A New Oil Paradigm Shuffles the Deck

A plunge in oil prices is feeding consumer pocketbooks and reshuffling the economic and strategic cards across the globe. OPEC’s recent decision to sustain current production levels looks like a high stakes game of chicken.  These countries produce 40% of global oil but failed to anticipate the magnitude of the U.S. production surge – up 80% in six years.  That increase is greater than the output of every OPEC country except Saudi Arabia.  And it has coincided with recovering production in some previous trouble spots just as economic activity appears to have stalled in some key corners of the world. This is a decidedly different dynamic from the well-worn story of tight oil supplies and rising demand from China and other emerging economies.  Now exporters strategize to hold market share and see who’ll be able to keep the crude flowing if prices slip lower.  Current levels may curtail some higher-cost production, but the U.S. surge is proving resilient, and technology moves on.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that just 4% of U.S. wells need oil above $80 per barrel to be profitable.  Some sources believe most shale oil and Canada’s tar sands can be economic even if oil approaches $50 per barrel. Meanwhile, some key OPEC members – notably Venezuela and Iran – are stressed.  Russia is not in OPEC, but oil generates 40% of its state budget.  The ruble has tumbled along with oil, boosting the cost of Russia’s heavy dependence on imported food and consumer goods. Regions that are heavy oil importers are getting a welcome break.  This includes much of the Eurozone and Japan, both of which have been flirting with recession.  There are a number of beneficiaries across Asia, including China and especially India, which imports about 85% of its oil.  Lower prices are a [...]

A New Oil Paradigm Shuffles the Deck 2014-12-11T13:23:47+00:00

Roth IRAs Are Increasingly Popular, Especially With Younger Investors

Analysis released last year by the Internal Revenue Service shows younger investors are choosing Roth IRAs over the traditional variety in large numbers.  Fund manager T. Rowe Price confirms that as of year-end 2013, investors under 34 have eight times more money in Roth IRAs than in traditional IRAs. There’s logic to that, assuming young investors are looking at currently low marginal tax rates, lots of years to enjoy tax-deferred growth, and easier access to a portion of their Roth assets if a need arises a few years down the road.  But as those same workers edge into higher marginal tax brackets the argument gets a little more nuanced. The main lure of the Roth IRA is the promise of tax-free income in retirement.  But is a young worker’s biggest worry the tax burden she’ll carry in retirement?  Or is it the challenge of saving enough to support a comfortable retirement? There are always plenty of competing demands for the dollars we might otherwise set aside for the future.  One’s tax rate in retirement, 30-35 years down the road, can be a tenuous rationale for forgoing the deduction one might capture with a traditional IRA contribution today.  After all, that deduction lowers the out-of-pocket cost of the IRA contribution which facilitates more savings.  And that’s a certainty now rather than a possibility in the distant future. Even if a young investor has the funds to maximize an IRA contribution – Roth or traditional – there are other tax-deferred vehicles in which to invest the tax savings from a traditional IRA contribution.  And that brings us to one of the most basic financial planning precepts: Try to control as much capital as you can for as long as you can.  Paying income taxes at a high rate in one’s golden years [...]

Roth IRAs Are Increasingly Popular, Especially With Younger Investors 2014-08-13T14:11:42+00:00

A SIMPLE Plan

I recently set up a SIMPLE IRA plan for a business in Corvallis. Their goal was to help their employees save for retirement while not spending a small fortune on administrative costs.  If this is the case for your business, you may want to take a look at a SIMPLE IRA plan. Who is eligible: Businesses with less than 100 employees, tax-exempt organizations, and government entities. Who must be covered:  Any employee earning $5,000 during any two preceding years. Required Employer Contribution: Dollar-for-dollar match up to 3% of pay OR 2% of gross pay up to $245,000 for all eligible participants who earn at least $5,000. Maximum Contribution:  $12,000 deferral plus a $12,000 maximum match.  Those over the age of 50 may make an additional catch-up contribution of $2,500. Advantages: - Minimal paperwork and expense - Minimal tax filing - Participant deferral of current income taxes Note: When participants take before-tax contributions out of their retirement plans, that money is subject to ordinary income tax and, if withdrawn before age 59 ½ , may be subject to an additional 10% federal tax penalty (25% penalty if withdrawn from a SIMPLE IRA within the first two years). Those are the basics, but please give us a call if a SIMPLE plan seems like it may be appropriate for your business.

A SIMPLE Plan 2014-03-24T09:06:38+00:00

Will Stock Selling by Boomers Tank the Market?

For the better part of two decades some market sages have warned that stocks could face a stiff, steady headwind as retiring baby boomers trim their equity holdings in favor of more conservative allocations and start spending their nest eggs. It’s the flipside of the view that the great bull market of the 1980s and ‘90s was partly fueled by the boomers surging into the prime earning and saving phase of their lives. Demographics certainly can influence markets, but it’s probably more of an indirect effect tied to the relative dynamism of the national economy. Recent studies question the idea that retiring boomers will tank stocks.  Several years ago the U.S. Government Accountability Office determined that demographic variables account for less than 6% of the stock market’s variability of returns.  A more recent study by the Vanguard mutual fund company cited several key factors that counter the boomer-sell-off scenario. Yes, the boomer generation is large: 76 million U.S. births from 1946 through ‘64.  But the rate at which they retire and the manner of doing so will vary widely. Besides, there were 50 million Gen-Xers born from 1965 through ’76, and 70 million Gen-Yers born 1977-2002.  The supply of workers/savers/investors doesn’t exactly end with the boomers.  In fact the U.S. has one of the better profiles among large nations with respect to the growth of the 15-64-year-old population. Yes, as of 2010 boomers owned nearly 47% of U.S. equities. But that’s not statistically different from the share their parents’ generation held 20 years earlier.  Older folks generally own more financial assets than younger folks.  Nothing new about that. And in trying to gauge the selling pressure that might come to bear, it’s worth noting that the wealthiest 20% of boomers hold 96% of the equities held by their age cohort, [...]

Will Stock Selling by Boomers Tank the Market? 2014-02-07T13:08:55+00:00

Bonds Can Be Risky

If you own individual bonds or bonds within mutual funds, you may want to start taking a more cautious approach to your bond investing.  Although bonds are typically considered a relatively safe investment, we may be entering a period where bond prices could be volatile. We are seeing signs that interest rates could be moving up in the near future.  Rising interest rates are not a good thing for bond investors as bonds generally lose value when rates rise.  For example, if you own a bond that matures in 10 years, or own a bond fund with an average maturity of ten years, a 1% rise in interest rates could cause your bond investment to decrease in value by as much as 10%. There are ways to protect, or at least mitigate potential loss in this type of a scenario.  Give us a call if you’d like to discuss this in more detail.

Bonds Can Be Risky 2013-06-05T08:15:13+00:00

Core Investing Beliefs Part 1

We have 2 primary investment beliefs: 1)   That asset allocation is the most important decision in investment management. 2)   That changing financial markets require continuous monitoring and tactical flexibility. This post focuses on asset allocation and we’ll address the second core belief in the next post. Asset Allocation is simply the term we use in the financial industry to describe how your money is invested in all of the various investment options available, and in what proportion.  For example, if you have a financial advisor making the asset allocation decisions for you, they are deciding how much you should be investing in US Large company stocks, how much in bonds, international stocks, etc. An important study by two Nobel Prize winning researchers highlights the importance of asset allocation in investment returns.  They found that over 90% of the variance in an investment portfolio is determined by how the assets are allocated.  Other factors such as stock selection and timing, while still important to consider, only represent a small portion of an investor’s return.  For example, back in 1999 when the stock market was up over 50%, it didn’t matter if you owned Microsoft, General Electric, or IBM, you still made a lot of money.  But, in the crash of 2000/2001, owners of those investments lost money while even a mediocre bond fund had a positive return.  So, rather than spending the majority of your time deciding between two similar stock investments, it is much more important to figure out whether you should invest 30% or 60% of your portfolio in stocks (or any stocks at all for that matter). We help our clients with these important asset allocation decisions and closely monitor and adjust their asset allocation as the financial markets change.

Core Investing Beliefs Part 1 2011-10-06T14:35:31+00:00

Inflation or Deflation: Watching for Warning Signs

There's been much debate in investing circles over the last year about whether inflation or deflation represents a more likely threat to the future of the U.S. economy. With a recovery that's still tentative compared to previous recessions, measures designed to stimulate the economy or cut spending to rein in the budget deficit provoke warnings about their potential to create one or the other. The case for inflation As the economy has begun to recover, worries about the potential for future inflation have become widespread. The Fed has undertaken extraordinary measures to make sure there is plenty of money in circulation, but some experts worry that the increased money supply will eventually cut the dollar's purchasing power, especially if interest rates are kept at historically low levels for too long. They cite the easy availability of money as contributing to the late-1990s tech bubble and the mid-2000s housing bubble, and fear that another could be on the way. The Federal Reserve Board's monetary policy committee maintains that inflation currently is too weak to support normal economic growth, let alone launch an inflationary spiral. However, those who see inflation in our future watch for warning signs such as increased Treasury yields, particularly on longer-term bonds. Higher yields when bonds are auctioned suggest that investors are increasingly wary of tying up their money for long periods at a fixed interest rate if they feel that inflation is going to erode the buying power of those fixed payments over time. Wholesale prices also are watched closely; higher prices at the wholesale level can be a precursor of higher prices at retail (that is, if retailers are able to pass those costs along to buyers, which is not always the case). The case for deflation At first blush, the falling prices that characterize deflation [...]

Inflation or Deflation: Watching for Warning Signs 2011-07-06T16:23:10+00:00

The Math of Losses

Everyone knows the stock market has its ups and downs, but just what’s involved in recovering from a serious down?  If you lose 10% one year but your portfolio returns 10% the next year, are you even again? The short answer:  no.  The math of recovering from a loss isn’t quite that symmetrical.  You have to gain more than you lost to recoup all your losses.  To understand why, let’s look at a hypothetical example.  Say you have a $100,000 portfolio.  In Year 1, you suffer a 10% loss and are down $10,000.  That leaves your portfolio worth only $90,000. In Year 2, the market rebounds and your portfolio rises by 10%.  However, that 10% increase is based on a $90,000 portfolio, not $100,000.  That means a 10% return adds only $9,000 to your portfolio not $10,000, leaving you still down $1,000 from where you started.  You would actually have to earn a return of a little over 11% to get back to your original $100,000. The bigger the loss, the bigger that rebound needs to be to get you even.  For example, if that $100,000 portfolio had taken a 40% hit, as many did in 2008, you’d need almost a 67% increase to offset that $40,000 loss.  That could take several years even if stocks perform well. The challenge is compounded by investor psychology.  Adjusting your asset allocation to aim for a higher return is one way to try to recoup losses faster.  However, many investors find it difficult to take on additional risk after having watched their investments take a hit.  And there’s no guarantee that more risk will necessarily produce the desired result—at least not within the desired time frame. The lopsided nature of recovery from market losses underscores why risk management is such a key component [...]

The Math of Losses 2011-04-27T14:57:02+00:00