Sunday, December 14, 2014

Median Income Peaked in 1999 or Earlier for Most Counties in USA

The Washington Post has an interested infographic showing when each county in the US saw per capita median income peak.
Median household income peaked at least 15 years ago in 81 percent of U.S. counties. That means that when incomes are adjusted for inflation, most middle class households are actually earning less money than they did years ago. Even though the economy is finally revving up, most Americans still don’t see the benefits in their paychecks.
The reasons are many but common sense economic theory tells us that ultimately this is the result of a supply and demand problem for the median worker, low interest rates, and a lack of savings/capital accumulated by the median household.

Monday, October 20, 2014

T Rowe Price Retirement Survey

I recently found this survey done by T. Rowe Price, the mutual fund company, asking 2,500 recently retired or soon to be retirees about their experience. Please view the slides here. A couple quick takeaways:
1. The average household replaces 66% of pre-retirement income.(slide 17)
2. Nearly 60% of respondents say "minimizing risk and producing income is more important than keeping upside market potential." (slide 18)
3. 89% of retirees say they are somewhat or very satisfied in retirement. (slide 28)
4. For retirees being asked --"Do you expect to spend down all or most of your assets to live on in retirement, or do you expect to leave a significant sum to heirs?"-- 59% expect to spend assets. (slide 24)

Margin Debt Number

Margin debt collated by the New York Stock Exchange peaked in February at $466bn and stood at $463bn in August. The peak in 2007 was $381bn. It hit a low of $173bn in early 2009. Margin debt is always a factor when the market corrects or goes into a bear market.

Monday, October 13, 2014


With the Dow Jones Industrial average negative for the year, I thought it would be a good time to highlight valuation. Doug Short recently updated a post on what he calls the Buffet Valuation Indicator. Doug starts the update with this:
Market Cap to GDP is a long-term valuation indicator that has become popular in recent years, thanks to Warren Buffett. Back in 2001 he remarked in a Fortune Magazine interview that "it is probably the best single measure of where valuations stand at any given moment."
He goes on to write:
In a CNBC interview earlier this spring CNBC interview (April 23rd), Warren Buffett expressed his view that stocks aren't "too frothy". However, both the "Buffett Index" and the Wilshire 5000 variant suggest that today's market is indeed at lofty valuations, now above the housing-bubble peak in 2007. In fact, the more timely of the two (Wilshire / GDP) has risen for eight consecutive quarters and is now approaching two standard deviations above its mean -- a level exceeded for six quarters during the bubble.
He ends with a chart showing this indicator compared to the S&P 500 with this:
One final comment: While I see this indicator as a general gauge of market valuation, it it's not useful for short-term market timing, as this overlay with the S&P 500 makes clear.
Read the whole post and review the graphs. Making a financial plan involves discussing how you'll react to downturns in the market and planning for 10% corrections and bear markets. When markets decline I feel the people who start deviating from their plan are the people who misunderstood their risk tolerance and do not have adequate emergency savings and/or cash flow. There are market forces that scare everyone, if you feel overly concerned when your portfolio declines you probably need to revisit your plan with yourself, your loved ones, or a qualified financial planner. Please also review some perspective from Barry Ritholtz who writes the Big Picture blog and recently wrote this piece for Bloomberg. He has 8 data points in his article and more wisdom at the end. I'll share two:
1. U.S. stock markets haven't experienced a 10 percent correction since October 2011.
2. As the "Stock Traders Almanac" is fond of pointing out, the six months that follow October are on average the best half of the year for equities. Whether that is because October affords a better entry price or is due to some other factor is both hotly debated and unresolved.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Diversification Matters

Walter Upgrave at the Wall Street Journal shares his thoughts about diversification. As we cross 17,000 on the Dow let's look at what we can do to diversify portfolios (click on the chart below to learn more):
Please read the article (subscription required) or google search How Much Diversification is Too Much by Walter. Another take on the case for diversification is made by Paul Merriman with the portfolio he calls the ultimate buy and hold portfolio. Here is his article and the graphs. As is obvious, please consult a financial advisor before making any financial decisions. We only provide education, not personal recommendations.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Path to Financial Prosperity and Security

1. Don't spend beyond your means
2. Educate yourself
3. Pick the right field
4. Save (and invest) early
5. Don't swing for the fences
6. Keep yourself covered
7. Be wise about a windfall
8. Hang onto cars (and houses)
9. Avoid debt
Source Kiplinger Read what they mean for each item and see if you meet their criteria.

Debt in America

This is an update on debt in America from the Urban Institute:
Debt can be constructive, allowing people to build equity in homes or finance education, but it can also burden families into the future. Total debt is driven by mortgage debt; both are highly concentrated in high-cost housing markets, mostly along the coasts. Among Americans with a credit file, average total debt was $53,850 in 2013, but was substantially higher for people with a mortgage ($209,768) than people without a mortgage ($11,592).
Source: Urban Institute Complete Study

Saturday, July 26, 2014

U.S. Household Net Worth Drops

The NY Times brings us this update from the Russell Sage Foundation:
The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.
“The housing bubble basically hid a trend of declining financial wealth at the median that began in 2001,” said Fabian T. Pfeffer, the University of Michigan professor who is lead author of the Russell Sage Foundation study.
Here is the study.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bull market sends 401(k)s soaring to record highs

Fidelity analyzed its accounts for 13 million workers with 401(k) plans as well as its IRA balances for individuals at the end of the second quarter.
• The average 401(k) balance rose 12.9% to $91,000, a record high, up from $80,600 at the end of the second quarter of 2013. This represents accounts from a wide range of workers, including those just starting their careers and others nearing retirement.
• The average balance in a Fidelity Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at the end of the quarter was $92,600, another record high, up 14.7% compared with the same time last year.
• 77% of the growth in account balances is due to the stock market; 23% is due to employee and employer contributions.
• The average balance for employees who have been saving in their 401(k) for 10 years increased 15% over the last decade to $246,200.
• Employees contributed an average of $6,050 to their 401(k)s this past year; employers contributed an average of an additional $3,540.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Financial Literacy Quiz

For those of you who want to test your financial IQ, here is a 17 question test. Annamarie Lusardi, a professor at George Washington University, and one of the researchers who created the Five Steps educational program, says that answering approximately 11 out of 17 questions correctly indicates financial literacy.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Much Money Do You Need to Retire?

Kathleen Pander at SF GATE recently investigated this question. The article is worth the read. Here is a quote:
In its sobering survey, the Employee Benefits Research Institute found that 36 percent of workers have saved less than $1,000 and only 11 percent have saved $250,000 or more. But that includes workers of all ages. In a separate study, the institute predicted that 53 percent of workers will have enough resources to meet expenses in retirement.
The article looks at different ways to determine how much you need to have saved when you retire. It draws on suggestions from Schwab, Fidelity and T. Rowe Price. Just read it.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Simple Ideas to Keep Your Retirement on Track

Nora Eisenhower writing for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has three easy steps to help keep your retirement on track. 1) Plan for your mortgage payoff date 2)Be careful when getting a new mortgage, refinancing, or tapping your home equity 3) Estimate your retirement income and expenses. Click for the full article. This is simple stuff folks, but it amazing how challenging it is for many Americans.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Summer Rally?

From Mark Hulbert on statistical reality of summer rally:
Since 1940, for example, the average Dow gain from the end of May to its highest close over the next three months is just 4.0%. Seven of the other 11 months of the calendar sport higher average “rallies” than that.
Read the article here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Little Retirement Perspective

Morningstar recently published this article with advice about retirement from other retirees. The goal of the article is to discuss the answers to the question: How do you transition from accumulation mode to spending those hard-earned dollars you've worked so hard to amass?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Medicare's Beneficiaries and their Financial State

The Kaiser Family Foundation recently released a study analyzing the finances of people on Medicare. There findings add to the argument that we have a retirement crisis coming to America. The entire study is interesting and eye opening. Please read the issue brief. It will summarize the topic for you.

The Future of Investment Management?

The NY Times ran a story recently discussing companies that are using technology to help investors. Most of the services create diversified portfolios with rebalancing features for a relatively low monthly or annual fee. There is a table in the article that summarizes what some of these companies offer. I found it interesting that Vanguard is in this space but Schwab and Fidelity aren't listed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

U.S. Next Big Crisis will be a Retirement Crisis

Brett Arends educates us once again. This time he writes about a crisis that needs to be on most Americans radar. We simply have not done a great job with the retirement experiment in the United States. From his recent article:
Do the math: According to an EBRI survey conducted last year, 66% of workers have saved less than $50,000 for their retirement. And 28% have saved less than $1,000. Good luck with that.
The full article mentions three new reports that document how unprepared Americans are for retirement. We need new systems to help Americans save for retirement, and I am not sure MyRA will really help that much (but it certainly cannot make this situation worse).

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Will 1929 Parallel Continue, We'll Know by June

Charting can be entertaining. I don't put a lot of trust in people that find similar patterns because the charts are similar sometimes, but never the same. That said, here is the latest chart watch as brought to our attention by Mark Hulbert from Marketwatch.