Thursday, May 25, 2017

Federal Reserve Board's 4th Annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking

Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2016, this survey and report were prepared by the Consumer and Community Development Research Section of the Federal Reserve Board’s Division of Consumer and Community Affairs (DCCA).

In order to monitor the economic status of American consumers, the Federal Reserve Board conducted the fourth annual Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking in October 2016. This survey provides insights into the well-being of U.S. households and consumers, and provides important information about how individuals and their families are faring in the economy. Topics examined in the survey include individuals’ overall financial well- being, employment experiences, income and savings behaviors, economic preparedness, access to banking and credit, housing and living arrangement deci- sions, education and human capital, student loans, and retirement planning.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Retirement Data: Fidelity Plan Balances Q1 2017 and Who Contributes to IRAs?

Fidelity has updated their data on balances in retirement accounts. Balances hit another record at the end of the first quarter of 2017. They highlight some interesting data on the overlap of HSA's (Health Savings Accounts) and retirement plan contributions. Please read the press release to learn more about their conclusions from the latest update.

 
 Source: Fidelity Retirement Savings Analysis

In April 2017, Anqi Chen and Alicia H. Munnell at Boston Center for Retirement Research published a report titled: Who Contributes to Individual Retirement Accounts? They conclude:

Examine Your Entire Financial Life

Many investors do well at pieces of their overall financial plan, however the value of a qualified planner is they help individuals evaluate their entire financial life. Here are two resources that may help broaden the scope of what you consider when planning your financial life:

Saturday, May 6, 2017

27th Annual Retirement Confidence Survey - Employee Benefits Research Institute

"The 27th wave of the Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS), the longest-running survey of its kind in the nation, finds that the share of American workers who are very confident in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement remains low, and some workers report that preparing for retirement is emotionally or mentally stressful. However, among retirees, confidence in their ability to afford a comfortable retirement continues to be comparably high." Quoted from brief by Lisa Greenwald, Greenwald & Associates; and Craig Copeland, Ph.D., and Jack VanDerhei, Ph.D., Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May 2017 Market Update

The Standard & Poor's 500 gained 0.91% in April. This was the strongest April since 2013 when the S&P 500 returned 1.81%. Let's start this monthly update with a bit of a history lesson. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was created in 1896. This was a price weighted index created to help followers of the market see a quick number to determine how the market was performing. Approximately sixty years after the Dow Jones Industrial Average, in 1957, a better barometer of the market was born: the market cap weighted S&P 500 index (which expanded on the S&P Composite Index). However, the first index fund still took almost twenty years from the birth of the S&P 500 index. The Vanguard index fund, VFINX, started in 1976. On the 40th anniversary for the Vanguard index fund, Bloomberg reported on it's rocky start with only $11.3 million of assets. Over the last 40 years index funds, modern portfolio theory (MPT), and the addition of ETFs, exchange traded funds, have transformed investing. Now that our history lesson is over, let's review price, sentiment, and valuation as we start May.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Improving Our Retirement Ecosystem in the United States

In the United States federal and state regulators allow every major financial product to be offered in the marketplace. When students graduated from college prior to 1980 few of them could have conceived of the financial world they would be entering. As the retirement product offerings evolved, so did our understanding of the gaps in our system. I recently read the BPC's Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings report titled Securing Our Financial Future. The report states:
Workers have found themselves part of a great experiment—one that has given individuals and families far more control and responsibility for financing their own retirement, and simultaneously exposed them to greater risk. Some families are preparing appropriately, but others struggle to save for retirement while meeting competing, and often more-immediate, personal needs related to emergencies, homeownership, and education.

The commission highlights 6 areas where the US retirement system needs to improve:


Source: BPC Securing Our Financial Future

This report presents a comprehensive package of bipartisan proposals to address six key challenges:

1) Many Americans’ inability to access workplace retirement savings plans.
2) Insufficient personal savings for short-term needs, which too often leads individuals to raid their retirement savings.
3) Risk of outliving retirement savings.
4) Failure to build and use home equity to support retirement security.
5) Lack of basic knowledge about personal finance.
6) Problems with Social Security, including unsustainable finances, an outdated program structure and failure to provide adequate benefits for some retirees.

Please read the full report to learn the commission's suggestions for how to improve these areas of the retirement ecosystem in the United States. While we may not fully agree with all of the commissions' suggestions, we can all agree the current retirement ecosystem has significant gaps for many Americans that need to be addressed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

April Mid Month Sentiment Update

Sentiment on the market changed from positive for the short term (2 to 6 weeks) on April 8th to negative. We expect this sentiment indicator to fluctuate frequently as it measures the cumulative impact of multiple short term technical indicators on the S&P 500 ETF IVV. Intermediate patterns --covering 6 weeks to 9 months-- continue to read negative. Long term indicators 9 months to 2 years remain neutral. Additionally, the CNN Money Fear and Greed Index is moving closer to extreme fear, which might be a positive for long term investors. Using the calendar as a guide the market is overdue for a 5-10% correction. Fundamentally, earnings for the first quarter will ultimately drive performance over the coming months. I expect more volatility in the market over the coming months as the Trump legislative agenda flickers back and forth between perceived positive and negative impact on stocks. Wise investing my friends.
Please consult a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions. This blog is for educational purposes only and does NOT constitute individual investment advice.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

April Market Update - Lower Expectations or Accelerating Earnings?

March 2017 was relatively uneventful for the S&P 500 (-0.04%). For the first quarter of 2017, the S&P 500 gained 5.53% --the best first quarter for the index since 2013. Overall, it was the best quarter for the market since the fourth quarter of 2015. On March 21, the S&P 500 dropped 1.2% (after the healthcare legislation failed to pass), only the second move of greater than 1% or more in either direction this quarter, the fewest such moves since 1995. Let's jump right into price, sentiment, and valuation for the market.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend Reading: JP Morgan Guide to Retirement 2017

Do you want to learn all about retirement in America? Please read the slide show: JP Morgan Guide to Retirement 2017. For folks who prefer downloading the presentation, click here.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

March Market Update - Will the Melt Up Continue? Time to Rebalance!

The melt up in the US Markets continues into March. The bull market will hit its 8th anniversary on March 9, 2017. Please read Mark DeCambre's article for MarketWatch titled, "Stock market roars to start March—how equities perform in the month." While the market is accelerating to the upside, so is economic data for the United States. Let's examine price, sentiment, and valuation as we begin March.

Price
Price action continues to tell investors to stay in stocks and avoid bonds. When we look at Meb Faber's timing model it reveals that investors should be in US (VTI) and foreign stocks (VEU), real estate (VNQ), and commodities (DBC). The only asset class not above its 10 month simple moving average is bonds as represented by the exchange traded fund, IEF. Price action also shows that the market has gone another month without a 5% correction. U.S. stocks haven't dropped more than 10 percent from a recent high since early 2016. Stocks last retreated close to 5 percent following BREXIT in June of last year. Lastly, moving average indicators are only one small piece of the tactical investing puzzle. Please don't use it as your only decision when making changes to your portfolio.

Sentiment
The CNN Money Fear & Greed Index shifted from 50 last month to 78 as we start March. It is challenging to add money to a market which is overly bullish. Sentiment indicators suggest long term investors will probably be rewarded by dollar cost averaging into stocks rather than adding a large investment all at once.

Valuation

Source: D Short Blog at Advisor Perspectives

Doug and Jill at the D Short blog have shown us through their charts that: The history of market valuations suggests a cautious perspective on the long term prospects for this bull market.

Summary
At the end of January, I was thinking February could be uneventful, boy was I off the mark. The S&P 500 gained 3.7% in February bucking the historical trend of February being a dull month for the market. Over the completion of this current business cycle long term investors may look back at today's expensive market and wish they had kept some cash out of the market for when the next clouds of panic selling rain on the market. As we enter March please review this quote from Mark DeCambre's article:
"And strength tends to beget strength. When looking at periods in which the S&P 500 has posted positive months from November to February. During those periods, March has logged an average return of 2.28% and finished higher nearly 85% of time."
Lastly, please read this quote from a note from Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America Merrill Lynch:
"We are updating our models to reflect the increasing likelihood that we are entering a typical end-of-bull-market rally, where fundamentals take a back seat to sentiment and technicals."
March and April could really add fuel to the end-of-bull-market rally, let's look at price, sentiment and valuation again at the end of March. Wise investing my friends.

Please consult a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions. This blog is for educational purposes only and does NOT constitute individual investment advice.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Retirement Balances at Fidelity Hit Record Levels

On February 2, 2017 Fidelity released its retirement savings balance information for the fourth quarter of 2016. Fidelity shared the following (please read the press release for more information):
"Key to a successful retirement strategy is having a solid contribution rate and not tapping your 401(k) for short-term expenses," said Kevin Barry, president, Workplace Investing, Fidelity Investments. "More than one-in-four Fidelity 401(k) savers increased their savings rate in 2016—an all-time high, and the number of people with a 401(k) loan dropped to its lowest point in seven years. This shows people are taking the right steps towards reaching their retirement savings goals and illustrates how the 401(k) is helping millions of people prepare for retirement."
Fidelity reveals savers have a record average 401(k) balance. Fidelity attributes the higher balances to increasing contributions and stock market performance taking the average 401(k) balance to an all-time high of $92,500 at the end of Q4, topping the previous high of $92,100 in Q1 2015 and an increase of $4,300 from a year ago. This is how the average 401(k) and average IRA have changed over the last five years:
 

To put these numbers in context, Vanguard released their How America Saves report in June of 2016. In it they state:
In 2015, the average account balance for Vanguard participants was $96,288; the median balance was $26,405.
Even though Americans still aren't saving enough for retirement, these are positive trends and hopefully show that the changes made in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 are starting to have a positive impact on Americans' retirement savings.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

February Market Update

Let's look at price, sentiment and valuation as we enter the second month of 2017.

Price

Price action based on monthly market closes shows that investors should be in stocks. A calender event known as the “January trifecta” has established itself at the end of January. Please read Sue Chang's article A Trio of Trends Points to More Upside for Stocks at MarketWatch. This trifecta is based on the so-called Santa Claus rally, the market’s direction in the first five days of January, and the January Barometer all showing positive market returns. Similar to last month, the monthly moving averages tell us to tactically avoid bonds (tracking ETF IEF). REITs, as represented by the ETF VNQ, show a mixed picture. VNQ is trading above its 12-month simple moving average and below its 10-month simple moving average. For the S&P 500, the month end price shows that the 5-month moving average remains above the 12-month moving average, which creates a positive environment to be long S&P 500. As we ended January market technicians saw an island top pattern in the market. This pattern frequently happens before a 5% correction. The market is also due for a 5% correction as it has been 7.2 months without one. The strength of the stock market rally since November is also fading. Corrections are extremely difficult to predict, but a pause in the rally is easily justified especially going into February, one of the historically dullest months for US markets.


Sentiment

Sentiment, as characterized by the CNN Money Fear & Greed index has shifted to neutral with a reading of 50. This is a drop from 70 last month. Short term sentiment indicators have turned weak, while mid-term and long-term sentiment indicators remain strong for the S&P 500. To keep this update balanced and to metaphorically throw some cold water on those of you who are inspired or euphoric about the current rally, John Hussman wrote in his January 23 weekly commentary:
"Last week, an unusual set of classifiers that we monitor raised red flags, with two of our three “crash signatures” now suggesting the likelihood of a market loss in excess of -25% in the months ahead (the last time these signatures were active was between April-October 2008). This would potentially represent the opening salvo of a more extended completion to the current market cycle. No single variable drives these signatures. Rather, they capture unsual combinations of market conditions that may include offensive valuations, dispersion across market internals, credit market weakness, lopsided bullish sentiment, Federal Reserve tightening, or other features. While these signatures are quantitative, my impression is that there is far more potential for economic and social disruption than appears to be reflected in the current speculative pitch. I should also be clear that these signatures are not forecasts but classifications that we’ve constructed to identify highly unusual events. The difference is that a forecast says “we expect this particular outcome in this specific instance,” while a classifier says “we identify the same signature of conditions that has regularly preceded this particular outcome in the past.” It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. We needn't rely on forecasts. Rather, we continue to align ourselves with the prevailing evidence at each point in time, and our outlook will shift as the evidence does."

Valuation

The market remains overvalued. Please read Mark Hulbert's opinion piece The Biggest Threat to Your Money Now? Ignoring the Scent of a Bear Market. Mark writes,
"To be sure, valuation measures exert only weak gravitational pull on the markets over the shorter term. So there’s nothing guaranteeing that a market drop is imminent because of the market’s current overvaluation. 
But someday we will look back at the World Economic Forum’s current sanguine assessment of financial risks with the disdain that we today view its doom and gloom assessment from 2009."

Summary
Price action remains positive for the S&P 500 and we have an accelerating economy as we start 2017. The market is due for a 5% correction and sentiment has weakened from the end of December. Valuation remains high. Tactically, only short-term traders should be adjusting their allocations. Nothing in the month-end data tells me to be on the lookout for a major correction (greater than 10%) in the month of February. I anticipate February could end up like the historical numbers above with very lackluster returns. Wise investing my friends and let me end this update with a quote from Charlie Munger:
"People are trying to be smart. All I am trying to do is not be idiotic, but it's harder than most people think." 

Please consult a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions. This blog is for educational purposes only and does NOT constitute individual investment advice.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lawyers Target College Retirement Plans

Nancy Mann Jackson wrote an article on January 23, 2017 detailing the challenges colleges face in using their retirement plans to better serve higher ed workers. She writes:
"Eight prominent universities—including University of Pennsylvania, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt and others—were hit with separate lawsuits in August 2016 alleging the institutions mishandled their employee retirement plans."
"In general, the lawsuits allege the universities breached those responsibilities by offering retirement plans that required employees to pay excessive fees and miss out on extra savings."
As the article mentions, the committees in charge of investments for retirement plans are increasingly offering index options and target date funds to their workers rather than find them in a situation where the offerings include an expensive actively managed fund that underperforms a less expensive index fund option. This is a risk fewer and fewer investors (institutional and individual) are willing to accept. Please read more about the indexing vs active management debate in Barry Rithotz's fantastic piece for BloombergView titled, Shift From Active to Passive Investing Isn’t What It Seems. It was published October 28, 2016 and succinctly summarizes how Bill Miller, a mutual fund manager, views the shift toward lower cost index funds.

Nancy's article, College Retirement Plans Under Attack at UniversityBusiness.com is well worth a read if you want to learn more about how litigators and regulators are changing the retirement plans institutions offer their employees.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

January 2017 Market Update

“Trying to inspire someone who does not recognize that he has a problem is a recipe for defensiveness and resentment. Inspiration is something we must save for the interested.”
Blair Enns, author, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto
Let's review price, sentiment and valuation as we kick off a new year of investing.
Price
Source: CoreCapInvestments
Price action ended the year on a buy signal for stocks. The monthly moving average numbers continue to tell investors to stay in both US and Foreign developed stocks. This is based on month end closing prices above the 10 and 12 month moving averages for exchange traded funds VTI and VEU. Bonds remain the most unloved asset class as we enter 2017. See the moving average charts below for more information.
Sentiment
Source: CNN Money Fear & Greed Index
Investor sentiment remains about where we ended last month. Investors have seen their collective mood become significantly more greedy following the conclusion of the United States Presidential election. Is the mood euphoric or simply optimistic with euphoria waiting to set in later in the Trump presidency? We like to buy when fear is high, so if you are adding new money to this market, this indicator suggests you should dollar cost average over a few months rather than investing in one lump sum.
Valuation
Source: Morningstar Market Fair Value Graph
Valuation remains elevated. This has implications on long term investment results, but has minimal impact on short term direction of markets. Expensive markets frequently become more expensive. Investors are pricing in perceived improvements in tax policy and deregulation that they are hopeful will increase earnings of public US companies while simultaneously unleashing the animal spirits of the market. Humans are like insects attracted to the light in the woods. If the market for an asset class starts glowing brighter human nature is to increase our intensity of being drawn to the light of that asset class (stocks, bonds, REITs, hedge funds etc) regardless of the long term consequences. The flip side is if the light is out or very dull we avoid the asset class like we avoid a sloppy drunk on New Year's Eve.
Source: Doug Short Monthly Moving Averages December Month-End Update
In summary, the market continues to move higher as we start the new year. Bonds, as represented by the exchange traded fund IEF, remain the only broad asset class that monthly moving averages indicate investors should avoid. Real estate is followed as having one of two monthly indicators signaling to stay away from REITs. Remember to follow a well constructed financial plan, which should include a written investment policy statement. Before making any investment ask yourself: How does XYZ investment enhance my portfolio? Lastly, remember wealthy people purchase items that will go up in value based on increasing cash flows. Wise investing my friends.
Please consult a qualified financial advisor before making any investment decisions. This blog is for educational purposes only and does NOT constitute individual investment advice.