8 reasons to open a solo 401k plan

8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan

What is a solo 401k plan

The solo 401k plan is a powerful tool for entrepreneurs to save money for retirement and reduce their current tax bill. These plans are often ignored and overshadowed by the more popular corporate 401k and SEP IRA plans.  In fact, there is a lack of widely available public information about them. Simply put, not many people know about it. In this article, I will discuss 8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan.

Solo or one participant 401k plans are available to solo entrepreneurs who do not have any personnel on staff. If a business owner employs seasonal workers who register less than 1,000 hours a year, then he or she may be eligible for the solo 401k plans as well. The solo plans have most of the characteristics of the traditional 401k plan without any of the restrictions.

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What are some of the most significant benefits of the self-employed 401k?

Maximize your retirement savings with a solo 401k

Self-employed 401k allows a business owner to save up to $56,000 a year for retirement, plus an additional $6,000 if age 50 and over. How does the math work exactly?

Solo entrepreneurs play a dual role in their business – an employee and an employer. As an employee, they can contribute up to $19,000 a year plus catch-up of $6,000 if over the age of 50. Further, the business owner can add up to $37,000 of contribution as an employer match. The employee’s side of the contribution is subject to 25% of the total compensation, which the business owner must pay herself.

Example: Jessica, age 52, has a solo practice. She earns a W2 salary of $100,000 from her S-corporation. Jessica set-up a solo 401k plan. In 2017 she can contribute $18,000 plus $6,000 catch-up, for a total of $24,000 as an employee of her company. Additionally, Jessica can add up to $25,000 (25% x $100,000) as an employer. All-n-all, she can save up to $49,000 in her solo 401k plan.

One important side note, if a business owner works for another company and participates in their 401(k), the above limits are applicable per person, not per plan. Therefore, the entrepreneur has to deduct any contributions from the second plan to stay within the allowed limits.

Add your spouse

A business owner can add his or her spouse to the 401k plan subject to the same limits discussed above. To be eligible for these contributions, the spouse has to earn income from the business. The spouse must report a wage from the company on a W2 form for tax purposes.

Reduce your current tax bill

The solo 401k plans contributions will reduce your tax bill at year-end. The wage contributions will lower your ordinary income tax. The company contributions will decrease your corporate tax.

This is a very significant benefit for all business owners and in particular for those who fall into higher income tax brackets. If an entrepreneur believes that her tax rate will go down in the future, maximizing her current solo 401k contributions now, can deliver substantial tax benefits in the long run.

Opt for Roth contributions

Most solo 401k plans allow for Roth contributions. These contributions are after taxes. Therefore, they do not lower current taxes. However, the long-term benefit is that all investments from Roth contributions grow tax-free. No taxes will be due at withdrawal during retirement.

Only the employee contributions are eligible for the Roth status. So solo entrepreneur can add up to $19,000 plus $6,000 in post-tax Roth contributions and $37,000 as tax-deductible employer contributions.

The Roth contributions are especially beneficial for young entrepreneurs or those in a lower tax bracket who expect that their income and taxes will be higher when they retire. By paying taxes now at a lower rate, plan owners avoid paying much larger tax bill later when they retire, assuming their tax rate will be higher.

No annual test

Solo 401k plans are not subject to the same strict regulations as their corporate rivals. Self-employed plans do not require a discrimination test as long as the only participants are the business owner and the spouse.

If the company employs workers who meet the eligibility requirements, they must be included in the plan.  To be eligible for the 401k plan, the worker must be a salaried full-time employee working more than 1,000 hours a year. In those cases, the plan administrator must conduct annual discrimination test which assesses the employee participation in the 401k plan. As long as solo entrepreneurs do not hire any full-time workers, they can avoid the discrimination test in their 401k plan.

No annual filing

Another benefit of the 401k plans is the exemption from annual filing a form 5500-EZ, as long as the year-end plan assets do not exceed $250,000. If plan assets exceed that amount, the plan administrator or the owner himself must do the annual filing. To learn more about the annual filing process, visit this page.

Asset protection

401k plans offer one of the highest bankruptcy protection than any other retirement accounts including IRA. The assets in 401k are safe from creditors as long as they remain there.

In general, all ERISA eligible retirement plans like 401k plan are sheltered from creditors. Non-ERISA plans like IRAs are also protected up to $1,283,025 (in aggregate) under federal law plus any additional state law protection.

Flexibility

You can open a self-employed 401k plan at nearly any broker like Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. The process is relatively straightforward. It requires filling out a form, company name, Tax ID, etc. Most brokers will act as your plan administrator. As long as, the business owner remain self-employed, doesn’t hire any full-time workers and plan assets do not exceed $250,000, plan administration will be relatively straightforward.

As a sponsor of your 401k plan, you can choose to manage it yourself or hire an investment advisor. Either way, most solo 401k plans offer a broader range of investments than comparable corporate 401k plans. Depending on your provider you may have access to a more extensive selection of investment choices including ETFs, low-cost mutual funds, stocks, and REITs. Always verify your investment selection and trading costs before opening an account with any financial provider.

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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All you need to know about Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

RSUs

Employers, especially many startups, use different compensation options to attract and keep top performing employees. A common alternative is equity compensation, which allows employees to share in the ownership and the profits of the company. Equity compensation takes different forms such as stock options, restricted stocks, and deferred comp. Today, most companies are resorting to the use of restricted stock unit (RSU) as a significant compensation package. If you are fortunate to receive RSUs from your employer, you should understand the basics of this corporate perk. Here is all you need to know about Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) and some essential tips on how to manage them.

What are Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)?

A restricted stock unit (RSU) is a type of equity compensation given by an employer to an employee in the form of company stock. Employees receive RSUs through a vesting plan and distribution schedule after achieving required performance milestones or upon remaining with their employer for a particular length of time. RSUs give an employee interest in company stock but they have no tangible value until vesting is complete.

Vesting Schedule

Companies issue restricted stock units according to a vesting schedule.
The vesting schedule outlines the rules by which employees receive full ownership of their company stock. The restricted stock units are assigned a fair market value when they vest. Upon vesting, they are considered income, and often a portion of the shares is withheld to pay income taxes. The employees receive the remaining shares and can sell them at their discretion.

Grant Date and Vesting Date

As an employee, you should be aware of these essential RSU dates. The grant date is the date when the company pledges the shares to you.

You only own the shares when the granted shares are ‘vested.’ The vesting date when the employer transfers the full ownership of the shares to you. At that point, the stock becomes fully vested, and they are owned by the employee.

Even though RSUs offer employees ownership in company stock, they usually don’t have a tangible value before vesting. When vesting is complete, the restricted stock units are valued according to the fair market value at that time.

Taxes on RSUs

The fair market value of your vested RSUs is considered personal income in the year of vesting. Typically, companies withhold part of the shares for federal and state income taxes. The remaining shares are given to the employees. At this point, you can decide to keep or sell them at your wish. If your employer doesn’t withhold taxes for your vested shares, you will be responsible for paying these taxes during the tax season.

Once the RSUs are converted to company stock, you become a shareholder in your firm. You will be able to sell some of these shares subject to companies’-imposed trading windows and executive limits. If the stock price goes up after vesting you will need to pay either short-term capital gain taxes for shares held less than a year from date or long-term capital gains taxes in shares held longer than one year.

Investment risk

Being a shareholder in your firm could be very exciting. If your company is in great health and growing solidly, this could be an enormous boost to your personal finances.

However, here is the other side of the story. Owning too much of your company stock could impose significant risks to your investment portfolio and retirement goals. You are already earning a salary from your employer. Concentrating your entire wealth and income from the same source could jeopardize your financial health if your employer fails to succeed in its business ventures. Many of you remember the fall of Enron and Lehman Brothers. Many of their employees lost not only their jobs but a significant portion of their retirement savings.  

As a fiduciary advisor, I always recommend diversification and caution. Try to limit your exposure to your employer and sell your shares periodically. Sometimes paying taxes is worth the peace of mind and safety.

Conclusion

Receiving RSUs is an excellent way to acquire company stock and become part of your company’s future. While risky owning RSUs often comes with a huge financial upside. Realizing some of these gains could help you build a strong foundation for retirement and financial freedom. When managed properly, they can help you achieve your financial goals, whether they are buying a home, taking your kids to college or early retirement.

Reach out

If you’d like to discuss how to make the most out of your RSUs, please feel free to reach out and learn more about our fee-only financial advisory services. We will meet you in one of our offices in San Francisco, Oakland, Walnut Creek, and Pleasant Hill areas. As a CFA® Charterholder with an MBA degree in Finance and 15+ years in the financial industry, I am ready to answer your questions.

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA
Founder|Babylon Wealth Management

CFA Charterholder. Let's build a better world for investing.

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A financial checklist for young families

A financial checklist for young families

A financial checklist for young families…..Many of my clients are young families looking for help to build their wealth and improve their finances. We typically discuss a broad range of topics from buying a house, saving for retirement, savings for their kids’ college, budgeting and building legacy. As a financial advisor in the early 40s, I have personally gone through many of these questions and was happy to share my experience.

Some of my clients already had young children. Others are expecting a new family member. Being a dad of a nine-month-old boy, I could relate to many of their concerns. My experience helped me guide them through the web of financial and investment questions.

While each family is unique, there are many common themes amongst all couples. While each topic of them deserves a separate post, I will try to summarize them for you.

Communicate

Successful couples always find a way to communicate effectively. I always advise my clients to discuss their financial priorities and concerns. When partners talk to each other, they often discover that they have entirely different objectives.  Having differences is normal as long as you have common goals. By building a strong partnership you will pursue your common goals while finding a common ground for your differences

Talking to each other will help you address any of the topics in this article.

If it helps, talk to an independent fiduciary financial advisor. We can help you get a more comprehensive and objective view of your finances. We often see blind spots that you haven’t recognized before.

Set your financial goals

Most life coaches will tell you that setting up specific goals is crucial in achieving success in life. It’s the same when it comes to your finances. Set specific short-term and long-term financial goals and stick to them. These milestones will guide you and help you make better financial decisions in the future.

Budget

There is nothing more important to any family wellbeing than budgeting. Many apps can help you budget your income and spending. You can also use an excel spreadsheet or an old fashion piece of paper. You can break down your expenses in various categories and groups similar to what I have below. Balance your budget and live within your means.

Sample budget

Gross Income?????
Taxes???
401k Contributions??
Net Income????
Fixed Expenses
Mortgage?
Property Taxes?
Utilities (Phone, Cable, Gas, Electric)?
Insurance?
Healthcare/Medical?
Car payment?
529 savings?
Daycare?
Non-Discretionary Flexible Expenses
Groceries?
Automotive (Fuel, Parking, Tolls)?
Home Improvement/Maintenance?
Personal Care?
Dues & Subscriptions?
Discretionary Expenses
Restaurants?
General Merchandise?
Travel?
Clothing/Shoes?
Gifts?
Entertainment?
Other Expenses?
Net Savings???

Consolidate your assets

One common issue I see amongst young couples is the dispersion of their assets. It’s very common for spouses to have multiple 401k, IRAs and savings accounts in various financial institutions and former employers. Consolidating your assets will help you get a more comprehensive view of your finances and manage them more efficiently.

Manage your debt

The US consumer debt has grown to record high levels. The relatively low-interest rates, rising real estate prices and the ever-growing college cost have pushed the total value of US household debt to $13.25 trillion. According to the New York Fed, here is how much Americans owe by age group.

  • Under 35: $67,400
  • 35–44: $133,100
  • 45–54: $134,600
  • 55–64: $108,300
  • 65–74: $66,000
  • 75 and up: $34,500

For many young families who are combining their finances, managing their debt becomes a key priority in achieving financial independence.

Manage your credit score

One way to lower your debt is having a high credit score. I always advise my clients to find out how much their credit score is.  The credit score, also known as the FICO score, is a measure between 300 and 850 points. Higher scores indicate lower credit risk and often help you get a lower interest rate on your mortgage or personal loan. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, provides an individual FICO score.  All three companies have a proprietary database, methodology, and scoring system. You can sometimes see substantial differences in your credit score issued by those agencies.

Your FICO score is a sum of 64 different measurements. And each agency calculates it slightly differently. As a rule, your credit score depends mainly on the actual dollar amount of your debt, the debt to credit ratio and your payment history. Being late on or missing your credit card payments, maximizing your credit limits and applying for too many cards at once will hurt your credit score.

Own a house or rent

Owning your first home is a common theme among my clients. However, the price of real estate in the Bay area, where I live, has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. The average home price in San Francisco according to Zillow is $1.3 million. The average home price in Palo Alto is $3.1 million. (Source: https://www.zillow.com/san-francisco-ca/home-values/ ). While not at this magnitude, home prices have risen in all major metropolitan areas around the country. Buying a home has become an impossible dream for many young families. Not surprisingly a recent survey by the Bank of the West has revealed that 46% of millennials have chosen to rent over buying a home, while another 11% are staying with their parents.

Buying a home in today’s market conditions is a big commitment and a highly personal decision. It depends on a range of factors including how long you are planning to live in the new home, available cash for a downpayment, job prospects, willingness to maintain your property, size of your family and so on.

Maximize your retirement contributions

Did you know that in 2019 you can contribute up to $19,000 in your 401k? If you are in your 50s or older, you can add another $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Maximizing your retirement savings will help you grow your wealth and build a cushion of solid retirement savings. Not to mention the fact that 401k contributions are tax-deferred and lower your current tax bill.

Unfortunately, many Americans are not saving aggressively for retirement. According to Fidelity, the average person in their 30’s have $42.7k in their 401k plan. people in their 40s own on average 103k.

If your 401k balance is higher than your age group you are already better off than the average American.

Here is how much Americans own in their 401 plan by age group

  • 20 to 29 age: $11,500
  • 30 to 39 age: $42,700
  • 40 to 49 age: $103,500
  • 50 to 59 age: $174,200
  • 60 to 69 age: $192,800

For those serious about their retirement goals, Fidelity recommends having ten times your final salary in savings if you want to retire by age 67. They are also suggesting how to achieve this goal by age group.

  • By the age of 30: Have the equivalent of your starting salary saved
  • 35 years old: Have two times your salary saved
  • 40 years old: Have three times your salary saved
  • 45 years old: Have four times your salary saved
  • 50 years old: Have six times your salary saved
  • 55 years old: Have seven times your salary saved
  • 60 years old: Have eight times your salary saved
  • By age 67: Have 10 times your salary saved

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Everybody is different. Your family retirement goal is highly dependent on your individual circumstances, your lifestyle, spending habits, family size and alternative sources of income.

Know your risk tolerance level

One common issue I see with young families is the substantial gap between their risk tolerance and the actual risk they take in their retirement and investment accounts.  Risk tolerance is your emotional ability to accept risk as an investor.

I have seen clients who are conservative by nature but have a very aggressive portfolio. Or the opposite, there are aggressive investors with a large amount of cash or a large bond portfolio. Talking to a fiduciary financial advisor can help you understand your risk tolerance. You will be able to narrow that gap between your emotions and real-life needs and then connect them to your financial goals and milestones.

Diversify your investments

Diversification is the only free lunch you will get in investing. Diversifying your investments can reduce the overall risk of your portfolio. Without going into detail, owning a mix of uncorrelated assets will lower the long-term risk of your portfolio. I always recommend that you have a portion of your portfolio in US Large Cap Blue Chip Stocks and add some exposure to Small Cap, International, and Emerging Market Stocks, Bonds and Alternative Assets such as Gold and Real Estate.

Invest your idle cash

One common issue I have seen amongst some of my clients is holding a significant amount of cash in their investment and retirement accounts. The way I explain it is that most millennials are conservative investors. Many of them observed their parents’ negative experience during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. As a result, they became more risk-averse than their parents.

However, keeping ample cash in your retirement account in your 30s will not boost your wealth in the long run. You are probably losing money as inflation is deteriorating the purchasing power of your idle cash. Even if you are a very conservative investor, there are ways to invest in your retirement portfolio without taking on too much risk.

Early retirement

I talk about early retirement a lot often than one might imagine. The media and online bloggers have boosted the image of retiring early and made it sound a lot easier than it is. I am not saying that early retirement is an illusion, but it requires a great deal of personal and financial sacrifice. Unless you are born rich or rely on a huge payout, most people who retire early are very frugal and highly resourceful. If your goal is to retire early, you need to pay off your debt now, cut down spending and save, save and save.

Build-in tax diversification

While most of the time we talk about our 401k plans, there are other investment and retirement vehicles out there such as Roth IRA, Traditional IRA and even your brokerage account. They all have their own tax advantages and disadvantages. Even if you save a million bucks in your 401k plan, not all of it is yours. You must pay a cut to the IRS and your state treasury. Not to mention the fact that you can only withdraw your savings penalty-free after reaching 59 ½. Roth IRA and brokerage account do not lower your taxes when you make contributions, but they offer a lot more flexibility, liquidity, and some significant future tax advantages. In the case of Roth IRA, all your withdrawals can be tax-free when you retire. Your brokerage account provides you with immediate liquidity and lower long-term capital gains tax on realized gains.

Plan for child’s expenses

Most parents will do anything for their children. But having kids is expensive. Whether a parent will stay at home and not earn a salary, or you decide to hire a nanny or pay for daycare, children will add an extra burden to your budget. Not to mention the extra money for clothes, food, entertainment (Disneyland) and even another seat on the plane.

Plan for college with a 529 Plan

Many parents want to help their children pay for college or at least cover some of the expenses. 529 plan is a convenient, relatively inexpensive and tax-advantageous way to save for qualified college expenses. Sadly, only 29% of US families are familiar with the plan. Most states have their own state-run 529 plan. Some states even allow state tax deductions for 529 contributions. Most 529 plans have various active, passive and age-based investment options. You can link your checking account to your 529 plan and set-up regular monthly contributions. There are plentiful resources about 529 plans in your state. I am happy to answer questions if you contact me directly.

Protect your legacy

Many young families want to protect their children in case of sudden death or a medical emergency. However, many others don’t want to talk about it at all. I agree it’s not a pleasant conversation. Here in California, unless you have an established estate, in case of your death all your assets will go to probate and will have to be distributed by the court. The probate is a public, lengthy and expensive process. When my son was born my wife and I set up an estate, created our wills and assigned guardians, and trustees to our newly established trust.

The process of protecting your legacy is called estate planning. Like everything else, it’s highly personalized depending on the size of your family, the variety of assets you own, your income sources, your charitable aptitude, and so on. Talking to an experienced estate attorney can help you find the best decision for yourself and your family.

I never sell insurance to my clients. However, if you are in a situation where you are the sole bread earner in the household, it makes a lot of sense to consider term life and disability insurance, which can cover your loved ones if something were to happen to you.

Plan ahead

I realize that this is a very general, kind of catch-all checkpoint but let me give it a try. No matter what happens in your life right now, I guarantee you a year or two from now things will be different. Life changes all the time – you get a new job, you have a baby, you need to buy a new car, or your company goes public, and your stock options make you a millionaire. Whatever that is, think ahead. Proper planning could save you a lot of money and frustration in the long run.

Conclusion

I realize that this checklist is not complete. Every family is unique. Each one of you has very different circumstances, financial priorities, and life goals. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution for any family out there. If you contact me directly, I will be happy to address your questions.

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

October is traditionally a rough month for stocks. And October 2018 proved it.

S&P 500 went down -6.9% in October after gaining as much as 10.37% in the first nine months of the year. Despite recouping some its losses in early November, the market continues to be volatile with large daily swings in both directions. On top of that, Small Cap stocks which were leading the way till late September went down almost 10% in the span of a few weeks.

So what lead to this rout?

The market outlook in September was very positive. Consumer sentiment and business optimism were at a record high. Unemployment hit a record low. And the market didn’t really worry about tariffs.

I compiled a list of factors which had a meaningful impact on the recent market volatility. As the headline suggested, I don’t believe there was a single catalyst that drove the market down but a sequence of events creating a perfect storm for the equities to go down.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018Q3 YTD 2018Oct – Nov 2018Nov 2018 YTD
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)-1.00%3.55%7.65%10.37%-4.91%5.45%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)0.57%8.69%4.87%14.64%-9.54%5.09%
MSCI EAFE (VEA)-0.90%-1.96%1.23%-1.62%-7.06%-8.68%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)-1.47%-0.18%-0.08%-1.73%-0.81%-2.54%
Gold (GLD)1.73%-5.68%-4.96%-8.81%1.39%-7.42%
Source: Morningstar

1. Share buybacks

The month of October is earnings season. Companies are not allowed to buy back shares as they announce their earnings. The rationale is that they possess significant insider information that could influence the market in each direction. As it turned out, 2018 was a big year for share buybacks. Earlier in the year, S&P estimated $1 trillion worth of share buybacks to be returned to shareholders. So, in October, the market lost a big buyer – the companies who were buying their own shares. And no one stepped in to take their place.

The explosion of share buyback was prompted by the TCJA law last year which lowered the tax rate of US companies from 35% to 21%. Additionally, the new law imposed a one-time tax on pre-2018 profits of foreign affiliates at rates of 15.5% for cash and 8% for non-cash assets. Within a few months, many US mega-cap corporations brought billions of cash from overseas and became buyers of their stock.

2. High valuations

With the bull market is going on its ninth year, equity valuations remain high even after the October market selloff.

Currently, the S&P 500 is trading at 22.2, above the average level of 15.7. Its dividend yield is 1.9%, well below the historical average of 4.34%.

Furthermore, the current Shiller PE Ratio stands at 30.73, one of the highest levels in history. While the traditional Price to Earnings ratio is calculated based on current or estimated earning 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.

Current Shiller PE Ratio: 2:00 PM EST, Tue Nov 13
Current Shiller PE Ratio:
2:00 PM EST, Tue Nov 13

Source: http://www.multpl.com/shiller-pe/ 

While a coordinated global growth and low-interest rate environment had previously supported the thesis that high valuation ratios were justified, this may not be the case for much longer.

3. The divergence between US and international stocks

The performance of International Developed and Emerging Market remains disappointing. While the US markets are still in positive territory, International Developed and EM stocks have plunged by -8% and -15% respectively so far in 2018.  Higher tariffs imposed by the US, negative Brexit news, growing domestic debt in China, and slower GDP growth in both the Eurozone and China have spurred fears of an upcoming recession. Despite attractive valuations, international markets remain in correction territory, The dividend yield of MSCI EAFE is 3.34%, while MSCI EM is paying 2.5%, both higher than 1.9% for S&P 500.

4. The gap between growth and value stocks

The performance gap between growth and value stocks is still huge. Growths stocks like Apple, Amazon, Google, Visa, MasterCard, UnitedHealth, Boeing, Nvidia, Adobe, Salesforce, and Netflix have delivered 10% return so far this year. At the same time value strategies dominated by Financials, Consumer Staples and Energy companies are barely breaking even.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018Q3 YTD 2018Oct – Nov 2018Nov 2018 YTD P/E Ratio
S&P 500 Large Cap Growth (IVW)1.81%5.17%9.25%16.97%-6.95%10.01%29.90
S&P 500 Large Cap Value (IVE)-3.53%1.38%5.80%3.26%-2.59%0.67%19.44

 

5. Tempering earnings growth

So far in Q3 2018, 90% of the companies have announced earnings. 78% of them have reported better than expected actual earnings with an average earnings growth rate of 25.2%. 61% of the companies have reported a positive sales surprise. However, 58 companies in the S&P 500 (12%) have issued negative earnings guidance for Q4 2018. And the list of stocks that tumbled due to cautious outlook keeps growing – JP Morgan, Facebook, Home Depot, Sysco, DR Horton, United Rentals, Texas Instruments, Carvana, Zillow, Shake Shack, Skyworks Solutions, Michael Kors, Oracle, GE, Cerner, Activision, etc.

Despite the high consumer optimism and growing earnings, most companies’ CFOs are taking a defensive approach. Business investment grew 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.

 

6. Inflation is creeping up

Almost a decade since the Credit Crisis in 2008-2009, inflation has been hovering below 2%. However, in 2018, the inflation has finally made a comeback. In September 2018, monthly inflation was 2.3% down from 2.9% in July and 2.7% in August.

One winner of the higher prices is the consumer staples like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Kimberly-Clark. Most of these companies took advantage of higher consumer confidence and rising wages to pass the cost of higher commodity prices to their customers.

7. Higher interests are starting to bite

After years of near-zero levels, interest rates are starting to go higher. 10-year treasury rate reached 3.2%, while the 2-year rate is slowly approaching the 3% level. While savers are finally beginning to receive a decent interest on their cash, CDs and saving accounts, higher interest rates will hurt other areas of the economy.

10 year versus 2 year treasury rate

With household debt approaching $13.4 trillion, borrowers will pay higher interest for home, auto and student loans and credit card debt. At the same time, US government debt is approaching $1.4 trillion. Soon, the US government will pay more for interest than it is spending on the military.  The total annual interest payment will hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The higher interest rates are hurting the Financial sectors. Most big banks have enjoyed a long period of paying almost nothing on their client deposits and savings accounts. The rising interest rates though have increased the competition from smaller banks and online competitors offering attractive rates to their customers.

We are also monitoring the spread between 2 and 10-year treasury note, which is coming very close together. The scenario when two-year interest rates go above ten-year rates causes an inverted yield curve, which has often signaled an upcoming recession.

8. 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.

Markets have taken a negative view on the housing market. As a result, most homebuilders are trading at a 52-week low.

9. Fear of trade war

Some 33% of the public companies have mentioned tariffs in their earnings announcements in Q3. 9% of them have negatively mentioned tariffs. According to the chart below, Industrials, Information Technology, Consumer Dictionary, and Materials are the leading sectors showing some level of concern about tariffs.

Companies Citing Tariffs Compared to Q2 2018

10. Strong dollar

Fed’s hiking of interest rates in the US has not been matched by its counterparts in the Eurozone, the UK, and Japan. The German 10-year bund now yields 0.4%, while Japanese 10-year government bond pays 0.11%. Combining the higher rates with negative Brexit talks, Italian budget crisis and trade war fears have led to a strong US dollar reaching a 17-month high versus other major currencies.

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.

11. 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.

The rising debt has been supported by low delinquencies, high property values, rising wages, and low unemployment. However, a slowdown in the economy and the increasing inflation and interest rates can hurt US consumer spending.

12. 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 now exceeds 50% of the entire investment grade market. The BBB-rated debt is just one notch above junk status. Bloomberg explains that, in 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, 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. Source: Bloomberg

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.”

13. Oil remains volatile

After reaching $74.15 per barrel in October, US crude oil tumbled to $55, a 24% drop. While lower crude prices are pushing down on inflation, they are hurting energy companies, which are already trading in value territory.

According to WSJ, the oil’s rapid decline is fueling fears for global oversupply and slowing economic growth. Furthermore, the outlook for supply and demand shifted last month as top oil producers, began ramping up output to offset the expected drop in Iranian exports. However, earlier this month Washington decided to soften its sanctions on Iran and grant waivers to some buyers of Iranian crude—driving oil prices down. Another factor pushing down on oil was the strong dollar.

14. Global political uncertainty

The Brexit negotiations, Italian budget crisis, Trump’s threats to pull out of WTO, the EU immigrant crisis, higher tariffs, new elections in Brazil, Malaysian corruption scandal and alleged Saudi Arabia killing of a journalist have kept the global markets on their toes. Foreign markets have underperformed the US since the beginning of the year with no sign of hope coming soon.

15. The US Election results

A lot has been said about the US elections results, so I will not dig in further. In the next two year, we will have a divided Congress. The Democrats will control the house, while the Republicans will control the Senate and the executive branch. The initial market reaction was positive. Most investors are predicting a gridlock with no major legislature until 2020. Furthermore, we could have intense budget negotiations and even another government shutdown. Few potential areas where parties could try to work together are infrastructure and healthcare. However, any bi-partisan efforts might be clouded by the upcoming presidential elections and Mueller investigation results.

In Conclusion

There is never a right time to get in the market, start investing and saving for retirement. While market volatility will continue to prevail the news, there is also an opportunity for diligent investors to capitalize on their long-term view and patience. For these investors, it is essential to diversify and rebalance your portfolio.

In the near term, consumer confidence in the economy remains strong. Rising wages and low unemployment will drive consumer spending. My prediction is that we will see a record high shopping season. Many of these fifteen headwinds will remain. Some will soften while others will stay in the headlines.

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,

9 Smart Tax Saving Strategies for High Net Worth Individuals

9 Smart Tax Saving Strategies for High Net Worth Individuals

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) voted by Congress in late 2017 introduced significant changes to the way individuals and businesses file their taxes. The key changes included the doubling of the standard deduction to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly, the elimination of personal exemptions, limiting the SALT deduction to $10,000, limiting the home mortgage interest deduction to loans of up to $750,000 versus $1,000,000 as well as comprehensive changes to itemized deductions and Alternative Minimum Tax.

Many high net worth individuals and families, especially from high tax states like California, New York, and New Jersey, will see substantial changes in their tax returns. The real impact won’t be completely revealed until the first tax filing in 2019. Many areas remain ambiguous and will require further clarification by the IRS.

Most strategies discussed in this article were popular even before the TCJA. However, their use will vary significantly from person to person.  I strongly encourage you to speak with your accountant, tax advisor or investment advisor to better address your concerns.

Talk with an Advisor

1. Home mortgage deduction

While a mortgage tax deduction is rarely the primary reason to buy a home, many new home buyers will have to be mindful of the new tax rule limiting mortgage deductions to loans of up to $750,000. The interest on second home mortgages is no longer tax deductible.  The interest on Home Equity Loans or HELOCs could be tax deductible in some instances where proceeds are utilized to acquire or improve a property

2. Get Incorporated

If you own a business, you may qualify for a 20 percent deduction for qualified business income. This break is available to pass-through entities, including S-corporations and limited liability companies. In general, to qualify for the full deduction, your taxable income must be below $157,500 if you’re single or $315,000 if you’re married and file jointly. Beyond those thresholds, the TJLA sets limits on what professions can qualify for this deduction. Entrepreneurs with service businesses — including doctors, attorneys, and financial advisors — may not be able to take advantage of the deduction if their income is too high.

Furthermore, if you own a second home, you may want to convert it to a rental and run it as a side business. This could allow you to use certain tax deductions that are otherwise not available.

Running your business from home is another way to deduct certain expenses (internet, rent, phone, etc.). In our digital age, technology makes it easy to reach out to potential customers and run a successful business out of your home office.

3. Charitable donations

All contributions to religious, educational or charitable organization approved by IRS are tax deductible. The annual limit is 50% of your AGI (aggregate gross income) for most donations and 30% of AGI for appreciated assets.

While most often people choose to give money, you can also donate household items, clothes, cars, airline miles, investments, and real estate. The fair value of the donated items decreases your taxable income and therefore will reduce the amount of taxes due to IRS.

The TCJA made the tax planning for donations a little bit trickier. The new tax rules raised the standard deduction to $12,000 for singles and $24,000 for married couples filing jointly. In effect, the rule will reduce the number of people who are itemizing their taxes and make charitable donations a less attractive tax strategy.

For philanthropic high net worth individuals making charitable donations could require a little more planning to achieve the highest possible tax benefit. One viable strategy is to consolidate annual contributions into a single large payment. This strategy will ensure that your donations will go above the yearly standard deduction threshold.

Another approach is to donate appreciated investments, including stocks and real estate. This strategy allows philanthropic investors to avoid paying significant capital gain tax on low-cost basis investments. To learn more about the benefits of charitable donations, check out my prior post here.

4. Gifts

The TCJA doubled the gift and estate tax exemption to almost $11.18 million per person and $22.36 per married couple. Furthermore, you can give up to $15,000 to any number of people every year without any tax implications. Amounts over $15,000 are subject to the combined gift and estate tax exemption of $11 million.  You can give your child or any person within the annual limits without creating create any tax implications.

Making a gift will not reduce your current year taxes. However, making gifts of appreciated assets with a lower cost basis can be a way to manage your future tax payments and pass on the tax bill to family members who pay a lower tax rate.

5. 529 Plans

The TCJA of 2017 expanded the use of 529 plans to cover qualifying expenses for private, public, and religious kindergarten through 12th grade. Previously parents and grandparents could only use 529 funds for qualified college expenses.

The use of 529 plans is one of the best examples of how gifts can minimize your future tax burden. Parents and grandparents can contribute up to $15,000 annually per person, $30,000 per married couple into their child college education fund. The plan even allows a one–time lump sum payment of $75,000 (5 years x $15,000).

Parents can choose to invest their contributions through a variety of investment vehicles.  While 529 contributions are not tax deductible on a federal level, many states like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, etc. allow for state tax deductions for up to a certain amount. The 529 investments grow tax-free. Withdrawals are also tax-free when used to pay cover qualified college and educational expenses. 

6. 401k Contributions

One of the most popular tax deductions is the tax-deferred contribution to 401k and 403b plans. In 2018 the allowed maximum contribution per person is $18,500 plus an additional $6,000 catch-up for investors at age 50 and older. Also, your employer can contribute up to $36,500 for a maximum annual contribution of $55,000 or $61,000 if you are older than 50.

The contributions to your retirement plan are tax deductible. They decrease your taxable income if you use itemized deductions on your tax filing form. Not only that, the investments in your 401k portfolio grow tax-free. You will owe taxes upon withdrawal at your current tax rate at that time.

7. Roth conversion

Roth IRA is a great investment vehicle. Investors can contribute up to $5,500 per year. All contributions to the account are after-tax.  The investments in the Roth IRA can grow tax-free. And the withdrawals will be tax exempt if held till retirement. IRS has limited the direct contributions to individuals making up to $120,000 per year with a phase-out at $135,000. Married couples can make contributions if their income is up to $189,000 per year with a phase-out at $199,000.

Fortunately, recent IRS rulings made it possible for investors who do not qualify for direct contributions, to use a two-step process known as backdoor Roth and take advantage of the long-term Roth IRA benefits. Learn more about Roth IRA in our previous post here. 

8. Health Spending Account

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-exempt saving account available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) The funds contributed to this account are tax deductible. Unlike a flexible spending account (FSA), HSA funds roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. HSA owners can use the funds to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without tax liability or penalty. The annual contribution limits for 2018 are $3,450 per person, $6,900 per family and an additional $1,000 if 55 or older. The owner of HSA can invest the funds similar to the IRA account.

In effect, HSAs have a triple tax benefit. All contributions are tax deductible. Investments grow tax-free and. HSA owners can make tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses.

9. Municipal bonds

Old fashioned municipal bonds continue to be an attractive investment choice of high net worth individuals. The interest income from municipal bonds is still tax exempt on a federal level. When the bondholders reside in the same state as the bond issuer, they can be exempted from state income taxes as well.

Final words

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio, 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.

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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 the 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 December 2017

Market Outlook December 2017

Market Outlook December 2017

As we approach 2018, it‘s time to reconcile the past 365 days of 2017. We are sending off a very exciting and tempestuous year. The stock market is at an all-time high. Volatility is at a record low. Consumer spending and confidence have passed pre-recession levels.

I would like to wish all my readers and friends a happy and prosperous 2018. I guarantee you that the coming year will be as electrifying and eventful as the previous one.

 

The new tax plan

The new tax plan is finally here. After heated debates and speculations, president Trump and the GOP achieved their biggest win of 2017. In late December, they introduced the largest tax overhaul in 30 years. The new plan will reduce the corporate tax rate to 21% and add significant deductions to pass-through entities. It is also estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the budget deficit in 10 years before accounting for economic growth.

The impact on the individual taxes, however, remains to be seen. The new law reduces the State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions to $10,000. Also, it limits the deductible mortgage interest for loans up to $750,000 (from $1m). The plan introduces new tax brackets and softens the marriage penalty for couples making less than $500k a year. The exact scale of changes will depend on a blend of factors including marital status, the number of dependents, state of residency, homeownership, employment versus self-employment status. While most people are expected to receive a tax-break, certain families and individuals from high tax states such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California may see their taxes higher.

 

Affordable Care Act

The future of Obamacare remains uncertain. The new GOP tax bill removes the individual mandate, which is at the core of the Affordable Care Act. We hope to see a bi-partisan agreement that will address the flaws of ACA and the ever-rising cost of healthcare. However, political battles between republicans and democrats and various fractions can lead to another year of chaos in the healthcare system.

 

Equity Markets

The euphoria around the new corporate tax cuts will continue to drive the markets in 2018. Many US-based firms with domestic revenue will see a boost in their earnings per share due to lower taxes.

We expect the impact of the new tax law to unfold fully in the next two years. However, in the long run, the primary driver for returns will continue to be a robust business model, revenue growth, and a strong balance sheet.

Momentum

Momentum was the king of the markets in 2017. The strategy brought +38% gain in one of its best years ever. While we still believe in the merits of momentum investing, we are expecting more modest returns in 2018.

Value

Value stocks were the big laggard in 2017 with a return of 15%. While their gain is still above average historical rates, it’s substantially lower than other equity strategies.  Value investing tends to come back with a big bang. In the light of the new tax bill, we believe that many value stocks will benefit from the lower corporate rate of 21%. And as S&P 500 P/E continues to hover above historical levels, we could see investors’ attention shifting to stocks with more attractive valuations.

Small Cap

With a return of 14%, small-cap stocks trailed the large and mega-cap stocks by a substantial margin. We think that their performance was negatively impacted by the instability in Washington. As most small-cap stocks derive their revenue domestically, many of them will see a boost in earnings from the lower corporate tax rate and the higher consumer income.

International Stocks

It was the first time since 2012 when International stocks (+25%) outperformed US stocks. After years of sluggish growth, bank crisis, Grexit (which did not happen), Brexit (which will probably happen), quantitative easing, and negative interest rates, the EU region and Japan are finally reporting healthy GDP growth.

It is also the first time in more than a decade that we experienced a coordinated global growth and synchronization between central banks. We hope to continue to see this trend and remain bullish on foreign markets.

Emerging Markets

If you had invested in Emerging Markets 10-years ago, you would have essentially earned zero return on your investments. Unfortunately, the last ten years were a lost decade for EM stocks. We believe that the tide is finally turning. This year emerging markets stocks brought a hefty 30% return and passed the zero mark. With their massive population under 30, growing middle class, and almost 5% annual GDP growth, EM will be the main driver of global consumption.

 

Fixed Income

It was a turbulent year for fixed income markets. The Fed increased its short-term interest rate three times in 2017 and promised to hike it three more times in 2018. The markets, however, did not respond positively to the higher rates. The yield curve continued to flatten in 2017. And inflation remained under the Fed target of 2%.

After a decade of low interest, the consumer and corporate indebtedness has reached record levels. While the Dodd-Frank Act imposed strict regulations on the mortgage market, there are many areas such as student and auto loans that have hit alarming levels. Our concern is that high-interest rates can trigger high default rates in those areas which can subsequently drive down the market.

 

Gold

2017 was the best year for gold since 2010. Gold reported 11% return and reached its lowest volatility in 10 years.  The shiny metal lost its momentum in Q4 as investors and speculators shifted their attention to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In our view gold continues to be a solid long-term investment with its low correlation to equities and fixed income assets.

 

Real Estate

It was a tough year for REITs and real estate in general. While demand for residential housing continues to climb at a modest pace, the retail-linked real estate is suffering permanent losses due to the bankruptcies of several major retailers. This trend is driven on one side by the growing digital economy and another side by the rising interest rates and the struggle of highly-leveraged retailers to refinance their debt. Many small and mid-size retail chains were acquired by Private Equity firms in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 credit crisis. Those acquisitions were financed with low-interest rate debt, which will gradually start to mature in 2019 and peak in 2023 as the credit market continues to tighten.

Market Outlook December 2017

In the long-run, we expect that most public retail REITs will expand and reposition themselves into the experiential economy by replacing poor performing retailers with restaurants and other forms of entertainment.

On a positive note, we believe that the new tax bill will boost the performance of many US-based real estate and pass-through entities.  Under the new law, investors in pass-through entities will benefit from a further 20% deduction and a shortened depreciation schedule.

 

What to expect in 2018

  • After passing the new tax bill, the Congress will turn its attention to other topics of its agenda – improving infrastructure, and amending entitlements. Further, we will continue to see more congressional budget deficit battles.
  • Talk to your CPA and find out how the new bill will impact your taxes.
  • With markets at a record high, we recommend that you take in some of your capital gains and look into diversifying your portfolio between major asset classes.
  • We might see a rotation into value and small-cap. However, the market is always unpredictable and can remain such for extended periods.
  • We will monitor the Treasury Yield curve. In December 2017 the spread between 10-year and 2-year treasury bonds reached a decade low at 50 bps. While not always a flattening yield has often predicted an upcoming recession.
  • Index and passive investing will continue to dominate as investment talent is evermore scarce. Mega large investment managers like iShares and Vanguard will continue to drop their fees.

 

Happy New Year!

 

Final words

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio, 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,

 

6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

In my practice, I often meet with small business owners who have the entire life savings and family fortune tied up to their company. For many of them, their business is the only way out to retirement. With this post, I would like to offer 6 saving & investment practices all business owners should follow.

Having all your eggs in one basket, however, may not be the best way to manage your finances and family fortune. Think about bookstores. If you owned one 20-30 years ago, you probably earned a decent living. Now, bookstores are luxuries even in the major cities like New York and San Francisco. Technology, markets, consumer sentiments, and laws change all the time. And that is why it is vital that you build healthy saving and investment routines to grow your wealth, protect your loved ones and prepare yourself for the years during retirement.

Learn more about our Private Client Services

Start Early

I always advise my clients to start saving early and make it a habit. Saving 10-20 percent of your monthly income will help you build and grow your wealth. For instance, by starting with $20,000 today, with an average stock market return of 6 percent, your investments can potentially accumulate to $115,000 in 30 years or even $205,000 in 40 years.

Saving and investing early in your career can build a buffer to correct for any sidesteps or slip-ups. Starting to build your wealth early will provide the necessary protection against market drops and economic recessions and prepare you for large purchases like a new home, college tuition, a new car or even expanding your business.

Build a Safety Net

Life can often be unpredictable in good and bad ways. Having an emergency fund is the best way to guard your wealth and maintain liquidity for your business. I typically recommend keeping 6 to 12 months of basic living expenses in your savings account.

Even though my firm does not offer insurance, I often advise my clients especially those who are sole bread earners or work in industries prone to accidents to consider getting life and disability insurance. A good insurance will guarantee a protection and supplemental income for yourself and your loved ones in case of unexpected work or life events.

Manage Your Debt

The last eight years of friendly interest environment has brought record levels of debt in almost every single category. Americans now owe more than $8.26 trillion in mortgages, $1.14 trillion in auto loans, and $747 billion in credit cards debt. If you are like me, you probably don’t like owing money to anyone.

That’s great, however, taking loans is an essential part of any enterprise. Expanding your business, building a new facility or buying a competitor will often require external financing. Keeping track of your loans and prioritizing on paying off your high-interest debt can save you and your business a lot of money. It may also boost your credit score.

Set-up a Company Retirement Plan

The US Government provides a variety of options for businesses to create retirement plans for both employees and owners. Some of the most popular ones are employer-sponsored 401k, self-employed 401k, profit-sharing, SIMPLE IRA and SEP IRA.

Having a company retirement plan is an excellent way to save money in the long run. Plan contributions could reduce current taxes and boost your employees’ loyalty and morale.

Of the many alternatives, I am a big supporter of 401(k) plans. Although they are a little more expensive to establish and run, they provide the highest contribution allowance over all other options.

The maximum employee contribution to 401(k) plans for 2017 is $18,000. The employer can match up to $36,000 for a total of $54,000. Individuals over 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,000. Also, 401k and other ERISA Plans offer an added benefit. They have the highest protection to creditors.

Even if you already have an up-and-running 401k plan, your job is not done. Have your plan administrator or an independent advisor regularly review your investment options.

I frequently see old 401k plans that have been ignored and forgotten since they were first established. Some of these plans often contain high-fee mutual funds that have consistently underperformed their benchmarks for many consecutive years. I typically recommend replacing some of these funds with low-fee alternatives like index funds and ETFs. Paying low fees will keep more money in your pocket.

Diversify

Many business owners hold a substantial amount of their wealth locked in their business. By doing so, they expose themselves to what we call a concentrated risk. Any economic, legal and market developments that can adversely impact your industry can also hurt your personal wealth.

The best way to protect yourself is diversification. Investing in uncorrelated assets can decrease the overall risk of your portfolio. A typical diversified portfolio may include large-, mid-, small-cap, and international stocks, real estate, gold, government, and corporate fixed income.

Plan Your Exit

Whether you are planning to transfer your business to the next generation in your family or cash it in, this can have serious tax and legal consequences. Sometimes it pays off to speak to a pro.

Partnering with someone who understands your industry and your particular needs and circumstances, can offer substantial value to your business and build a robust plan to execute your future financial strategy.

 

The article was previously published in HVACR Business Magazine on March 1, 2017

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

 

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, Copyright: www.123rf.com

End of Summer Market Review

End of Summer Market Review

Happy Labor Day!

Our hearts are with the people of Texas! I wish them to remain strong and resilient against the catastrophic damages of Hurricane Harvey. As someone who experienced Sandy, I can emphasize with their struggles and hope for a swift recovery.

 

I know that this newsletter has been long past due. However, as wise people say, it is better late than never.

It has been a wild year so far. Both Main and Wall Street kept us occupied in an electrifying thriller of election meddling scandals, health reforms, political battles, tax cuts, interest rate hikes and debt ceiling fights (that one still to unfold).

Between all that, the stock market is at an all-time high. S&P 500 is up 11.7% year-to-date. Dow Jones is up 12.8%, and NASDAQ is up to the whopping 24%. GDP growth went up by 3% in the second quarter of 2017. Unemployment is at a 10-year low. 4.3%.

Moreover, despite record levels, very few Americans are feeling the joy of the market gains and feel optimistic about the future. US families are steadily sitting on the sideline and continuing to pile cash. As of June 2007, the amount of money in cash and time deposits (M2) was 70.1% of the GDP, an upward trend that has continued since the credit crisis in 2008.

End of Summer Market Review

Source: US Fed, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/graph/?g=dZn

Given that the same ratio of M2 as % of GDP is 251% in Japan, 193% in China, 91% in Germany, and 89% in the UK, US is still on the low end of the developed world. However, this is a persistent trend that can reshape the US economy for the years to come.

 

The Winners

This year’s rally was all about mega-cap and tech stocks. Among the biggest winners so far this year we have Apple (AAPL), up 42%, Amazon (AMZN), 27%, NVIDIA (NVDA), 54%, Adobe, 48%, PayPal, 55%. Netflix, 36%, and Visa (V), 33%,

Probably the biggest story out there is Amazon and its quest to disrupt the way Americans buy things. Despite years of fluctuating earnings, Amazon is still getting full support from its shareholders who believe in its long-term strategy. The recent acquisition of Whole Foods and announcement of price drops, only shows that Amazon is here to stay, and all the key retail players from Costco, Wall-Mart, Target, and Walgreens to Kroger’s, Home Depot, Blue Apron and AutoZone will have to adjust to the new reality and learn how to compete with Amazon.

The Laggards

Costco, Walgreens, and Target are bleeding from the Amazon effect as they reported- 0.49%, -0.74% and -21% year-to-date respectively. Their investors are become increasingly unresponsive to earnings surprises and massively punishing to earnings disappointments.

Starbucks, -0.74%, is still reviving itself after the departure of its long-time CEO, Howard Shultz, and will have to discover new revenue channels and jump-start its growth.

The energy giants, Chevron, -5%, Exxon, -12%, and Occidental Petroleum, -14.5% are still suffering from the low oil prices. With OPEC maintaining current production levels and surge in renewable energy, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. If these low levels continue, I will expect to see a wave of mergers and acquisitions in the sector. Those with a higher risk and yield appetite may want to look at some of the companies as they are paying a juicy dividend – Chevron, 4%, Exxon, 4%, and Occidental Petroleum, 5.4%

AT&T, -7% and Verizon, -5%, are coming out of big acquisitions, which down-the-road can potentially create new revenue channels and diversify away from the otherwise slow growing telecom business. In the near-term, they will continue to struggle in their effort to impress their investors. Currently, both companies are paying above average dividends, 5.15%, and 4.76%, respectively.

And finally, Wells Fargo, -4%. The bank is suffering from the account opening scandals last year and the departure of its CEO.  The stock has lagged its peers, which reported on average, 8% gains this year. While the long-term outlook remains positive, the short-term prospect remains uncertain.

 

Small Caps

Small Cap stocks as an asset class have not participated in this year’s market rally. Despite spectacular 2016 returns, small cap stocks have remained in the shadow of the uncertainty of the expected tax cuts and infrastructure program expansion. While I believe the Congress will come out with some tax reductions in the near term, the exact magnitude is still unclear. My long-term view of US small caps remains bullish with some near-term headwinds.

 

International Stocks

After several years of lagging behind US equity markets, international stocks are finally starting to catch up. The Eurozone reported 2% growth in GDP. MSCI EAFE is up 17.5% YTD, and MSCI Emerging Markets is up 28% YTD.

Despite the recent growth, International Developed and Emerging Market stocks remain cheap on a relative basis compared to US Stocks.  I maintain a long-term bullish view on international and EM stocks with some caution in the short-term.

Even though European Central Bank has kept the interest rates unchanged, I believe that its quantitative easing program will slow down towards the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018. The German bund rates will gradually rise above the negative levels. The EUR / USD will breach and remain above 1.20, a level not seen since 2014.

Interest Rates

I am expecting maximum one or may be even zero additional rate hikes this year. Under Janet Yellen, the Fed will continue to make extremely cautious and well-measured steps in raising short term rates and slowing down of its Quantitative Easing program. Bear in mind that the Fed has not achieved its 2% inflation target and any sharp rate hikes can ruin the already fragile balance in the fixed income space.

Real Estate

After eight years of undisrupted growth, US Real Estate has finally shown some signs of slow down. While demand for Real Estate in the primary markets like California and New York is still high, I expect to see some cooling off and normalization of year-over-year price growth

US REITs have reported 3.5% total return year-to-date, which is roughly the equivalent of -0.5% in price return and 4% in dividend yield.

Some retail REITs will continue to struggle in the near-term due to store closures and pressure from online retailers. I encourage investors to maintain a diversified REIT portfolio with a focus on strong management, sustainability of dividends and long-term growth prospects.

Gold

After several years of underperformance, Gold is making a quiet comeback. Gold was up 8% in 2016 and 14% year-to-date. Increasing market and political uncertainty and fear of inflation are driving many investors to safe havens such as gold. Traditionally, as an asset class, Gold has a minimal correlation to equities and fixed income. As such, I support a 1% to 5% exposure to Gold in a broadly diversified portfolio as a way to reduce long-term risk.

 

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only investment advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

 

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,

 

10 ways to grow your savings during medical residency

Grow your savings during medical residency

As someone married to a physician, I happen to have many friends in the medical field. Most doctors have to go through a brutal residency program. The medical residency takes between three and five years. Residents have a hectic working schedule, aggressive learning plan and spend long hours in the hospital. They shift every 3 to 6 months between different subjects and medical practices. Their salaries are usually in the 40-60k range, while their student loan balance is still growing with compounding interest. As a financial advisor, I would like to suggest ten ways to grow your savings during medical residency.  Naturally, I have to give credit to my wife for contributing to this article.

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1. Consider a location with low cost of living

When you apply for medical residency, one way to save money is to pick an area with a low cost of living. If you decide on a residency in New York City or San Francisco, you can expect your living expenses like rent and food to be much higher than if you are in Charlotte or Denver for example. $10 bucks don’t go a long way in the Big Apple but might fit your daily budget in a smaller town.

2. Find out if your hospital provides subsidized housing

Many hospitals offer subsidized housing. A lot of these apartments are conveniently located near your hospital, and you will save money on rent and transportation. Also, you might be able to get an extra 15-20 minutes of sleep just because you are right next door.

Often these spots are limited. Check if you qualify and apply early. Don’t wait until the last minute.

3. Get a roomy

If you spend six out of seven days in the hospital, you might as well have a roommate. You can split the bills. If you are on good terms with your roommate, you can even shop together at Costco or Sam’s club. They sell in bulk at very competitive prices. If you have a buddy to split the large packages, you can save a lot of money on your meals and other necessities.

4. Set up a budget

This is an important one. Medical residents get an average salary for the number of hours spent in the job.  Since you won’t have much time later on, before you start your residency, do your budget. Go over your salary from the hospital and your necessary expenses. Make sure that all numbers add up. Also, start setting up an emergency fund. You never know what life will present.

5. Manage your student loans

Do not ignore your student loans. If you are not required to pay them during residency the interest on the loan will still accrue and add to the amount you have to pay later. Try to refinance your high-interest loan with a lower rate one. If you can’t refinance it, try to pay the interest regularly.

Not paying your interest will have a huge compounding effect on your loan balance, which will substantially increase the amount you owe once you leave residency.

6. Manage your credit card debt

Now when you finally started making some money, you can look at your credit card debt. Credit cards are a convenient way to pay for things, but they often carry a huge interest. I hope you don’t carry any credit card debt, but if you do, now is an excellent opportunity to start refinancing or repaying the high-interest balances.

7. Maintain a good credit

A good FICO score will save you a lot of money in the long run. People with high credit score get lower interest on their personal, car loans, and mortgages. A lousy credit score can even hurt your job search. Yes, many employers check that.

8. Don’t splurge on expensive furniture. Go to Ikea or Craigslist

If you must buy new furniture, do not splurge on expensive ones. Remember, you will spend the next four years in the hospital. You don’t need expensive furniture to collect dust. If you want to have something decent go to Ikea, look on Craigslist or ask other senior residents, who are graduating soon.

9. Start retirement savings

This recommendation is critical. Doctors launch their career at least ten years after the average person. Therefore they start saving for retirement much later. The new physicians miss ten years of potential retirement savings. You don’t have to be that person.

401k / 403b

Most health systems offer some variation of a 401k or 403b plans. Take full advantage of them. Your contributions are tax deductible. You won’t owe any taxes on your savings until you start withdrawing money from the plan.

Roth IRA

If your hospital does not offer any retirement saving plans (very unlikely but possible), you can always open a Roth IRA account. Roth IRA allows you to invest up to $5,500 every year which will grow tax-free until retirement. You will never pay any taxes on your gains and dividends as long as you keep the money in the account until you retire. Roth IRA has one caveat. You can only contribute the maximum amount if you make less than $117,000 per year. The chances are high that you will make a lot more after leaving residency and starting your practice. Therefore, you won’t qualify for Roth IRA later in your career.

10. Find freebies

Look for free stuff. There is no shame in that. There are many local free concerts, free museum nights, restaurant specials and happy hours. Look for them in your area or local newspaper or website.

Your hospital will regularly offer sponsored programs with free lunches or dinners. Go to some of them. You may learn something new, meet interesting people and get a free meal.

Find out if your hospital has a gym. Regular workouts will keep you in shape and help you get through the long hours.

Final words

If you have any questions about how to grow your savings during medical residency 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 married to a physician. He 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 healthcare professionals and their families.  To learn more about our Private Client Services and how to grow your savings during medical residency visit out page here

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5 things you need to know about your Target Retirement Fund

5 things you need to know about your Target Retirement Fund

Target Retirement Funds have become a popular investment option in many workplace retirement plans such as 401k, 403b and SEP IRA. They offer a relatively simple way to invest your retirement savings as their investment approach is based on the individual target retirement dates. In this post, I will discuss the 5 things you need to know about your target retirement fund.

Nowadays, almost all investment companies offer target retirement funds – from Fidelity to Vanguard, American Funds, Blackrock, and Schwab. Although plan administrators and advisors have a choice amongst several fund families, they will typically select one of them for their plan. Multiple target fund families are readily available in individual brokerage accounts or self-directed IRAs.

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Workplace plan participants typically have to choose one fund from a single family with target retirement dates in 5-year increments – 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050. Often, plans with auto-enrollment features will automatically assign a target retirement fund based on the estimated year of retirement. Manual enrollment programs will have the fund series in their fund line-up, which could consist of a mix of index, actively managed and target retirement funds.

The base assumption of the target retirement funds is that younger investors have a long investment horizon and higher risk tolerance, therefore, they should have their target retirement assets in more risky investments such as stocks. Inversely, older investors will have a shorter investment horizon and lower risk tolerance. Therefore, the majority of their target retirement money will be in more low-risk investments such as bonds.

Despite their growing popularity, target retirement funds have some limitations and are not identical.  They have substantial differences that may not always appeal to everybody. In this post, I would like to explain some of those nuances.

Style

Target funds utilize two main investment styles – passive indexing and active management. Passive Target Retirement Funds like Vanguard and BlackRock LifePath primarily invest in a mix of index funds. The second groups including T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, American Century, and American Funds pursue an active strategy where investments are allocated in a mix of active mutual funds typically managed by the same firm.

Fees

The fund investment style will often impact the management fees charged by each fund. Passive funds tend to charge lower fees, usually around 0.15% – 0.20%. On the other hand, active funds typically range between 0.40% – 1%.

NameTickerMorningstar RatingMorningstar Analyst RatingAUMExpense
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045VTIVX4-starGold$18.1 bil0.16%
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045TRRKX5-StarSilver$10.2 bil0.76%
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6RFHTX5-StarSilver$4.8 bil0.43%
Fidelity Freedom® 2045FFFGX3-StarSilver$3.5 bil0.77%
American Century One Choice 2045AROIX4-starBronze$1.7 bil0.97%

If you have any doubts about how much you pay for your fund, double check with your plan administrator or Human Resource. Not to sound alarming but I recently read about a case where a 401k plan contained a fund listed as “Vngd Tgt Retrmt 2045 Fund.” whose sole investment was Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund. However, instead of charging an expense ratio of 0.16%, the fund was taking a whopping 0.92%.  The only purpose of this sham is to deceive participants into believing they are investing in the real Vanguard fund and marking up the expense ratio exponentially.

Asset allocation

The asset allocation is the most critical factor for investment performance. According to numerous studies, it contributes to more than 90% of the portfolio return.  As a factor of such significance, it is essential to understand the asset allocation of your target retirement fund.

While comparing five of the largest target retirement families, we see some considerable variations between them. Vanguard has the highest allocation to Foreign Equity, while T. Rowe has the largest investment in US Equity. Fidelity has the highest allocation to Cash and Cash Equivalents while American Century has the biggest exposure to Bonds. And lastly, American Funds has the largest distribution to Other, which includes Preferred Stocks and Convertible Bonds.

 

2045 Series 

NameTickerCashUS StockNon-US StockBondOther
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045VTIVX 1.11 52.98 34.91 9.77 1.23
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045TRRKX 2.87 58.98 28.48 9.05 0.62
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6RFHTX 3.66 53.21 29.02 9.77 4.34
Fidelity Freedom® 2045FFFGX 5.79 57.58 32.07 3.93 0.63
American Century One Choice 2045AROIX 2.04 55.38 20.32 21.36 0.90

It is also important to understand how the target asset allocation changes over time as investors approach retirement. This change is known as the glide path. In the below table you can see the asset allocation of 2025 target fund series. All of them have a higher allocation to Bonds, Cash and Cash Equivalents and a lower allocation of US and Foreign Equity.

2025 Series

NameTickerCashUS StockNon-US StockBondOther
Vanguard Target Retirement 2025VTIVX 1.44 38.05 25.09 34.30 1.12
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2025 FundTRRHX 3.35 45.64 22.06 28.23 0.72
American Funds 2025 Trgt Date Retire R6RFDTX 4.12 39.60 19.36 33.65 3.27
Fidelity Freedom® 2025FFTWX 8.99 41.70 24.31 24.46 0.54
American Century One Choice 2025ARWIX 7.18 40.01 11.88 40.01 0.92

 

 Keep in mind that the target Asset Allocation is not static. Moreover, the fund managers can change the fund allocation according to their view of the market and economic conditions.

Performance

After all said and done, the performance is what matters for most investors and retirees. However, comparing performance between different target funds can be a little tricky. As you saw in the previous paragraph, they are not the same.

So let’s first look at a comparison between different target-date funds from the same family. The return figures represent a net-of-fees performance for 3, 5 and 10 years. Standard Deviation (St. Dev) measures the volatility (risk) of returns.  As expected, the long-dated funds posted higher returns over the near-dated funds. However, the long-dated funds come with higher volatility due to their higher allocation to equities.

 

Target Date Performance Comparison by Target Year

ReturnStandard Deviation
NameTicker3-Year5-Year10-Year3-Year5-Year10-Year
American Funds 2025 Trgt Date Retire R6RFDTX 5.71 9.36 5.88 6.78 7.48 12.83
American Funds 2035 Trgt Date Retire R6RFFTX 6.73 10.43 6.44 8.70 8.84 13.81
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6RFHTX 6.99 10.67 6.56 9.09 9.10 13.96
American Funds 2055 Trgt Date Retire R6RFKTX 7.33 11.32 9.13 9.15

 

The comparison between different fund families also reveals significant variations in performance. The majority of these differences can be attributed to their asset allocation, investment selection, and management fees.

Target Date Performance Comparison by Fund Family

Return  Standard Deviation
NameTicker3-Year5-Year10-Year3-Year5-Year10-Year
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045VTIVX 6.24 9.50 5.70 9.42 9.51 14.63
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045TRRKX 6.54 9.92 6.20 9.68 9.80 15.80
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6RFHTX 6.99 10.67 6.56 9.09 9.10 13.96
Fidelity Freedom® 2045FFFGX 6.50 8.95 4.82 9.83 9.64 15.25
American Century One Choice 2045AROIX 5.79 8.63 5.73 8.38 8.41 13.50

How they fit with your financial goals

How the target retirement fund fit within your financial goals is an important nuance that often gets underestimated by many. Target retirement funds assume the investors’ risk tolerance based on their age and the estimated year of retirement. Older investors will automatically be assigned as conservative while they could be quite aggressive if this is a part of their inter-generational estate planning. Further, young investors default to an aggressive allocation while they could be more conservative due to significant short-term financial goals. So keep in mind that the extra layer of personal financial planning is not a factor in target retirement funds.

 

Final words

Target retirement funds come with many benefits. They offer an easy way to invest for retirement without the need for in-depth financial knowledge. Target funds come in different shapes and forms and bring certain caveats which may appeal to some investors and not to others. If you plan to invest in a target retirements fund, the five questions above will help you decide if this is the right investment for you.

 

 

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) 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,  Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_pogonici’>pogonici / 123RF Stock Photo</a>