What’s Going On With The Markets?

Well that was quick!

I’m referring of course to the short uptrend from the stock market correction that had seen a bottom on June 8. As of today, the S&P 500 index undercut the lows of the last correction and has put us back into another market correction. With all the overhang from worldwide events and mounting evidence of a slowing recovery, investor, consumer and institutional sentiment are at their lows.

In last week’s statement from the Federal Reserve, where it continued to hold interest rates at 0-0.25% for an extended period, the “Fed” acknowledged a softening recovery and lackluster employment growth. Hints of another fiscal stimulus or monetary easing emanated from Washington to help avoid a possible double-dip recession. Now you may have heard about the G-20 Summit meeting this past weekend in Toronto where the United States was the lone voice in encouraging a coordinated effort of more fiscal stimulus to heed off a global recession; instead, most European nations were insistent that austerity measures and tax increases were the way to go to bring their fiscal houses in order. While I’m totally in favor of balanced budgets and fiscal conservatism, simultaneously cutting spending and raising taxes are the surest way to plunge your country into recession or worse, depression (history has demonstrated this time and time again.) At a time when the recovery is so fragile, doing one of the two is risky; doing both is simply economic suicide.

The Conference Board reported a sharp drop in Consumer Confidence today which caught Wall Street completely off guard. However, today’s figures are in sharp contrast to last Friday when the University of Michigan reported its Consumer Sentiment gauge at the highest level in two years. Although the 9.8 point drop in the Conference Board numbers was higher than expected, keep in mind that Consumer Confidence fell over 10 points in February just before the last stock market rally. These numbers really don’t mean a whole lot to the markets, so I’d caution against reading too much into today’s report or market reaction.

As I’ve written before, the stock markets hate uncertainty. With the BP Gulf disaster getting worse, the European Union is still arguing who should pay for whom and how much, financial regulation passage still uncertain, new job creation largely absent, and slowing growth in China, we have the makings of a “bad news salad.” Even though yields on money markets and Treasuries are at their lows, it seems that there is no appetite for risk or conviction in the markets by both the bulls and the bears. With poor May retail sales, jobs, and housing numbers, the bulls haven’t had much to hang their hat on lately. But keep in mind that one month does not make a trend.

So we find ourselves once again at a critical level in the markets today. At a closing level of 1,041 in the S&P 500, the bulls must come in and rescue this uptrend or risk dropping another 6% from here to about 980. I must admit that I believe that our only short-term hope of averting this drop is a very favorable June jobs number on Friday (on the order of 100,000 new jobs created.) Tomorrow (Wednesday), ADP will release their preliminary estimate of the jobs number (of mostly private employment; it does not include government jobs) and it is widely expected to show 60,000 new jobs created. The ADP report is widely anticipated as an indicator of the main jobs report, but it has been known to be way off. However, many institutions and traders treat it as a preview of Friday’s number. Let’s hope that the Labor Department has a nice 4th of July weekend send-off for us.

So much bad news, negative sentiment and consecutive down days are built into the market that a bounce is overdue and may come tomorrow (Wednesday) if the ADP jobs report is favorable. For our portfolios, I will be closely watching the 1,041 level on the S&P 500 index for support. If that support line is definitively broken, I will look to reinstate the portfolio hedges that have served us well in the past. Even at these market levels, we are still considered to be in a correction, not another bear market. By technical definition, a bear market is a 20% decline from a market high, which was 1,220 in the S&P 500 index. That gives us running room to 976 to avoid descending into another bear market.

I personally believe that with an undoubtedly positive 2nd quarter earnings season coming up and a good jobs report, we can avert the drop to bear market levels. I am not in the camp that believes that a double-dip recession or depression is in our near-term future. Short-term, a negative jobs report and poor earnings guidance combined with severe austerity measures around Europe will likely mean bad news for stocks. My broken crystal ball predicts however that we will pull out of this malaise and that the recovery, albeit tepid, will carry the markets upward through the rest of the year. However, if the markets insist on going lower into bear market territory, I will look to liquidate a portion of equity portfolios and increase our hedges. Recall that earlier in the spring I mentioned that the summer months would be both volatile and bumpy…and here we are.

I am working on my 2nd half 2010 market and economic outlook and will send it out to everyone later this week. I wish I had better news for you right now. Nonetheless, I hope this update helps you understand a little more of what’s going on with the markets. Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who might benefit from reading it. If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me. If you or someone in your family or circle of friends is considering hiring a financial planner, please visit our website or consider a complimentary financial roadmap via the link below. Your first consultation with us is complimentary and there is no pressure to make any decisions.

Sam H. Fawaz CFP®, CPA is president of YDream Financial Services, Inc., a registered investment advisor. Sam is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), Certified Public Accountant and registered member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) fee-only financial planner group.  Sam has expertise in many areas of personal finance and wealth management and has always been fascinated with the role of money in society.  Helping others prosper and succeed has been Sam’s mission since he decided to dedicate his life to financial planning.  He specializes in entrepreneurs, professionals, company executives and their families.
All material presented herein is believed to be reliable, but we cannot attest to its accuracy.  Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment advisors before making any investment decisions.  Opinions expressed in this writing by Sam H. Fawaz are his own, may change without prior notice and should not be relied upon as a basis for making investment or planning decisions.  No person can accurately forecast or call a market top or bottom, so forward looking statements should be discounted and not relied upon as a basis for investing or trading decisions. This message was authored by Sam H. Fawaz CPA, CFP and is provided by YDream Financial Services, Inc.

Feel Like Un-Retiring? Here’s How to Prepare

Last October, the MetLife Mature Market Institute released a study that said the over-55 workforce will account for almost 93 percent of the net increase in the U.S. civilian labor force between 2006 and 2016.  At the same time, MetLife reported that many American workers plan to stay on the job at least until age 69.

The Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project echoed those findings in May 2009, saying that just over half of all working adults aged 50-65 plan to delay their retirement, with 16 percent saying they never plan to stop working.   The issue, says the Pew study, is not about what these Americans earn, but how much they lost during the investment meltdown and the worst economic downturn in more than 70 years.

Add all these factors together and you have one of the most interesting labor situations for older Americans ever.  That’s why that for every retiree or potential retiree who feels they need to return or stay on the job, it’s particularly important to review investment, insurance and tax issues.  It therefore makes sense to meet to discuss these areas with a financial advisor such as a fee-only Certified Financial Planner™ professional.

Here are some critical points to address:

How are your skills? This is a valid point for current and potential retirees. The best job candidates are those with current skills in technology and procedures specific to an industry, so staying in the workforce may mean retraining.  If there’s a way to get an employer to pay, then you should take advantage of it.  But if you have to pay for your own education, then you really need to weigh whether your earnings will justify it unless you enjoy the area of education or going back to school.

Be realistic about your demographic in the workplace: While age discrimination is illegal, there are some workplace cultures where older workers frankly seem out of place.  You have to ask whether you are going to be happy staying in a field that’s populated by younger workers with different interests or whether you might try another line of work.

Consider how a return to the workplace will affect you personally and socially: If you’re 40, 50 or 60, working right now probably feels like breathing – when have you not worked?  But it may not be the best option after a year or two out of the workplace.

Consider health insurance issues: If a retiree returning to the workforce is already receiving Medicare or is covered by a “Medigap” policy, they may be able to lower their costs or improve their coverage by accepting group coverage as primary underwriter of their medical expenses.  Since people over age 55 are generally the greatest users of the health care system, coverage issues are particularly important to run by a financial planner.

Know your tax picture: Tax issues shouldn’t determine your ambitions and goals, but it’s important to consider the impact full or part-time income will have on your finances.  Most retirees realize that it doesn’t take much income to knock them into a higher bracket.  Look for ways to control the taxes you’ll ultimately pay, including continued participation in qualified plans, IRAs, and other tax-favored accumulation vehicles and using annuity income to fill the gap between the beginning of the “post-retirement” period and the age when full Social Security benefits can be drawn without an offset for employment income.  Additional work income may affect the amount of taxable social security income you’re receiving, so be sure to take that into account.

Consider what earnings will do to all your retirement payments: If you are planning to continue working or returning to work, consider not only the tax impact, but also how that might change the way you plan to draw on your retirement savings and investments as well as Social Security.  If you are planning to work, it’s important you consider suspending or delaying receipt of those benefits for as long as you can.

Look for work-related incentives: Particularly for public sector workers, there are opportunities to return to state employment and actually augment existing pensions.  Keep an eye out for these programs and see if they work for you.

Keep saving: If you return to the workplace, see what you can do to take advantage of your new employer’s 401(k) plan or any other tax-advantaged retirement savings benefit, particularly if an employer matches your contribution.  Don’t miss a chance to enhance your retirement savings.

Returning to the workforce after retiring can be immensely rewarding both professionally and personally.  If you’ve un-retired yourself, please feel free to post your comments or additional insights about your experience.

This article was produced by the Financial Planning Association (FPA), the membership organization for the financial planning community, and is provided by Sam H. Fawaz and YDream Financial Services, a local member of FPA and a fee-only member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

Beware of Gotchas in Growth & Guaranteed Annuities

I’ve had several prospects ask about growth and guaranteed annuities being promoted by many in the brokerage and insurance industry.  If there’s one thing you can count on in the financial industry, it’s that the industry will always come up with products that capitalize on fear amongst investors or the frenzy in a particular market segment.  Today, many investors and pre-retirees are discouraged by increased market volatility and low or negative rates of return of late.  The financial and insurance companies respond with products to try and address these concerns and they certainly do sound attractive.

I’ve analyzed and read more annuity prospectuses in my career than I care to admit, and I have yet to find one that delivers on its promise without numerous “gotchas.”  As with any financial product, there is never a free lunch. From hidden and high fees, low guaranteed returns, vague and complicated guarantees and draconian penalty and surrender provisions, the majority of annuities, variable and otherwise, simply don’t make much financial sense.  Annuity and life insurance salesmen, brokers and “financial advisors” always tout the great benefits their products have, but rarely delve into the details of the contract or the downsides.

Remember, when you sign up for any insurance or annuity product that has a penalty or surrender charge, after the right of rescission period has passed (usually three days after signing), the penalty or surrender charge you sign up for is 100% payable whether you keep the product for the requisite term (via higher expenses over 7-17 years) or pay it outright and get out of the contract early.  So waiting until the penalty or surrender period ends does not save you from paying the penalty or surrender charges.  In fact, you’ll lose more by waiting since most contracts have sub-par investment choices with higher annual expenses.

If you’re considering an annuity, keep the following points in mind:

  1. Ask yourself what you intend to use the annuity payout for and when you think you’ll need it.  It is rare that you can’t find an investment that more effectively meets your needs. If you want secure or risk-free retirement income, look at the annuity distribution options and income stream.  In most cases, you would be better off putting your money in bank certificates of deposit and simply liquidate principal as needed.  This way, your heirs get the remaining principal at death rather than the insurance company.
  2. Many people are swayed by the guaranteed current rates on deferred annuities until they realize that the guaranteed rate changes annually, is usually lower than market rates and that the annuity has a 7-17 year unavoidable surrender charge or penalties.
  3. If the guarantee is really important to you, keep in mind that the guarantor is an insurance company much like AIG. How thoroughly have you researched the financial health of the underwriter?
  4. If you are intent on buying an annuity, focus on a fixed and immediate annuity.  Find the best one with the lowest internal expenses, shortest surrender term, and best guarantees.  A fee-only planner can help you choose the best one that has no commissions or hidden compensation to sway his recommendation.
  5. Focus on how relevant the annuity is to your financial goals and whether it is the best solution to the issue you are trying to address.  This helps you move the focus from the product and toward a focus on your personal financial goals, which is what it’s all about.
  6. Remember that an annuity is not an all or nothing decision. You can commit just a portion (10-50%) of your portfolio to an annuity to hedge and diversify your holdings.

I hope this update helps you understand a little more of what goes on with growth and guaranteed income annuities.   My thanks to fellow NAPFA member Bedda D’Angelo for her tips on keeping annuities in perspective.  If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to post them here.  If you or someone in your family or circle of friends is considering hiring a financial planner, please visit our website or consider a complimentary financial roadmap.

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