Category: Economics & Investing

Investing during a pandemic is not easy. A large risk can arise at any time. The people’s economy is weakening even though stocks are still fluctuating.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust investing in Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Alibaba, and Twitter in the initial quarter was worth a total of USD 450 million (around Rp 6.3 trillion). This is known based on reports from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The largest private foundation asset manager in the world, investments worth between USD 100 million and USD 130 million. On Twitter, they dare put a figure of around USD 7 million. Not only in the four giant technology companies, this foundation also invests in other companies.

The Risk


However, the investment must be affected because of the Corona virus pandemic. Overall, the portfolio shrank by 19% to around USD 17.4 billion (Rp2,473 trillion), as FedEx, UPS, Liberty Global, Walmart, and other holdings experienced a decline in share prices.

Why Bill Gates Still In Pandemic


Bill Gates expressed his concern for the COVID-19 outbreak because of his deep experience in fighting diseases and efforts to equalize vaccinations. He himself has warned of the possibility of a pandemic since 2015 ago.

The philanthropist also said his foundation paid full attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had spent a lot of money developing vaccines. As quoted from Business Insider.

Read Full Article

Americans strive to do “better than the Jones’” by earning enough money (and accumulating debt) to buy fancy McMansions, nice cars, and family vacations. But the never-ending pursuit of the trappings of wealth can get in the way of the truly important things in life such as relationships, job satisfaction, and extracurricular pursuits. Debt accumulation is often the end result of aspiring to acquire “stuff and things” so we can impress others and make ourselves feel like we have succeeded. Acquiring material possessions rarely leads to happiness. In addition to increased debt, it impairs our ability to provide adequate savings for retirement. In fact, research shows that the average American has very little saved for retirement.

According to research from the 2014 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 58 percent of workers and 44 percent of retirees report having a problem with their level of debt, and a sizable percentage of workers have virtually no money in savings and investments. Among the workers that responded to the RCS, 60 percent report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000. Only roughly 22% had savings over $100,000.

Mr. Anthony’s article offers some advice to live debt free and counterbalance the materialistic slant of today’s world.

First, he mentions a tip his father taught him– that he should always try to live on only half of what he earns each year.

Most Americans will need to save far more than they anticipated for retirement. Whereas a 10% savings rate was appropriate in the past when workers had robust pensions and could count on receiving Social Security, a retirement savings rate of at least 15% is now more appropriate. If you include additional annual saving for an auto reserve, future college expenses for your kids, and six months of cash for an emergency reserve, a number closer to at least 25% might be more practical. His father’s point was that you should try to live way below your means so that there would be a cushion of safety as well as turbo charged savings for future goals like retirement. If we live a frugal lifestyle, we won’t get too addicted to a cushy lifestyle.

Second, it is essential that we relax about what our “position” is in life and not fall prey to the belief that “we are what we own.”

The key concept here is that true happiness is “wanting what you have.” As we get older and start to reflect on our lives, we realize that health, relationships, and experiences are far more valuable than all of the physical things that were once so imperative for us to acquire. In fact, we have learned by experience, that just because we bought that truck or went on our dream vacation, it did not fundamentally change our lives. Learning to love exactly where you are in your life at any one point in time is a concept that will result in great joy, peace, and satisfaction. Mr. Anthony writes, “life does not consist of the abundance of things, but of the abundance of enjoying where we are and who we are with.”

Finally, Mr. Anthony suggests that we should not place an unrealistic burden on ourselves regarding where we “should be” at certain ages or stages of our lives.

You should live the life that YOU want, not the life you think your parents, friends, or colleagues think you should live. You have the power to write the script of your life.

Our life goals, and especially our retirement goals are very important, as they help define our lifestyle and determine how much money we need to achieve our heartfelt desires. If we can live by the principles that Mitch Anthony outlines, we can have control over our money as opposed to our money and debt having control over us.

If you want to read more about goal setting for retirement, I suggest that you read Mitch Anthony’s book The New Retirementality. It will inspire you to be more intentional about planning for that next phase of your life. The book also provides valuable exercises to help you determine how you will spend your time and money to live a purposeful retirement. The Millionaire Next Door is also a great read to inspire you to downscale your life. The book, written by Tom Stanley and William Danko, presents research on the habits and lifestyle of wealthy Americans and how they accumulated millions by not flaunting their wealth, but instead by living a practical life.

Read Full Article

Many people are loathe to increase their cash reserves when the rate of return on cash accounts is miniscule. Yet cash may be the exact asset to bolster when markets are frothy and the economy is sputtering. Here are some recent articles that underscore the importance of having a stash of some cash.

Having at least 6 months of living expenses is very important to protect you and your family from an unexpected event like a job loss, disability, medical emergency or even divorce. Although money market and checking accounts are yielding close to nothing, you can research on line savings accounts. Current yields are roughly 0.9% (9-14). You can compare rates, restrictions, bank ratings and other factors at bankrate.com.

Read Full Article

If you have planning to invest your money in the stock market, you need to read this carefully. It cannot be denied that every investment has its own risk. Today’s article gives an overview of the situation in the stock market today and the prediction about what will happen in the future.

Client meetings over the past year have been quite sanguine. Investments and assets are up. People seem to feel better about job security. The housing market is slowly recovering, and retirement projections look rosier. Strong stock market performance is good, in that it gets us closer to our goals; however, it can also breed a false sense of complacency.

Valuations are high and reaching points not seen since 2007, 1929, and by some metrics, even 2000.

Overvalued Stock Market

Courtesy:www.insideinvest.com.sg

Stock markets become overvalued when stock prices rise at a much faster rate than earnings, which is what has occurred for the past several years due to the belief that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policies will continue to force investors into stocks in order to get a decent return on their money; low-interest rates punish savers and cause them to seek yield by investing in increasingly speculative investments. But even members of the Federal Reserve are warning about frothy segments of the market as they tiptoe toward shutting off the quantitative easing spigot.

debt is increasingly being purchased on the basis of yield rather than the careful evaluation of repayment prospects. John Hussman Hussman Funds

The Cycles In Financial Markets

Courtesy:encrypted-tbn0.gstatic.com

It is important to remember that financial markets move in cycles, and just because this multiyear stock market advance has been rewarding, it does not mean that it can continue indefinitely. In fact, the longer it persists, the greater the chance of a severe correction.

One way to evaluate whether or not the market is expensive is to look at the current PE10 or CAPE ratio. This valuation method was developed by Robert Shiller from Yale, and it historically has been helpful in forecasting market crashes as well as future rates of return.

This article in the WSJ “Yes, Virginia, You Can Time the Market” explains that, although no one can time the market with precision, using the Shiller PE as a method to modify your stock exposure by overweighting or underweighting by up to 30 percentage points has resulted in stellar returns since 1926.

The Prediction of Bubbles

Courtesy:www.nasdaq.com

It is a strategy, however, that requires patience. A high CAPE ratio can persist for years. It tends to have a better success rate for predicting 10-year future returns and is less accurate in predicting returns less than 5 years out. In fact, in 2000 it was over five years early in diagnosing an overvalued market. The article acknowledges that extreme market timing by moving all of your assets in and out of the market based on certain parameters is very difficult and not a recommended strategy. Using Shiller’s ratio, though, can provide some guidance in dialing down equities when markets are overvalued and dialing up exposure when markets are undervalued, thus protecting investors from large corrections and enhancing long-range returns.  See the chart to the left.

John Hussman has been warning about stock valuations for years as the Shiller PE, as well as his additional proprietary methods, indicate that returns over the next decade will be roughly 2%, before inflation. His weekly commentaries are a must-read.

He makes this powerful assertion in, Yes, This Is An Equity Bubble:

Make no mistake – this is an equity bubble, and a highly advanced one. On the most historically reliable measures, it is easily beyond 1972 and 1987, beyond 1929 and 2007, and is now within about 15% of the 2000 extreme. The main difference between the current episode and that of 2000 is that the 2000 bubble was strikingly obvious in technology, whereas the present one is diffused across all sectors in a way that makes valuations for most stocks actually worse than in 2000.

The question a rational and prudent investor should as himself is this, “ is it prudent for me to take additional risk in the stock market at this juncture, given such dismal future returns?” This is a particularly important consideration for those people who are looking to retire in the next 7-10 years, as well as those how have recently retired.

For more information on the Shiller PE and market valuations you may want to read the following:

Market Valuation Overview- Yet More Expensive

The Mystery of Lofty Market Valuations by Robert Shiller

Is the CAPE Ratio Good at Predicting Future Returns? (Yes) Is it Perfect? (No)

Read Full Article

Addressing a large and unresolved issue that had pended since 2008, the Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday imposed new restrictions on money-market mutual funds. The rules will perform a sort of balancing act, reducing the risk of the $2.6 trillion industry, but keeping intact the prime utility of the product. Asset management companies, as well as the five-member SEC committee, have given the move mixed reviews, with two members of the latter voting against the new ruling.

The SEC Commission has approved rules that require institutional money market funds to implement floating share values and other restrictions, such as restricting withdrawals and imposing redemption fees of up to 2% if fund assets drop below prescribed levels.  The shares would float based on changes to NAV (changes to the underlying market value of the fund’s assets).  Currently, these funds have a fixed price of $1 per share.

The New Rules

Young businesswoman and businessman signing contract in office

According to Mary Jo White, SEC chairwoman, these rules “will reduce the risk of runs in money market funds and provide important new tools that will help further protect investors and the financial system.” She went on: “Together, this strong reform package will make our markets more resilient and enhance transparency and fairness of these products for America’s investors.”

Wall Street Positively Affected

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 19, 2018 traders work on the floor at the closing bell of the Dow Industrial Average at the New York Stock Exchange. – Wall Street stocks pushed higher for a second session in a row on January 7, 2019, a sign of improved investor sentiment despite the ongoing US government shutdown and other economic headwinds. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended 0.4 percent higher at 23,531.35, as the broad-based S&P 500 gained 0.7 percent to close at 2,549.69. (Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP)BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

Wall Street seemed on the whole satisfied with the final results – which are a significant shift from the 2012 proposal. Then, former SEC Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro wanted all funds to adopt the floating NAV practice or hold capital to absorb losses of any kind.

The rules were crafted in response to the 2008 financial crisis, when corporate lending markets seized up in response to a lack of liquidity.  The new restrictions will hopefully help maintain capital levels and keep markets operating smoothly during times of stress.

Individual Money Market Funds Not Affected

While the new floating share rules apply to institutional funds (both prime and tax exempt), they will not impact government and retail funds that are sold to individual investors. (Note that they will apply to institutional municipal money markets.)  However, provisions for liquidity fees and redemption gates do apply to all funds, both institutional and retail.

For a definition of government and retail money market funds, the SEC provides this detail via a press release on their website:

Government and Retail Money Market Funds – Government and retail money market funds would be allowed to continue using the amortized cost method and/or penny rounding method of pricing to seek to maintain a stable share price.  A government money market fund would be defined as any money market fund that invests 99.5 percent (formerly 80 percent) or more of its total assets in cash, government securities and/or repurchase agreements that are collateralized solely by government securities or cash.  A retail money market fund would be defined as a money market fund that has policies and procedures reasonably designed to limit all beneficial owners of the money market fund to natural persons.  A municipal (or tax-exempt) fund would be required to transact at a floating NAV unless the fund meets the definition of a retail money market fund, in which case it would be allowed to use the amortized cost method and/or penny rounding method of pricing to seek to maintain a stable share price.

One way this might affect individuals, is if they invest in institutional money market funds through their 401K.  It is likely that most retirement plans will choose retail money market funds as a plan option for this reason.  This will affect small and large businesses that use these accounts as short term funding for their day to day and week to week operations.

The new rules will not go into effect immediately.  Fund companies have two years to comply with the new restrictions.

Read Full Article

Investors are well aware that financial markets go up and down.  That is the essence of business and economic cycles.  What is difficult for individual investors to master is how to act in the face of market advances and declines.  Unfortunately, most people become very tolerant of risk and increase their exposure to the stock market when the market is advancing.  Similarly, they avoid risk and clip their exposure to stocks when markets are declining, or after a large correction.  It is human nature and “recency bias” that create this visceral response to market perturbations.  Recency bias occurs when investors believe that the most recent performance of their investment portfolios will continue indefinitely in the future.  It is just one factor that results in investors consistently underperforming the stock market.

Brad M. Barber  and Terrance Odean, in their 2011 study “The Behavior of Individual Investors,” conclude that individuals routinely underperform benchmarks through 1) selling winning investments and holding losing investments, 2) being heavy influenced by most recent past returns (repeating investment behavior that coincides with pleasure and avoiding behavior that is painful), and 3) holding undiversified portfolios.

Dalbar studies have also shown that most individual investors typically trail the market rate of return, and they typically do so by a fairly wide margin.

The message from Dalbar since its first study in 1994 is that investment results are more dependent on investor behavior than fund performance and that mutual fund investors who tend to buy and hold are more successful than those who attempt to time the market.

Investors who attempt to time the market are often acting irrationally out of fear of a potential loss. Stocks and investment funds happen to be the only assets that people buy less of when they become less expensive. Let’s think about buying food at the supermarket, if the price of steak rose considerably, you would be more inclined to reduce your purchase of steak or buy something else, but if the supermarket suddenly reduced the price of the steak by 30%, you would stock up. However, you do the opposite when it comes to stocks and other investments. The stock market can foster a gambling mentality. When you are on a roll you hate to stop, but that is exactly when you should cash some chips in.

So how does an investor counteract the tendency to time the market and invest based on most recent results? Rebalancing is great way to fight the effects of recency bias. Rebalancing to your target asset allocation is a mechanistic and unemotional way to fight these counterintuitive emotions. I sometimes get an odd look from my clients when I suggest that they rebalance after a market run-up. “Why would I want to do that, the market is hot?” might be a typical comment. But that is exactly why rebalancing is so important. It removes the emotions, market noise, and other extraneous factors, and reminds the investor of their original financial plan and goals.

The best value-added proposition a financial advisor provides is to set the target allocation and then monitor and adjust it based on the client’s personal goals and life events. The asset allocation is set within the investment policy statement and the portfolio is rebalanced yearly, or as needed, after large market advances or declines. The asset allocation is revisited periodically, at least every 3 years, and is adjusted in response to a client’s retirement goals, change in health or marital status, or market valuations.

Rebalancing in this way, will not only help the client attain rates of return closer to the respective benchmarks for his or her portfolio, it can actually be a source of additional return. In a recent article in Financial Planning magazine, “Portfolio Rebalancing: Get It Right,” Allan Roth underscores the incremental benefit of rebalancing. His analysis shows that “over the past 15 years, the portfolio that stuck to its allocation earned 1.54 percentage points more each year than the average portfolio that tried to time asset classes.”

Rebalancing is just one area where advisors add incremental return and why it is essential for our clients to commit to the annual review and rebalance exercise. Emotions can be hard to control, let your re-balancing take them out of the mix, so you can maximize your long range returns.

Read Full Article

Can We Still be Smart Investors?

Any other week would be a better one in which to write a financially-themed article. While this article will be in the November issue, the context from which I write is immediately following the announcement that the House of Representatives voted NO on the Bailout plan. We all know that this sent the stock market tumbling, causing many people to feel fear— perhaps the first real time in our generation’s adult life (except maybe some from the dot com bust but that was “fun money” before we had families!!).

While a revised Bailout Plan will likely pass and a few more banks may fall by the time this is published, the events of the past few weeks have made many people question whether or not they are handling their money the “smartest” way.

As a fee-based financial planner who does not manage portfolios, I cannot recommend individual stocks or funds to buy and sell. Nor do I think that will help the families with whom I work at this juncture. I can, however, help you take a macro-perspective on what is smart for you and your family.

“Smart” begins with the basics:

  1. What is your family’s vision and what are you creating?
  2. What is your relationship with money? How do you handle fluctuations? How anxious are you?
  3. What are your financial goals? When do you need the money?

VISION:

You’ve heard me say it time and time again if you read my column with regularity. What is the life you want to create for your family? What does it look like? How do you define success?

Are you living in a hillside cottage with a large yard or do you have an apartment with a home in Tahoe? Do you pick a new country to visit with your children every year? Do you want to settle into a community where you will root for the next 20+ years? Do your children walk to the locale public school or will they be attending a private school?

The vision you create for your family trickles down to the types of investments you make also called an investment vehicle (such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds). Before you can decide into which vehicle you will invest, you need to know for what you want the money.

YOUR MONEY PERSONALITY:

A fascinating area of financial planning is how people relate with money. This alone can fill pages upon pages of articles and keep me reading for weeks (I am endlessly intrigued by this topic). At the very fundamental level, you have to know what is commonly talked about in the financial planning world as your “risk tolerance.” I find that concept hard to grasp, so with my clients I like to hear more about what keeps them up at night. What makes them anxious?

Is it any negative movement in a 401k or is it not having enough money in cash in a savings account? Do they ride out the drops like the one on Sept 29th with grace and ease saying “it’ll come back” or “this is expected” or do they run for the bank and hide their money in their mattress? Everyone is different and understanding your level of anxiety with investment fluctuations is an imperative input factor to deciding how to invest.

YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS:

Taking your vision and translating it into financial goals is where I find the financial planning process helps the couples with whom I work the most. This makes the softer airy vision a dollars and cents reality. Smart investing requires that you know:

The amount the goal will cost
The Time horizon over which you are investing (that is, when do you need the money)?
The amount of money you are starting with for the goal
The amount you are contributing along the way

All of these factors will let you know what the return you need for your money will be. To say that another way, it will tell you how much you have to make each year on the investment to reach the goal. And different investment vehicles offer different possibilities for returns. Holding investments in cash will probably stay within a few % points, while stocks can jump all over the chart — in both directions. To get higher returns, you also will take on higher risk. The return you need combined with your personal tolerance for fluctuations will determine the investment vehicle.

For example:
If you already have $100,000 that you want to put toward a home down payment in one year, you only need a very conservative investment vehicle. Keeping that cash in a money market account would give you the best assurance that your money will be there when you want it.

I see many clients who come to me with next year’s house down payment in stocks or equity mutual funds. Perhaps that is how they built up the money or maybe they just like to participate in the market. In a week like the ones of late, however, a portfolio may drop 10%, making a $100,000 down payment now a $90,000 one. For the exceptionally daring individual, this may be okay, but as a financial planner, I advise people to match their investment vehicles with their time horizons.

If you want access to your money soon, keep it in a cash-equivalent vehicle. This way the market can jump all over the place and you can rest assured that you have what you need when you need it (caveat from the recent events: up to the FDIC insured limits of $100,000 – or more if you set up a certain kind of account designed to expand this limit) . The longer you have before you need the money, the more fluctuations you can likely tolerate. So while you may not be thrilled that your 401k invested in a mix of mutual funds, for example, has decreased, you will likely have more tolerance if you do not need the funds for another 30 years.

PARTNER FOR SUCCESS:

Granted there are those among us who will feel compelled to switch to other asset classes if ours are not performing just because of their personality and risk tolerance. Whether or not this is the smart way to go depends on your personal situation only. To help you handle the next bump, I encourage you to be prepared to act with knowledge and not emotion. The best way to do this is to partner with a financial professional who can help you ride out these rough times and stick with a “system” that works for your anxiety level and your goal achievement timeline. With a plan in place, you can approach the times when everyone else seems to panic with the desired calmness that comes with real knowledge of your own smart investing strategy.

Read Full Article

The economy appears to be making strides as it emerges from critical condition and enters into rehabilitative mode. Some positive signs include increasing bank lending, auto sales, and consumer confidence. Unemployment is also declining, especially for skilled labor. Both the US budget deficit and state budgets are improving. Corporate infrastructure such as plants, buildings, and equipment are overdue for upgrades, suggesting substantial future increases in capital expenditures.

Headwinds from the Euro debt crisis have subsided to a large extent, with credit spreads collapsing. In fact, spreads seem unusually tight given that Spanish bond yields are currently lower than US Treasury yields. This is quite unusual, and likely due to the European Central Bank’s announcement that they will engage in more aggressive monetary easing policies to halt disinflation and spur growth.

Japan and China are still muddling through their own economic malaise attempting to establish equilibrium. In short, the global financial landscape seems eerily quiet, especially given the growing geopolitical pressures. Increased tensions in the Ukraine, civil war in Iraq, and continued presidential scandals have failed to disrupt financial markets. The US stock market, in particular, is experiencing reduced volatility. We are now going on almost three years with no correction of 10% or more (since August of 2011).

The current situation reminds me of my garden. This year I made a vow to finally grow vegetables. I decided to start with something easy and small. I filled a cement container with soil and compost and planted two tomato plants. The plants grew tall quickly; and before I knew it, I had about 15 shiny green tomatoes. I was so excited that I started to plan my recipes, who I would share my bounty with, and what I was going to add to my garden next year. Then one day when I went to check my plants; I found a shriveled up tomato and one that had brown rot on the bottom. Uh, oh. I researched the disease online and now realize that I may not be able to save my tomatoes. I am taking steps to reduce the risk of further rot, but I am concerned that I may be fighting a losing battle.

I may lose a lot of my tomatoes, or I may be able to minimize the losses and still have plenty of tomatoes for weeks to come. The same may hold true about the financial landscape. Although the economy is starting to improve, the stock market seems to have gotten a bit ahead of itself. The market appears frothy, with little room for future growth, but a correction may come in days, months, or maybe years.

Why are stocks and investors so complacent?

The Fed Reserve’s policy of printing money has resulted in a massive increase to their balance sheet from $800B in 2007 to over $4.5T today.

This massive flood of money into the system has drastically devalued the dollar and has forced investors to put their cash in riskier investments. This has been the main reason for the overly ebullient markets since the Great Recession of 2008. In this zero interest rate world, desperate retirees and savers are reaching for yield in risky areas of the market in order to get more return on their money. This has resulted in overvalued fundamentals. Valuations are rich for US equities using metrics that have traditionally been highly correlated to market performance.

Using the CAPE (Cyclically adjusted PE) ratio developed by Robert Shiller from Yale University, the market may be signaling that US stocks are possibly overvalued by 50%, as the ratio is approximately 51% above its average (arithmetic mean) of 16.5.

Of course, valuations can’t be used as market timing techniques, as markets can stay overvalued or undervalued for long periods of time. But at these levels, it does suggest that loading up on equities, especially if you are a new or soon to be retiree, may not be a good long-term move.

According to John Hussman, “The median price/revenue multiple for S&P 500 constituents is now significantly higher than at the 2000 market peak.” He is currently forecasting weak returns over the next decade with negative returns for period of 7 years or less.

Similarly, James Montier from GMO expects that large U.S. stocks will have a return of -1.6% a year for the next seven years.

Mebane Faber in a recent conference suggested that not only US stocks, but particularly dividend stocks are severely overvalued. He also warned that “home bias” skews our portfolios in favor of our own country’s stocks. Right now international markets, especially certain emerging market countries, have better valuations.

The point is that shocks occur when you least expect it. They are often caused by some triggering exogenous factor and are met with disbelief, which in turn leads to unpredictable human behavior.

We need to prepare for inevitable corrections as they are part and parcel of business cycles.

Since this rally is particularly long in the tooth and has created severe overvaluations, it may be a time to mentally and financially prepare for a market setback. While I do not espouse market timing, I do think it is prudent to reduce exposure by 10-20% in the event of extended markets, impending retirements, or in the event that you have reached or surpassed your target financial goals.

Times like these also underscore the importance of re-balancing your portfolio. Re-balancing is the best way to keep yourself unemotional, since you invest based on your target allocation as opposed to market noise. This is why I always urge my client’s to be faithful regarding their annual reviews.

When you re-balance or take some actions to reduce risk, you not only enhance your awareness of your financial well being, but you feel more in control of your situation. When it comes to investments, we can’t control the economy or the direction that the markets will turn, but we can and should control the things that we can, such as reducing costs, planning to avoid tax spikes, and maintaining an exposure to the stock market that is consistent with our risk profile and market valuations.

In order to reduce the risk of losing more tomatoes to disease, I bought some gypsum and added it to the soil in my tomato plant container. I don’t know if it will work, but I at least feel better that I did all that I could to help prevent the spread of the disease. I hope to have an abundant garden this summer, but only time will tell.

Read Full Article

The Federal Reserve is tapering their bond-buying program, but interest rates remain low. In fact, since the beginning of this year, the ten year Treasury note has declined from roughly 3% to 2.54% (5-21-14).

Retirees and savers are frustrated. Since 2008 CD rates have plummeted. Since emergency cash reserves and money that you will be spending in the next 2-3 years should be kept in a cash or cash equivalent account, what is the best way to maximize your yield?

The highest yields for cash can be found at online banks and credit unions such as GE Capital, Ally, ING, etc. The reason these rates are significantly higher than local banks is that these companies do not have to pay for infrastructure (bank buildings) or labor (tellers). Transactions and customer interaction is done primarily online. Since most online savings accounts are yielding more than three times the rate of local banks, the extra inconvenience of setting up an online account is generally worth it. For example, most local banks are offering yields on their savings accounts of up to 0.2%. As of 5-21-14, you could find an online savings accounts yielding 0.95%. If you had $100,000 in savings, switching to an online savings account would put an extra $750 in your pocket. Before you open a savings account online make sure to check if they have any restrictions on monthly transactions and make sure the bank has safe ratings.

Longer term cash needs-CDs and bond funds

Certificates of deposit (CDs) may be a good savings vehicle for the balance of your emergency reserve or additional cash needs over the next 2 to 4 years. In this extremely low-interest rate environment, it may not make sense to purchase long-term CDS unless they have a low early withdrawal penalty. Although we can never know for certain where rates will end up in the future, chances are more likely that rates will be higher than they are today. Current 2 year CD rates are averaging around 1.25%, 3-year rates are 1.4%, and 4 year are 1.7%. If you lock in a 4 year CD at 1.7% and rates rise to 2% in the next year, you won’t be happy. Consider putting the cash you need for the next 2-3 years in a savings account with the balance of your necessary reserves in a 3 year CD. Alternatively, you could ladder any reserves needed in year 2 and 3 in CDs, but the small yield differential and prospect of raising rates may not make that extra work worthwhile.

For those investors who are still not happy with the interest rates on CDs and online savings accounts, another place to invest would be short to intermediate-term bond funds; however, bond funds have drawbacks. They are not FDIC insured, and the investment will experience a loss in principal when interest rates rise. If you want to use bond funds, choose high-quality funds with no more than a 4-year duration.

Higher yields can be found with longer term or lower quality bond funds, but these funds tend to act like stocks when markets drop. For now, CDs seem to be preferable to the bond funds as many of the shorter term higher-quality funds have lower yields than CDs.

A big caveat is that investors in the highest tax brackets may want to skew more of their reserves into municipal bond funds since a 3.8% surcharge is assessed in addition to their applicable tax rate on all interest and dividends they receive from taxable bond funds, CDs, and savings accounts. A limited term or intermediate term tax-exempt bond fund may be desired, in addition to some FDIC insured savings.

Read Full Article

Housing data released recently suggests that challenges to the housing industry still remain almost six years after prices plunged precipitating the Great Recession. New home sales in March collapsed 14.5% month-over-month to their lowest since July 2013. Pending home sales in February fell for the eighth time in eight months. Prices in most areas of the country are still well below their 2005-6 highs as diminished demand is putting the brakes on the housing recovery. Clearly significant challenges still remain that affect housing demand. Why is housing faring so poorly this far into the economic “recovery?”

Household formation has declined due to the weak recovery.

Many young adults are unable to find employment after college or high school.   A lack of quality jobs is causing some college grads to continue their schooling and or postpone marriage, thus delaying their first home purchase.  In fact, according to the NY Times, the number of households increased an average of 1.35 million a year in 2001 to 2006, compared to 569 thousand a year from 2007 to 2013.

Tough economic conditions have resulted in many families living under the same roof and made it hard for first time homebuyers to save for a down payment.

A record 13.6% of Americans aged 25-34 are living with their parents, (an increase of over 30% compared to the year 2000).  The lingering recession has also affected Baby Boomer living arrangements.  For the seven years through 2012, the number of Californians aged 50 to 64 who live in their parents’ homes swelled 67.6% to about 194,000, according to the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

Many individuals cannot get a loan either due to poor credit or conservative bank lending standards.

Many business owners are wary of purchasing a home due to uncertainty regarding the economy and the Affordable Healthcare Act.

Baby Boomers are downsizing and or moving to multifamily housing.

In fact, much of the recent growth in housing has been due to strong performance in this sector.  Out of work Boomers and young adults unable to find employment are causing the US to increasingly become a renters’ society.

With prices still below the 2005-6 peaks homeowners are loathe to put their homes up for sale.

Perhaps, the American public is finally learning a valuable lesson about real estate. Your personal residence is not an investment in the traditional sense, as it does not throw off income and over the long term it has a poor rate of return that rarely beats inflation. In fact, the average annual price increase for U.S. homes from 1900 to 2012 was only 0.1%/year after inflation.

Due to extraordinary performance in the late ’90s and early to mid ’00s, many home buyers were lulled into thinking that their home was a piggy bank, an investment that was sure to go up indefinitely and that would never decline in value. This misinformed thinking resulted in homeowners (and investment bankers alike) allocating far too much of their assets to housing. An increasing proportion of household income was diverted to mortgages and other home expenses in lieu of investing in their retirement or college education. This resulted in a distortion of investment dollars and ultimately a bubble in home prices, which collapsed leading to the Great Recession. Our hot love affair with housing ended as most do, and now we are paying the price. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates low to bring the magic back, to little avail.

Americans need to stop focusing on maximizing square footage; and instead, focus on more productive, higher return investments. For some perspective, according to the Milken Institute, middle class households in eleven Asian nations spend 16% on housing and transportation whereas the average middle class American homeowner spends roughly 50% of income on housing and transportation. Clearly, our priorities are out of alignment. We are putting a lot of eggs in one basket at the expense of saving for other goals like, retirement, college education, and healthcare costs.

In order for society to allocate investment dollars to productive endeavors that enhance economic growth, we need to rethink our love affair with real estate.

Read Full Article