit to do a general review once a year.
- Revisit Tax Withholding. Changes in dependents, income and marital status can all affect your tax bill. Use the IRS’s withholding calculator to ensure you’re withholding enough—but not too much.
- Check your credit reports. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, each of the national credit-reporting agencies is required to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, upon request, once every 12 months. Get yours at annualcreditreport.com.
- Review your insurance needs. Make sure your loved ones and the things you’ve worked so hard for are protected. Ensure that there are no gaps in your home, auto, business insurance coverage.
Resolve to get take care of your financial health in the new year. To get assistance with a complete, holistic review of your financial plan, contact a CIG Capital Advisor to schedule a brief introductory call today.
November was a “risk-on” month, with the CNN Fear & Greed Index(1) reaching the “Extreme Greed” level. With the Federal Reserve buying more treasury bills than they ever bought in prior Quantitative Easing (QE) periods(2), a variety of U.S. equity indices did very well last month. The S&P 500 Index(3) returned 3.4% while riskier small company stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000 Index(3), were up 4.0%. The VIX Index(3) (The CBOE Volatility Index® which measures U.S. equity market volatility) posted a low for the year of 11.5 on November 26 as complacency in the market set in.
Given the lack of additional Central Bank stimulus, developed market foreign stocks in the MSCI EAFE Net(4) Index produced a more modest return of +1.1% while Emerging Markets as measured by the MSCI Emerging Markets Net(4), lost -0.1%. Investors also did not appear to be interested in bonds, as The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Total Return Bond Index(5) decreased by -0.1%. Surprisingly, market participants did not bid up the price of high yield issues, a traditional “risk-on” asset, with The Barclays High Yield Index(5) only gaining +0.3%.
Warren Buffet, the “Oracle of Omaha” and legendary investor, once said to be “fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”(6) With that in mind, the most important aspect of client relationships, beyond the investment expertise that we offer, is to ensure when these times arise and risk appetites are high, that we work together to restrain any exuberant investment behaviors. The same is true when risk appetites are low and we need to moderate our fearful investment behaviors (e.g., early 2009).
Consequently, the objective right now is to generate returns ahead of client financial plan targets by taking restrained risk in relation to client general risk preferences (i.e., growth models may look more balanced while still attempting to generate double-digit returns). In consideration of the massive QE mentioned above and trade war uncertainty, along with weakening global growth, CIG transitioned to “a later cycle approach” in portfolios during the last quarterly rebalance in furtherance of that goal. Overall, equity holdings were decreased, quality increased and fixed income increased slightly.
On the other hand, given the substantial QE (which one can wonder its rationale), the growth of the money supply has accelerated at a more rapid pace than last year. According to theory, when money growth is faster than the growth of the economy, the excess money goes into financial assets driving even expensive stocks and bonds higher. In addition, according to DataTrek, U.S. stocks rarely reverse course in a dramatic fashion after a year like 2019, but they also don’t usually do quite as well as the long run averages. The one exception was when the Federal Reserve tightened in 1937 and the S&P 500 Index delivered a -35% return(7).
We continue to weigh the potential risks in the markets and plan for a wide range of scenarios, both positive and negative, with the goal of consistently reevaluating and managing the appropriate level of risk so that clients can achieve their financial plan goals. It means delivering a nuanced, material understanding of diversification, which typically means carefully buying assets that have not appreciated and selling investors’ favorites. Diversification remains our best defense and recently healthcare stocks, a lesser performer in 2019, were increased in the portfolios. This increase in equities highlights our continued flexibility and our devotion to offering a fundamental value proposition to clients who seek long-term out-performance.
This report was prepared by CIG Asset Management and reflects the current opinion of the authors. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward-looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security.
- Market Commentary by Art Cashin, UBS Financial Services, November 13, 2019
- Calculated from data obtained from Yahoo Finance, as of 12/11/19
- MSCI, as 12/11/19
- NEPC, as of 12/11/19
- From DataTrek in Market Commentary by Art Cashin, UBS Financial Services, October 16, 2019
CIG Asset Management Update November 2019: Optimism versus economic data: Has the market already priced in most of the good news?
U.S. equity markets reached new all-time highs at the end of October. The S&P 500 Index increased 2.0%.(1) Foreign stock markets continued their recent outperformance over U.S. equities as international stocks, measured by MSCI EAFE Net(2), advanced 3.6% last month and the MSCI Emerging Markets Net(2) was up 4.2%.
The Federal Reserve, as expected, cut short term interest rates by 0.25%. Longer term U.S. rates increased by 0.08 – 0.11%.(1) The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Total Return Bond Index (3) increased by +0.3%. German government bond yields became less negative, moving up 16 basis points to -0.41% and Japanese government yields moved up 8 basis points to -0.13%.(1)
There were plenty of reasons to become more optimistic in October. Negative bond yields worldwide became less negative, especially in Germany and Japan.(1) The September unemployment rate was 3.5%(4), the lowest in 50 years. Nearly 74% of the 341 S&P 500 companies that reported earnings during the month beat lowered estimates.(5) Markets traded higher at the end of the month on hopes that the trade war would de-escalate as the U.S. and China announced a partial trade deal at the White House on October 21st. A deal was not actually signed, details were lacking, and both sides said talks would continue. Europe was relieved that it did not have to worry at this time about a “no deal” Brexit after a deal was reached to extend the original October 31 Brexit deadline to January 31, 2020. The Federal Reserve injected more liquidity into the banking system and said it would start purchasing $60 billion in treasury bills monthly and increase daily repo operations to $120 billion per day from $75 billion.
However, an abundance of data shows that the economy continues to slow. The September ISM Manufacturing purchasing managers’ index came in at 47.8%(6), the lowest level since June 2009. A number below 50% indicates a contraction in manufacturing. ISM Non-Manufacturing Index came in at 52.6, down from August at 56.4 and a 3 year low.(7) The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported August Job Openings Levels: Total Nonfarm (JOLTS), decreased to 7.051 million, the lowest number of openings since March 2018.(8) Corporate earnings results are down -0.6% on 4.9% higher revenues than one year ago.(5) Companies buying back their own shares has been a major contributor to the rally since 2009. Goldman Sachs analysis warns that they anticipate 2019 stock buybacks will drop 15% in 2019 to $710 billion and continue to drop in 2020. Corporate buybacks currently provide more demand for stocks than any other individual source, including households, mutual funds or exchange traded funds. Buybacks as a percentage of trailing annual free cash flow has historically peaked near the highs of the market, i.e.: 2000, 2008, and 2016.(9) Lastly, the Federal Reserve is still looking at how to fix short term funding market strains, according to Chairman Jerome Powell at his post FOMC rate cut press conference on October 30. “One thing that was surprising about the episode was that liquidity didn’t seem to flow as one might have expected”, said Powell.
In summary, while the U.S. economy is enjoying its longest expansion in American history, we believe that much of the good news very well may be priced into equity markets. The Federal Reserve began injecting massive amounts of liquidity into the banking system and still does not know why there are short term funding issues. Global economic growth continues to slow. We believe the markets have effectively priced in a U.S.-China trade deal despite its tenuous and elusive nature. We are continuing our defensive posture that we adopted when we recently transitioned to “a later cycle approach” in portfolios during the quarterly rebalance. We still have exposure to equity markets should they continue to move higher but will look to shift, if conditions warrant.