The biggest risks for your retirement savings

Biggest risks to your retirement savings

Whether you are just starting your career or about to retire, you need to understand the risks you are facing when you plan for your future retirement.

Most experts recommend that you should aim to replace about 80% of work income during your retirement. Part of your retirement income will come from Social Security. Other sources could be a public pension, IRAs, 401k, rental income, sale of real estate or business, royalties, or a part-time job. However, the 80% is not a definite number. The amount you need in retirement could vary substantially depending on your lifestyle, family size, number of dependents, health issues, and so on.

Social Security benefits

The maximum Social Security benefit in 2019:

  • $3,770 for someone who files at age 70.
  • $2,861 for someone at a full retirement age of 66
  • $2,209 for someone aged 62

For reference, very few people reach these upper limits. The average Social Security retirement benefit in 2019 is $1,461 a month. The average disability benefit is $1,234.

Unfortunately, the Social Security trust is already running a deficit. Currently, the Social Security is paying more benefits than all the proceed its receiving from the payroll taxes. Its reserve will be depleted by 2035. After that point, social security recipients will have to receive only a portion of their actual benefit. The current estimate is around 75%.

Pension Shortfall

Similarly to Social Security, most of the public and private pension plans nationwide have an enormous shortfall between assets and their future liabilities. According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trust and Pension Tracker, US public pension shortfall is over $1 trillion. States like Alaska, California, Illinois, Ohio, Hawaii, and New Jersey have one of the highest pension burdens in the nation. Even after ten years of economic recovery and bull market, most state pension plans are not prepared to face another downturn. Policymakers must take urgent measures to close the pension funding gap, which remains at historically high levels as a share of GDP.

Low savings rate

With social security benefits expected to shrink, I advise my clients that they need to increase their savings in order to supplement their income in the future. Retirement savings in IRA, 401k and even a brokerage account will provide you with the necessary income during your retirement years.

Unfortunately, not everyone is forward-looking. The average 401k balance, according to Fidelity, is $106,000 in 2019, while the average IRA is $110,000. The sad reality is that most Americans do not save enough for retirement and we are facing a retirement crisis.

Not saving enough for retirement is the highest risk of enjoying your retirement years.

Relying on a single source

Many people make the mistake of relying on a single source of income for their retirement.  

Imagine that you were planning to retire in 2009 upon selling a piece of real estate. Or you had all your retirement savings in a 401k plan and the market just crashed 50%.  Many of these folks had to delay their retirement for several years to make up for the lost income. Similarly, selling your business can be risky too. With technology advancements, many businesses are becoming obsolete. You may not always be able to find buyers or get the highest price for your business.

We always recommend to our clients to have a diversified stream of retirement income. Diversifying your source will create a natural safety net and potentially could increase the predictability of your income in retirement.

Market risk

We all would like to retire when the market is up and our retirement account balance is high. However, the income from these retirement accounts like IRA, Roth IRA and 401k are not guaranteed. As more people relying on them for retirement, their savings become subject to market turbulence and the wellbeing of the economy.  Today, prospective retirees must confront with high equity valuations, volatile markets, and ultra-low and even negative yields.

In my practice, I use my clients’ risk tolerance as an indicator of their comfort level during market volatility. With market risk in mind, I craft well-diversified individual retirement strategies based on my clients’ risk tolerance and long-term and short-term financial goals.

Sequence of returns

The sequence of returns is the order of how your portfolio returns happen over time. If you are in your accumulation phase, the sequence of return doesn’t impact your final outcome. You will end up with the same amount regardless of the order of your annual returns.  

However, if you are in your withdrawal phase, the sequence of returns can have a dramatic impact on your retirement income. Most retires with a 401k or IRAs have to periodically sell a portion of their portfolios to supplement their income. Most financial planning software uses an average annual return rate to project future account balance. However, these average estimates become meaningless if you experience a large loss at the start of your retirement.

Our retirement strategies take the sequence of returns very seriously. Some of the tools we use involve maintaining cash buffers, building bond ladders and keeping a flexible budget.

Taxes

Your IRA balance might be comforting but not all of it is yours. You will owe income taxes on every dollar you take out of any tax-deferred account (IRA, 401k, 403b). You will pay capital gain taxes on all realized gains in your brokerage accounts. Even Social Security is taxable.

With skyrocketing deficits in the treasury budget, social security and public pensions will guarantee one thing – higher taxes. There is no doubt that someone will have to pick up the check. And that someone is the US taxpayer – me and you.

Managing your taxes is a core function of our wealth management practice. Obviously, we all must pay taxes. And we can not predict what politicians will decide in the future. However, managing your investments in a tax-efficient manner will ensure that you keep more money in your pocket.

Inflation risk

Most retirees have a significant portion of their portfolios in fixed income. Modern portfolio managers use fixed income instruments to reduce investment risk for their clients. At the time of this article, we are seeing negative and near-zero interest rates around the world. However, with inflation going at around 2% a year, the income from fixed-income investments will not cover the cost of living adjustments. Retirees will effectively lose purchasing power on their dollars.

Interest risk

Bonds lose value when interest rates go up and make gains when interest rates go down. For over a decade, we have seen rock bottom interest rates. We had a small blip in 2018 when the Fed raised rates 4 times and 1 year’s CDs reached 2.5%. At that point in time, many investors were worried that higher interest rates will hurt bond investors, consumers and even companies who use a lot of debt to finance their business. Even though these fears are subdued for now, interest rates remain a viable threat. Negative interest rates are as bad for fixed income investors as the high rates are. Unfortunately, traditional bond portfolios may not be sufficient to provide income and protect investors for market swings. Investors will need to seek alternatives or take higher risks to generate income.

Unexpected expenses

Most financial planning software will lay out a financial plan including your projected costs during retirement. While most financial planning software these days is quite sophisticated, the plan remains a plan. We can not predict the unexpected. In my practice, I regularly see clients withdrawing large sums from their retirement savings to finance a new home, renovation, a new car, college fees, legal fees, unexpectedly high taxes and so on. Reducing your retirement savings can be a bad idea on many levels. I typically recommend building an emergency fund worth at least 6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses that may occur. That way, you don’t have to touch your retirement savings.

Healthcare cost

The average health care cost of a retired couple is $260,000. This estimate could vary significantly depending on your health. Unless you have full health insurance from your previous employer, you will need to budget a portion of your retirement savings to cover health-related expenses. Keep in mind that Medicare part A covers only part of your health cost. The remaining, parts B, C, and D, will be paid out of pocket or through private insurance.

Furthermore, as CNBC reported, the cost of long-term care insurance has gone up by more than 60% between 2013 and 2018 and continues to go higher. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018.

For future retirees, even those in good shape, healthcare costs will be one of the largest expenses during retirement. In my practice, I take this risk very seriously and work with my clients to cover all bases of their health care coverage during retirement.

Longevity

Longevity risk is the risk of running out of money during retirement. Running out of money depends on an array of factors including your health, lifestyle, family support and the size and sources of retirement income.  My goal as a financial advisor is to ensure that your money lasts you through the rest of your life.

Legacy risk

For many of my clients leaving a legacy is an important part of their personal goal. Whether funding college expenses, taking care of loved ones or donating to a charitable cause, legacy planning is a cornerstone of our financial plan. Having a robust estate plan will reduce the risks to your assets when you are gone or incapacitated to make decisions. 

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is the risk that you will not be able to find buyers for your investments and other assets that you are ready to sell. Often times, during an economic downturn, the liquidity shrinks. There will be more sellers than buyers. The banks are not willing to extend loans to finance riskier deals. In many cases, the sellers will have to sell their assets at a significant discount to facilitate the transaction.

Behavioral risk

Typically, investors are willing to take more risk when the economy is good and the equity markets are high. Investors become more conservative and risk-averse when markets drop significantly. As humans, we have behavioral biases, Sometimes, we let our emotions get the worst of us. We spend frivolously. We chase hot stocks. Or keep all investments in cash. Or sell after a market crash. Working with a fiduciary advisor will help you understand these biases. Together, we can find a way to make unbiased decisions looking after your top financial priorities.

Final Words

Preparing for retirement is a long process. It involves a wide range of obstacles. With proper long-term planning, you can avoid or minimize some of these risks. You can focus on reaching your financial goals and enjoying what matters most to you.

Reach out

If you need help growing your retirement savings, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

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Market Outlook 2019

2019 Market Outlook

Happy New Year to all!

2018 kept us on our toes. It seems that 2019 is promising to do the same.

All major world indices posted declines in 2018. S&P 500 finished lower by -4.5%. While the small-cap S&P 600 was down-8.5%. The International MSCI EAFE closed -13.8% cheaper for the year. The Bloomberg Aggregate Bond Index finished 2018 barely positive with most gains generated in the last quarter as most investors moved to Treasuries as a result of the increased volatility in the equity markets. Gold also ended in negative territory despite the 7.5% gain in the last quarter.

Major indices in 2018

Index Q1 2018 Q2 2018 Q3 2018 Q4 2018 FY 2018
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY) -1.00% 3.55% 7.65% -13.52% -4.56%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR) 0.57% 8.69% 4.87% -20.18% -8.49%
MSCI EAFE (EFA) -0.90% -1.96% 1.52% -12.62% -13.81%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG) -1.47% -0.18% -0.08% 1.85% 0.10%
Gold (GLD) 1.73% -5.68% -4.96% 7.53% -1.94%

Source: Morningstar

We will remember 2018 with the return of volatility. Investors enjoyed relatively calm markets in 2017, which had only 8 trading days when the S&P 500 moved more than 1% in either direction, 5 down and 3 up days. For comparison, 2018 had 65 trading days when the index moved more than 1%, split evenly between positive and negative days. Overall 2018 had more positive trading days 131 versus 119. However, the average positive session was +0.69% versus the average negative session of -0.81%.

CBOE Volatility Index (^VIX) – 2017-2018

2019 Market Outlook. CBOE Volatility Index (^VIX) – 2017-2018
Source: Yahoo Finance

So, what led to this outcome. Unlike other bear markets, no single catalyst that caused this market selloff. But there was a combination of factors that formed a perfect storm and pushed the markets over the edge. In my previous post from November and December 2018, I talked about a list of these factors. Let me go over some of the most important ones.

Corporate buybacks

A big contributor to the positive returns earlier in the year was the companies’ share buybacks. After TCJA reduced the corporate tax rate to 21%, many corporations found themselves with extra cash, which they used to buyback their own stock. After the lockout period in October and the first spikes in volatility, the buybacks declined significantly.

High valuations

After a 9-year bull market and a record low-interest environment, equity valuations reached levels not seen since the tech bubble. The S&P 500 was trading at P/E of 24.9 in the early January of 2018, away above the average level of 15.7. Even after the market sell-off S&P 500 is trading around 19 P/E.

Furthermore, the Shiller PE Ratio reached 33.3, one of the highest levels in history. After the market correction, the ratio stands at 27, away above the average of 16.5.

While the traditional Price to Earnings ratio is calculated based on current or estimated earnings levels, the Schiller ratio calculates average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous ten years. The ratio is also known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio) or PE10.

Price of Oil

After reaching $74.15 per barrel in October, US crude oil tumbled to $43, a 42% drop. While lower crude prices are pushing down on inflation, they are hurting energy stocks, which barely recovered from the previous fall in oil prices. Furthermore, the oil’s rapid decline is fueling fears for global oversupply and slowing economic growth.

The Fed’s continued hiking of interest rates in the US was not coordinated with its counterparts in the ECB, the UK, and Japan. Currently the US 10-year treasury yields 2.58%. At the same time, the German 10-year bund now yields 0.15%, while Japanese 10-year government bond went back in the negative territory of -0.01%. Combining the higher US rates with failing = Brexit talks, Italian budget crisis, and negative trade war outcome has led to a strong US dollar reaching a 17-month high versus other major currencies.

Strong dollar

Given that 40% of S&P 500 companies’ revenue comes from foreign countries, the strong dollar is making Americans goods and services more expensive and less competitive abroad. Furthermore, US companies generating earnings in foreign currency will report lower US-dollar denominated numbers.

Slowing global growth

The market decline in the last three months of 2018 came in the backdrop of strong corporate earnings and record high consumer optimism. Overall, the S&P 500 members reported record earnings in the Q3 of 2018. 78% of them have reported better than expected actual earnings with an average earnings growth rate of 25.2%.

On the other side, a growing number of companies in the S&P 500 (58 or 12%) have issued negative earnings guidance for Q4 2018 and beyond. Most recently Apple reported lower revenue guidance as a result of weak demand in China and lower than expected iPhone replacement in the US.

Corporate CFOs are starting to take a more defensive approach. Business investment grew only at a 0.8% annual rate in the third quarter, down from 8.7% in the second quarter. This was the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2016.

The investment bank Nomura also came out with the forecast expecting global growth to slow down. Their economists predicted that global growth in 2019 would hit 3.7% and temper to 3.5% in 2020 from 3.9% in 2018. According to Nomura, the drivers for the slowdown include waning fiscal stimulus in the U.S., tighter monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, increased supply constraints and elevated risk of a partial government shutdown.

Trade War

The impact of President Trump’s trade war is finally became obvious. With many US businesses relying on revenue from China and the EU, one company after another are starting to warn for lower revenue guidance in 2019.

The latest global PMI (Purchasing Managers Index) survey shows a slowdown in global production growth. According to JP Morgan and HIS Markit Survey: “The global manufacturing sector continued to register a subdued performance at the close of 2018. Output growth remained weak, while rates of expansion in new orders and employment both slowed. The trend in international trade flows also remained weak, with new export business declining for the fourth straight month. The JP Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI™ fell to a 27-month low of 51.5 in December, down from 52.0 in November. The average reading over the fourth quarter (51.8) was the lowest since quarter three of 2016.”

The housing market is slowing down

Both existing and new home sales have come down this year.  Rising interest rates, higher cost of materials, labor shortage and high real estate prices in major urban areas have led to a housing market slow down.  Existing home sales dropped 3.4% in September coming down for six months in a row this year. New building permits are down 5.5% over 2017.

The investors have taken a negative view of the housing market. As a result, most homebuilders, home improvement retailers, and lumber producers are trading at 52-week lows.

Consumer debt is at a record high

The US consumer debt is reaching 4 trillion dollars. Consumer debt includes non-mortgage debts such as credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, and student loans. Student loans are equal to $1.5 trillion while auto debt is $1.1 trillion and credit card debt is close to $1.05 trillion. Furthermore, the US housing dent also hit a record high. In June, the combined mortgage and home equity debt were equal to $9.43 trillion, according to the NY Fed. So far, the rising consumer debt has been supported by low delinquencies, higher property values, rising wages, and low unemployment. However, a slowdown in the economy paired with higher interest rates can putt his equilibrium at risk.

High Yield and BBB-rated debt is growing

The size of the US corporate debt market has reached $7.5 trillion. The size of the BBB rated debt, which is just one notch above junk status, now exceeds 50% of the entire investment grade market.

Bloomberg pointed out that, in 2000, when BBB bonds were only a third of the market, the corporate net leverage (total debt minus cash and short-term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times.

Further on, the bond powerhouse PIMCO commented: “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.”

Interest rates

Interest rates were the hot topic of 2018 and will continue to be in 2019. With government debt passing $21 trillion and record high consumer and corporate, it is not a surprise that the market is very jittery to rising interest rates. The Fed hiked its overnight lending rate four times in 2018, to 2.25% – 2.50% level. Subsequently, the 10-year Treasury reached 3.24%, before falling to 2.58% as of January 3rd, 2019. In the meantime, the rates of the 2- and 5-year treasuries started to converge in what is known as inverted yield curve.

2019 Market Outlook. Convergence of interest 10-year, 5-year and 2-year rates  over the last 5 years
Convergence of interest 10-year, 5-year and 2-year rates over the last 5 years

2019 Outlook

The US Economy remains strong despite headwinds from multiple directions. Major macroeconomic factors are in positive territory.

  • Highest corporate earnings growth since 2010, over 25% over the first 3 quarters of 2018
  • The last quarter of S&P 500 EPS growth is expected to be between 12% and 15%
  • Equity valuations reach fair territory after the recent selloff.
  • GDP growth over 3%
  • Record high consumer sentiment
  • End of year holiday shopping is expected to beat all records
  • Record low unemployment
  • Highest wage growth since 2008
  • Business activity remains high
  • Interest rates remain under historical levels
  • Low oil prices will temper inflation and lower business cost

Many economists believe that we are in the last leg of economic expansion. And, some are even predicting a market recession in 2020. However, historically economists and equity have not been an accurate indicator for economic recessions. Realistically speaking it would be very hard to enter an economic downturn from where we are today unless we see a very steep deterioration of government policies and business and consumer spending.

Obviously, at this stage, it is hard to predict the equity markets in 2019. I am looking at three major scenarios, which all have realistic chances of developing.

Scenario 1 (30%)

The bull market continues. The US and China reach a mutually beneficial trade agreement. China commits to relax the rules of US firms conducting business in China and strengthen rules for parent protections. The Fed is more cautious about raising interest rates. Apple’s earnings are not as bad as the market is anticipating. Lower interest rates and oil prices help businesses manage their costs, offset slow down in housing sales and boost consumer spending. The corporate earnings growth beats analyst forecast across the board.

Scenario 2 (20%)

We could see another 10-20% decline in Global Stocks before reaching a bottom. Trump continues to criticize the Fed and interfere in its independence. The government shutdown and political bipartisanship continues without a long-term solution. The Brexit is a disaster. China and the US do not reach a meaningful trade agreement that satisfies the markets. Companies continue to report lower revenue and earnings guidance, and some may start laying off employees.  

Scenario 3 (50%)

Global stocks remain volatile for the first 6 months of the year with major swings in both directions. The equity market becomes extremely sensitive to both positive and negative news.

For long-term investors

The best investment strategy has always been buy-and-hold. Trying to time the market is a bad idea. There are many studies that show timing the market has underperformed a buy and hold strategy in the long run. For example, a long-term investor who bought SPY (SPDR S&P 500 ETF) on January 2nd, 2008 would have more than doubled her investment and achieve a 7.2% total return (price appreciations plus dividends).

If you are uncertain about the markets and achieving your financial goals, seek advice from a fiduciary advisor who has your best interest in mind.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation, and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

Market Outlook October 2018

Overview

The US stock market was on an absolute tear this summer. S&P 500 went up by 7.65% and completed its best 3rd quarter since 2013. Despite the February correction, the US stocks managed to recover from the 10% drop. All major indices reached a series of record highs at the end of August and September.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018YTD 2018
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)-1.00%3.55%7.65%10.37%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)0.57%8.69%4.87%14.64%
MSCI EAFE (VEA)-0.90%-1.96%1.23%-1.62%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)-1.47%-0.18%-0.08%-1.73%
Gold (GLD)1.73%-5.68%-4.96%-8.81%
Source: Morningstar

 

The US Economy remains strong

Markets have largely shrugged off the trade war fears benefiting from a strong economy and high corporate earnings.

US Unemployment remains low at 3.9% in July and August, levels not seen since the late 1960s and 2000.

Consumer sentiment is at a multi-year high. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index hit 100.1 in September, passing 100 for the third time since the January of 2004.

Business optimism hit another record high in August.  The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index reached the highest level in the survey’s 45-year history. According to NFIB, small business owners are planning to hire more workers, raise compensation for current employees, add inventory, and spend more on capital investments.

A hypothetical 60/40 portfolio

A hypothetical 60/40 index portfolio consisting of 30% US Large Cap Stocks, 10% US Small Cap Stocks, 20% International Stocks, 33% US Fixed Income and 7% Gold would have returned 3.06% by the end of September.

IndexAllocationReturn
S&P 50030%3.11%
S&P 60010%1.46%
MSCI EAFE20%-0.32%
Barclays USAgg Bond33%-0.57%
Gold7%-0.62%
Hypothetical Performance3.06%

 

US Equity

I expect a strong Q4 of 2018 with a record high holiday consumer and business spending. While stock valuations remain elevated, robust revenue and consumer demand will continue to drive economic growth.

After lagging large-cap stocks in 2017, small-cap stocks are having a comeback in 2018. Many domestically focused publicly traded businesses benefited massively from the recent corporate tax cuts, higher taxes on imported goods and healthy domestic demand.

This year’s rally was primarily driven by Technology, Healthcare and Consumer Discretionary stocks, up 20.8%, 16.7%, and 13.7% respectively. However, other sectors like Materials, Real Estate, Consumer Staples, Financials and Utilities are either flat or negative for the year. Keep in mind of the recent reshuffle in the sector classification where Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter along with the old telecommunication stocks were added to a new sector called Communication services.

Sector performance

SectorPerformancePrice perPrice toDividend
YTDEarningsSalesYield
as of 10/3/2018(TTM) (TTM)(%)
Communication Services-1.91%22.6x1.3x4.83%
Consumer Discretionary13.72%16.5x1.0x1.27%
Consumer Staples-5.50%15.1x1.0x2.86%
Energy8.67%14.0x1.2x1.74%
Financials0.29%15.2x2.1x1.91%
Health Care16.71%18.2x1.2x1.86%
Industrials4.73%15.7x1.1x1.85%
Information Technology20.86%14.8x2.1x0.90%
Materials-3.56%13.2x1.1x1.79%
Utilities0.77%17.1x1.3x3.70%
Source: Bloomberg

 

I believe that we are in the last few innings of the longest bull market. However, a wide range of sectors and companies that have largely remained on the sidelines. Some of them could potentially benefit from the continued economic growth and low tax rates.

International Equity

The performance gap between US and foreign stocks continues to grow. After a negative Q1 and Q2, foreign stocks recouped some of the losses in Q3. Furthermore, emerging market stocks are down close to -9% for the year.

Bad economic data coming from Turkey, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and China along with trade war fears put downward pressure on foreign equity markets. Additionally, rising right-wing sentiments in Italy, Austria, Sweden, Hungary, and even Germany puts doubts on the stability of the European Union and its pro-immigration policies.

In my view, the risk that the financial crisis in Turkey, Argentina, and Italy will spread to other countries is somewhat limited. However, the short-term headwinds remain, and we will continue to monitor these markets.

Brexit

Another major headline for European stocks is the progress of the Brexit negotiation. While soft Brexit would benefit both sides, a hard exit could have a higher negative impact on the UK.

I remain cautiously positive on international stocks. According to WSJ, foreign stocks are trading at a 12% discount over US equity on price to earnings basis. This year created value opportunities in several counters. However, the issue with European and Japanese stocks is not so much in valuations but the search for growth catalysts in conservative economies with an aging population.

Fixed Income

Rising Fed rates and higher inflation have driven bond prices lower so far this year. With inflation rate hovering at 2%, strong employment figures, rising commodity cost, and robust GDP growth, the Fed will continue to hike interest rates. I am expecting one more rate hike in December and three additional hikes in 2019.

I will also continue to monitor the spread between 2-year and 10-year treasury. This spread is currently at 0.23%, the lowest level since 2005.  Normally, a negative spread, i..e 2-year treasury rare higher than 10-year is a sign of a troubled economy.

While modest, individual pockets of the fixed-income market are generating positive performance this year. For instance, short duration fixed income products are now yielding in the range of 1.5% to 2%. The higher interest is now a compelling reason for many investors to keep some of their holdings in cash, CDs or short-term instruments.

With 10-year treasury closing above 3% and moving higher, fixed income investors will continue to see soft returns on their portfolio.

Gold

Gold is one of the big market losers this year. The strong dollar and robust US economy have led to the precious metal sell-off.  While the rise cryptocurrency might have reduced some of the popularity of Gold, I still believe that a small position in Gold can offer a buffer and reduce the overall long-term portfolio volatility. The investors tend to shift to Gold during times of uncertainty.

Navigating market highs

With S&P 500, NASDAQ and Dow Jones hitting all-time highs, how should investors manage their portfolio?

Rebalance

End of the year is an excellent opportunity for reconciliation and rebalancing to your target asset allocation. S&P 500 has returned 16.65% in the past five years, and the chance that equities are taking a big chunk of your portfolio is very high. Realizing some long-term gains and reinvesting your proceeds into other asset classes will ensure that your portfolio is reset to your desired risk tolerance level as well as adequately diversified.

Think long-term

In late January and early February, we experienced a market sell-offs while S&P 500 dropped more than 10%. Investors in the index who did not panic and sold at the bottom recouped their losses and ended up with 10% return as of September 30, 2018. Taking a long-term view will help you avoid the stress during market downturns and allow you to have a durable long-term strategy

 

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit our Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

Market Outlook April 2018

Market Outlook April 2018

Market Outlook April 2018

After a record high 2017, the volatility has finally returned. Last year the market experienced one of the highest risk-adjusted performances in recent history. In 2017 there were only 10 trading where the S&P 500 moved by more than 1% in either direction, with not a single trading day when it moved by more than 2%. In contrast, in the 61 trading days of Q1 of 2018, we had 26 days when the S&P 500 moved by more than 1% and 8 days where it changed by more than 2%.

Learn more about our Private Wealth Management services

 

VIX Index Q1 2018

Market Outlook April 2018
VIX index Q1 2018. Source Yahoo Finance

The VIX Index, which measures the volatility of the S&P 500 started the year ar 9.77. It peaked at 37.33 and ended the quarter at 19.97.

Markets do not like uncertainty, and so far, Q1 had plenty of that. In the first 3 months of the year market landscape was dominated by news about rising inflation and higher interest rates, the Toys R Us bankruptcy, trade war talks and tariffs against China, and scandals related to Facebook user data privacy.

Except for Gold, all major market indices finished in the negative territory.

IndexQ1 2018
S&P 500-1.00%
Russell 2000-0.18%
MSCI EAFE-0.90%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index-1.47%
Gold+1.73%

 

Fixed Income

Traditionally bonds have served as an anchor for equity markets. Over time stocks and US Treasury bond have shown a negative correlation. Usually, bonds would rise when stocks prices are falling as investors are moving to safer investments. However, in 2018 we observed a weakening of this relationship. There were numerous trading days when stocks and bonds were moving in the same direction.

On the other hand, despite rising interest rates, we see the lowest 10-year/2-year treasury spread since the October of 2007. The spread between the two treasury maturities was 0.47 as of March 29, 2018. While not definite, historically negative or flat spreads have preceded an economic recession.

Momentum

Momentum remained one of the most successful strategies of 2018 and reported +2.97%. Currently, this strategy is dominated by Technology, Financials, Industrials, and Consumer Cyclical stocks. Some of the big names include Microsoft, JP Morgan, Amazon, Intel, Bank of America, Boeing, CISCO, and Mastercard.

Value

Value stocks continued to disappoint and reported -3.73% return in the Q1 of 2018. Some of the biggest names in this strategy like Exxon Mobile, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Chevron, Verizon, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, DowDuPont and Wall-Mart fell close to or more than -10%. As many of these companies are high dividend payers, rising interest rates have decreased the interest of income-seeking investors in this segment of the market.

Small Cap

As small-cap stocks stayed on the sideline of the last year’s market rally, they were mostly unaffected by the recent market volatility.  Given that most small-cap stocks derive their revenue domestically, we expect them to benefit significantly from the lower tax rates and intensified trade war concerns.

Gold

Gold remained a solid investment choice in the Q1 of 2018. It was one of the few asset classes that reported modest gains. If the market continues to b volatile, we anticipate more upside potential for Gold.

 

Outlook

  • We anticipate that the market volatility will continue in the second quarter until many of the above issues get some level of clarification or resolution.
  • We expect that small and large-cap stocks with a strong domestic focus to benefit from the trade tariffs tension with China and other international partners
  • The actual impact of lower taxes on corporate earnings will be revealed in the second half of 2018 as Q3 and Q4 earnings will provide a clear picture of earnings net of accounting and tax adjustments.
  • Strong corporate earnings and revenue growth have the ability to decrease the current market volatility. However, weaker than expected earnings can have a dramatically opposite effect and drive down the already unstable markets.
  • If the Fed continues to hike their short-term lending rates and inflation rises permanently above 2%, we could see a further decline in bond prices.
  • Our strategy is to remain diversified across asset classes and focus on long-term risk-adjusted performance

 

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com or +925-448-9880.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,

 

Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Protecting Your Portfolio from Inflation

The 2016 election revived the hopes of some market participants for higher interest rates and higher inflation. Indeed, the 10-year Treasury rate went from 1.45% in July to 2.5% in December before settling at around 2.35-2.40% at the end of February 2017. Simultaneously, the Consumer Price Index, which is one of the leading inflation indicators, hit a five-year high level at 2.5% in January 2017. As many investors are becoming more concerned, we will discuss our top 5 strategies to protect your portfolio from inflation.

Higher interest and inflation rates can hurt the ability of fixed income investors to finance their retirement. Bonds and other fixed-income instruments lose value when interest rates go up and gain value when interest rate come down.

There were numerous articles in popular media about the “great rotation” and how investors will switch from fixed to equity investments in search for higher return. None of that has happened yet, and the related news has seemed to disappear.

However, the prospects for higher inflation are still present. So, in this article, I would like to discuss several asset classes that are popular among individual investors. I will explain see how they perform in the environment of rising inflation.

Cash

Cash is by far one of the worst vehicles to offer protection against inflation. Money automatically loses purchasing power with the rise of inflation. Roughly speaking, if this year’s inflation is 3%, $100 worth of goods and services will be worth $103 in a year from now. Therefore, someone who kept cash in the checking account or at home will need extra $3 to buy the same goods and services he could buy for $100 a year ago.

A better way to protect from inflation, while not ideal, is using saving accounts and CDs. Some online banks and credit unions offer rates above 1%. This rate is still less than the CPI but at least preserves some of the purchasing power.

Equities

Stocks are often considered protection tools against inflation. They offer a tangible claim over company’s assets, which will rise in value with inflation. However, historical data has shown that equities perform better only when inflation rates are around 2-3%. To understand this relationship, we have to look at both Real and Nominal Inflation-Adjusted Returns. As you can see from the chart below, both real and nominal stock returns have suffered during periods of inflation that is over 5% annually. Moreover, stocks performed very well in real and nominal terms when inflation rates were between 0% and 3%.

High inflation deteriorates firms’ earnings by increasing the cost of goods and services, labor and overhead expenses. Elevated levels of inflation have the function to suppress demand as consumers are adjusting to the new price levels.

While it might look tempting to think that certain sectors can cope with inflation better than others, the success rate will come down to the individual companies’ business model. As such, firms with strong price power and inelastic product demand can pass the higher cost to their customers. Additionally, companies with strong balance sheet, low debt, high-profit margins and steady cash flows tend to perform better in high inflation environment.

 Real estate

Real Estate very often comes up as a popular inflation protection vehicle. However, historical data and research performed the Nobel laureate Robert Shiller show otherwise.

According to Shiller “Housing traditionally is not viewed as a great investment. It takes maintenance, it depreciates, it goes out of style. All of those are problems. And there’s technical progress in housing. So, the new ones are better….So, why was it considered an investment? That was a fad. That was an idea that took hold in the early 2000’s. And I don’t expect it to come back. Not with the same force. So people might just decide, ‘yeah, I’ll diversify my portfolio. I’ll live in a rental.’ That is a very sensible thing for many people to do”.

Shiller continues “…From 1890 to 1990 the appreciation in US housing was just about zero.  That amazes people, but it shouldn’t be so amazing because the cost of construction and labor has been going down.”  Rising inflation will lead to higher overhead and maintenance costs, potential renter’s delinquency and high vacancy rates.

To continue Shiller’s argument, investors seeking an inflation protection with Real Estate must consider their liquidity needs. Real Estate is not a liquid asset class. It takes a longer time to sell it. “Every transaction involves paying fees to banks, lawyers, and real-estate agents. There are also maintenance costs and property taxes. The price of a single house also can be quite volatile.”  Just ask the people who bought their homes in 2007, just before the housing bubble.

Commodities

Commodities and particularly gold tend to provide some short-term protection against inflation. However, this is a very volatile asset class. Gold’s volatility measured by its 42-year standard deviation is 33% higher than that of stocks and 3.5 times greater the volatility of the 10-year treasury.  Short-term inflation protection benefits are often overshadowed by other market-related events and speculative trading.

Not to mention the fact that the gold and other commodities are not easily available to retail investors outside the form of ETFs, ETNs, and futures. Buying actual commodities can incur significant transaction and storage cost which makes it almost prohibitive for individuals to physically own them.

Bonds

According to a many industry “experts” bonds are a terrible tool to protect for inflation. The last several years after the great recession were very good to bonds since rates gradually went down and the 10-year treasury rate reached 1.47% in July 2017.  The low rates were supported by quantitate easing at home and abroad and higher demand from foreign entities due to near zero or negative rates in several developed economies. As the rates went up in the second half of 2016, bonds, bonds ETFs and mutual funds lost value. While bonds may have some short-term volatility with rising inflation, they have shown a strong long-term resilience. The 42-year annualized return of the 10-year Treasury is 7.21% versus 10.11% for large Cap Stocks. The Inflation adjusted rate of return narrows the gap between two asset groups, 3.07% for bonds and 5.85% for stocks.

For bond investors seeking inflation protection, there are several tools available in the arsenal. As seen in the first chart, corporate bonds due to their stronger correlation to the equities market have reported much higher real returns compared to treasuries. Moving to short-term duration bonds, inflation-protected bonds (TIPS), floating rate bonds, are banks loan are some of the other sub-classes to consider