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Archives for May 2018

A Look at How America Ranks

In his first year in office, President Trump has promoted his “America first” philosophy. This new focus, with its trade protectionism and tough stance on immigration, has somewhat changed the U.S. narrative on a world scale.1

Considering this new emphasis on America first, perhaps it’s worth looking at how the U.S. ranks on the world stage, according to various lists measuring financial health, happiness, education and more.

One of the most watched rankings for financial health is the annual World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, which covers 137 economies and ranks the U.S. as No. 2. The Global Competitiveness Index measures national competitiveness, which includes a variety of institutions, policies and factors that determine each country’s level of productivity. The following are the top 10 countries ranked by the 2017-2018 Global Competitiveness Index:2

  1. Switzerland
  2. United States
  3. Singapore
  4. Netherlands
  5. Germany
  6. Hong Kong
  7. Sweden
  8. United Kingdom
  9. Japan
  10. Finland

According to the recently released “2018 Best Countries” listing from U.S. News & World Report, America is ranked No. 8 behind Switzerland, Canada, Germany, the U.K., Japan, Sweden and Australia.3 The Best Countries rating is based on opinions of over 21,000 people from 36 countries in a wide variety of categories, including business friendliness, entrepreneurship, citizenship, power, quality of life, cultural influence and more.4

However, America gets lower marks in the rankings of countries with the happiest residents. The U.S. came in 19th in the 2017 World Happiness Report; Norway was No. 1. This study measures countries by ways they support happiness, such as quality of work, health care and social foundations.5

Perhaps one of the reasons Americans aren’t as happy as some other nations’ citizens has to do with our infrastructure — particularly relating to transportation. One global study of vehicular traffic found the U.S. is home to 10 of the top 25 worst cities for traffic. The study, composed of 1,360 cities in 38 countries, measures the cost of sitting in traffic due to factors such as loss of worker productivity, wasted fuel and the high cost of transporting goods in traffic. Overall as a country, the U.S. ranked fifth.6

The results are mixed when it comes to education rankings. One of the latest rankings placed U.S. 15-year-olds at 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science.7

However, the U.S. ranks highest in “QS World University Rankings by Subject.” The most recent rankings place U.S. higher education institutions at No. 1 in 34 of 48 categories.8

And finally, there is one category in which America excels in vast numbers: The largest number of billionaires. Presently, the world’s billionaires account for a record $9.1 trillion combined, which is up 18 percent from a year ago.9 Seven of the top 10 billionaires in the world call the U.S. home:10

  1. Jeff Bezos (Amazon, U.S.)
  2. Bill Gates (Microsoft, U.S.)
  3. Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway, U.S.)
  4. Bernard Arnault (LVMH, France)
  5. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook, U.S.)
  6. Amancio Ortega (Zara, Spain)
  7. Carlos Slim Helu (telecom, Mexico)
  8. Charles Koch (Koch Industries, U.S.)
  9. David Koch (Koch Industries, U.S.)
  10. Larry Ellison (software, U.S.)

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

 1 Griff Witte and Michael Birnbaum. The Washington Post. Jan. 20, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/a-year-of-trumps-america-first-agenda-has-radically-changed-the-us-role-in-the-world/2018/01/20/c1258aa6-f7cf-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042_story.html?utm_term=.aa4bcbfc56c0. Accessed March 22, 2018.

2 Klaus Schwab. World Economic Forum. 2017. “The Global Competitiveness Report

2017–2018.” Page ix. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GCR2017-2018/05FullReport/TheGlobalCompetitivenessReport2017–2018.pdf. Accessed March 9, 2018.

3 U.S. News & World Report. 2018. “Overall Best Countries Ranking.” https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/overall-full-list. Accessed March 22, 2018.

4 Deidre McPhillips. U.S. News & World Report. Jan. 23, 2018. “Methodology: How the 2018 Best Countries Were Ranked.” https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/articles/methodology. Accessed March 22, 2018.

5 United Nations. 2017. “World Happiness Report 2017.” http://worldhappiness.report/ed/2017/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

6 INRIX, Inc. Feb. 5, 2018. “Los Angeles Tops INRIX Global Congestion Ranking.” http://inrix.com/press-releases/scorecard-2017/. Accessed March 22, 2018.

7 Drew Desilver. Pew Research Center. Feb. 15, 2017. “U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

8 Patrick Atack. The Pie News. Feb. 28, 2018. “QS World University Rankings show US still top, but Asia rising.” https://thepienews.com/news/qs-world-university-rankings-show-us-still-top-but-asia-rising/. Accessed March 9, 2018.

9 Luisa Kroll. Forbes. March 6, 2018. “Forbes Billionaires 2018: Meet the Richest People on the Planet.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/luisakroll/2018/03/06/forbes-billionaires-2018-meet-the-richest-people-on-the-planet/#5256507f6523. Accessed March 9, 2018.

10 Forbes. 2018. “The World’s Billionaires.” https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/#version:static. Accessed March 9, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

 

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Putting a Value on Real Property

Real property generally refers to land, but it also can include structures, bodies of water and machinery.1 It typically denotes property of significant value, which is why state and local governments choose to impose taxes on our homes.

These levies could be considered a progressive tax, in that people who own more expensive homes likely will pay higher property taxes.

For many retirees, their homes are among their most valuable assets, but they are just one piece of the financial picture. We can help you create a financial strategy that takes into account all your retirement assets and sources of income. Give us a call if you’d like to learn more about the use of investment and insurance products to help you pursue your retirement goals.

The way real property is valued can offer advantages and disadvantages to owners. During the 2008 recession and its real estate market decline, many home sellers and buyers experienced a substantial discrepancy between the appraised value and the market value of their homes.

Appraised value is how much a licensed appraiser believes your home is worth, while market value is determined by just that — the market. In other words, it’s whatever buyers are willing to pay for the property. If the market value is lower than the appraised value, owners become “upside down” on their mortgages, which means they owe more than the home is worth.2

Then there’s the case of assessed value, which is usually conducted on behalf of the county or municipality that imposes property taxes.3 This value may be less than the market or appraised value, based on a calculation of various factors. A lower assessed value generally equals lower taxes, so there’s an advantage to the assessment not increasing — particularly for retirees planning to stay in their homes for the duration of their life.

Real estate appears to be a popular asset for many affluent investors, thanks to its finite supply and the fact that demand will generally continue to grow as the population increases. A recent survey of the portfolios of affluent investors revealed:4

  • The principal residence of an affluent investor typically represents up to 30% of his or her total assets
  • Beyond the principal residence, between 4-6% of assets are in real estate
  • Among all investors, 20% own a second or vacation home
  • Among ultra high net worth investors ($5 million to $25 million), 32% own a second or vacation home

Factors that may have some impact on property values in the future relate to transportation. For example, the rise of driverless cars could have an impact on the real estate market. Transportation experts say they could make public transit less necessary to commuters, thus affecting property values near train stations and other public transit.5

Another interesting trend is in commercial real estate. You may have noticed vast, empty parking lots sitting aside malls and shopping plazas where storefronts are empty. As the country shifts more toward buying online, brick-and-mortar stores are being abandoned. Lower demand for retail shopping spaces could lower rents or require landlords to rethink how they use the space.6

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Investopedia. “Real Property.” https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/real-property.asp. Accessed April 6, 2018.

2 Angela Colley. Realtor.com. Jan. 22, 2015. “What Is a Upside-Down Mortgage?” https://www.realtor.com/advice/finance/what-is-upside-down-mortgage/. Accessed April 6, 2018.

3 Chris Seabury. Investopedia. “How property taxes are calculated.” https://www.investopedia.com/articles/tax/09/calculate-property-tax.asp. Accessed April 6, 2018.

4 Spectrem Group. 2018. “How Investors Appraise Real Estate.” https://spectrem.com/Content/-how-investors-appraise-real-estate.aspx. Accessed March 15, 2018.

5 Ely Razin. Forbes. March 11, 2018. “How Driverless Cars Could Disrupt The Real Estate Industry.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/elyrazin/2018/03/11/how-driverless-cars-could-disrupt-the-real-estate-industry/#61039ab013c1. Accessed March 15, 2018.

6 Richard Kestenbaum. Forbes. May 30, 2017. “This Is What Will Happen To All The Empty Stores You’re Seeing.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/richardkestenbaum/2017/05/30/this-is-what-will-happen-to-all-the-empty-stores-youre-seeing/#58aea44bb78b. Accessed April 6, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance and investment products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic financial planning strategies and should not be construed as financial advice. All investments are subject to risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. 

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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Investing in Europe

It’s often said that when one asset class falters, others are likely rising. To some extent, this may be occurring with U.S. equities.

The stock market correction that started in February amid fears of rising inflation has continued through March with the threat of a global trade war.1

According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, money that’s been flowing out of U.S. equity funds since the beginning of the year appears to be re-emerging in Europe. Just as all markets experience periodic ups and downs, Europe appears to be in an upswing. In general, European equities boast reasonable valuations and some of the highest dividends in the world.2

Investors with an asset allocation strategy that takes into consideration their risk tolerance, investment timeline and financial goals can make investment changes within those guidelines. For example, small moves from U.S. equities to European stocks may open up performance opportunities without significantly changing one’s asset strategy.

If you’re interested in diversifying to capture more stocks abroad, mutual funds may offer a viable way to incorporate these securities. We will only provide investment advisory services after we have assessed your financial situation. If you’re interested in a comprehensive review of this nature, we’d be happy to schedule a time to discuss this with you further.

European stocks are presently attractive because the continent is further behind in the economic growth cycle than the U.S. While European equity markets have lagged in recent years, they now appear to offer greater potential relative to other markets as they play catch-up. Moreover, the euro-zone monetary policy looks to be supportive, and the region’s service sector is growing at the fastest rate since August 2007.3

Although sudden price peaks and drops based on political news are generally temporary, it is worth noting the influence. President Donald Trump’s recent announcement regarding new global tariffs on steel and aluminum, along with his threat to increase tariffs on the import of foreign cars, could have been expected to impact German stocks, particularly in the auto industry. Last year, 35 percent of the 17.25 million vehicles sold in the U.S. were imported. Losses resulting from lower exports and/or higher tariffs on vehicles produced by German car makers would be expected to result in a 10 percent drop in profits, which would typically impact share prices.4

However, Trump announced on March 22 that several allies, including the European Union, were exempt from the steel and aluminum tariffs.5 This news most likely came as a relief to the European Union — as well as some U.S. manufacturers. The EU has expressed growing concerns about Trump’s protectionist stance on trade and has threatened punitive tariffs of its own on motorcycles, clothing, bourbon whiskey and a host of other products.6

Of course, EU countries have their own political problems that may influence domestic stock prices. For example, Italy’s recent election that created a balanced stalemate in parliament could have a negative impact on the European economy.7

Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Liz Ann Sonders, Jeffrey Kleintop and Brad Sorensen. Charles Scwab. “Navigating the Changing Market Environment.” https://www.schwab.com/resource-center/insights/content/market-perspective. Accessed April 4, 2018.

2 Blaise Robinson. Bloomberg. Feb. 23, 2018. “Equity Investors Fleeing Wall Street Are Turning to Europe.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-23/equity-investors-fleeing-wall-street-are-turning-to-europe. Accessed March 9, 2018.

3 Dewi John. IPE.com. March 2018. “European Equities: Catching up with global growth.” https://www.ipe.com/investment/asset-class-reports/european-equities/european-equities-outlook-catching-up-with-global-growth/10023457.article. Accessed March 9, 2018.

4 Neil Winton. Forbes. March 5, 2018. “Trump Auto Tariff Threat Slams VW, BMW Shares, But Experts Call It A Bluff.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilwinton/2018/03/05/vw-bmw-shares-fall-after-trump-auto-tariff-threat-but-experts-call-it-a-bluff/#601d687b6bcb. Accessed March 9, 2018.

5 Jim Tankersley and Jack Ewing. The New York Times. March 22, 2018. “U.S. Exempts Allies From Steel and Aluminum Tariffs.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/22/business/us-eu-tariffs-steel-aluminum.html. Accessed March 22, 2018.

6 Viktoria Dendrinou and Jonathan Stearns. Bloomberg. March 6, 2018. “EU Raises Stakes for Trump by Aiming Levies at GOP Heartland.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-06/eu-targets-u-s-shirts-to-motorbikes-in-tariff-retaliation-plan. Accessed March 9, 2018.

7 Vickii Oliphant. Express. March 5, 2018. “Italian election 2018: What will Italy general election mean for Eurozone and euro?” https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/926368/Italian-election-2018-Italy-general-election-Euro-Eurozone-economy. Accessed March 22, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance and investment products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic financial planning strategies and should not be construed as financial advice. All investments are subject to risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. 

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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Investment Themes for This Year

In the investment community, all eyes are on inflation this year. Economic analysts at Merrill Lynch anticipate further tightening in the labor market, to the tune of 3.9 percent unemployment by the end of 2018.

Along with the tightened labor situation, they also expect personal consumption expenditure (PCE) inflation rising to 1.8 percent by year end and 2.0 percent by the end of 2019.1

As of this writing, inflation is at 1.7 percent. There is speculation that new Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell may be open to inflation flowing as high as 2.5 percent before making any dramatic moves in interest rates, in an effort to extend the more than eight-year expansion in U.S. growth.2

It’s been a very good run for U.S. investors, but there are indicators that we could see more volatility this year. As such, individuals approaching retirement may want to consider ways to help reduce the impact of market volatility on their retirement assets.

We’re happy to review your current situation and recommend strategies using a variety of investment and insurance products to help you pursue your long-term goals; just give us a call.

Below are some investment trends we see for 2018:

Value Stocks

Growth stocks have been outperforming value stocks for quite some time, but it looks as if that could change. Stocks that are considered undervalued have high relative dividend yields, low price-to-book ratios and/or low price-to-earnings ratios. These stocks offer the opportunity to thrive in a somewhat volatile market.3

Millennials

Much like their baby boomer parents, millennials are expected to drive innovation and previously under-explored markets in the future. As a demographic, they are tech savvy, environmentally aware and focused on sustainability, clean energy and impact investing. Perhaps more significantly, this generation is projected to inherit nearly $4 trillion in the United Kingdom and North America alone, which means they may have the means to act on their well-cultivated interests and passions.4

Autonomy

Transportation continues to be an issue in America, and we could be looking at a future ripe with automated cars, buses and other vehicles that do not require drivers. Public agencies may do well to focus on long-term city development plans that can accommodate driverless cars and other innovations.5

eGroceries

You may think that Amazon’s recent acquisition of Whole Foods has heralded a new era of buying groceries online. However, it’s a trend that has been going on for years, driven by investment by brick-and-mortar retailers, with online grocery shopper numbers more than doubling in a little over a year.

According to recent research from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Nielsen, almost 50 percent of Americans purchased groceries online in the past three months. The trend, however, is dominated by younger adults: millennials at 61 percent and generation X at 55 percent. FMI and Nielsen predict that many as 70 percent of U.S. shoppers could be buying groceries online by 2022.6

 Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

1 Michelle Meyer. Merrill Lynch. Nov. 19, 2017. “Investing Insights for the Year Ahead/Interest Rates, Policy and the Search for Missing Inflation.” https://www.ml.com/articles/market-updates.html. Accessed March 1, 2018.

2 Rich Miller and Shelly Hagan. Bloomberg. Feb. 26, 2018. “Powell Could Put Up With 2.5% Inflation to Keep Growth Pumping.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-26/powell-may-accept-inflation-overshoot-to-extend-u-s-expansion. Accessed March 1, 2018.

3 Kevin Mahn. Forbes. Jan. 5, 2017. “Top 10 Investment Themes For 2018.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/advisor/2018/01/05/top-10-investment-themes-for-2018/#652c30027dff. Accessed March 1, 2018.

4 Alice Ross and Hugo Greenhalgh. Financial Times. Nov. 17, 2017. “$4tn wealth transfer sparks battle for kids of the rich.” https://www.ft.com/content/aa704cbc-c9dd-11e7-ab18-7a9fb7d6163e. Accessed March 1, 2018.

5 Daniel Terdiman and Mark Sullivan. FastCompany. Jan. 2, 2018. “The Most Important Tech Trends Of 2018, According to Top VC.” https://www.fastcompany.com/40503654/the-most-important-tech-trends-of-2018-according-to-top-vcs. Accessed March 1, 2018.

6 Deborah Weinswig. Forbes. March 1, 2018. “Online Grocery Set to Boom in 2018 (As Amazon Acknowledges Online Grocery A Tough Market to Crack).” https://www.forbes.com/sites/deborahweinswig/2018/03/01/online-grocery-set-to-boom-in-2018-as-amazon-acknowledges-online-grocery-a-tough-market-to-crack/#335f2c8e520b. Accessed March 1, 2018.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance and investment products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic financial planning strategies and should not be construed as financial advice. All investments are subject to risk including the potential loss of principal. No investment strategy can guarantee a profit or protect against loss in periods of declining values. 

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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The Future of Medicare and Social Security

There is little doubt that Medicare and Social Security are important programs that help older Americans in retirement, particularly now that so many are living beyond previous life expectancy rates.

In fact, past models for savings rates may be failing many older Americans, who represent the only demographic seeing significant increases in poverty rates in recent years. Specifically, between 2015 and 2016, the poverty rate for people over 65 grew to 14.5 percent.1

While younger Americans may still have time to adapt to higher savings rates, the situation is more complex for people who are already retired. If you’re fortunate enough to live many years after retirement, you’re going to need a well-thought-out retirement income strategy.

Using a variety of insurance products, we can help you create a strategy designed to help you to live the kind of retirement you’ve worked hard for. Give us a call so we can sit down and discuss your retirement income goals.

If you haven’t yet applied for Social Security, consider developing a strategy to help maximize benefits. If you don’t, you could be leaving money on the table. Here’s an example of why you should consider all your options:

Widows and widowers can file for a restricted application to initially claim survivor benefits while delaying their own benefit until age 70. This will allow their personal benefit to grow by approximately 8 percent a year from full retirement age, which is 65 to 67, depending on when they were born (note that survivor benefits do not increase).

A recent report published by the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General found that beneficiaries who could have used this strategy, but did not, missed out on about $131.8 million in total increased payouts. The study cited one example of a widow who would have received an additional $13,000 in benefits by utilizing this strategy.2

Many retirees count on programs like Medicare and Social Security for helping meet their health care and income needs. However, there is some concern about these programs’ financial health. One area of concern is that the programs may not be adequately represented to help shape congressional policy regarding their long-term solvency. There are currently two vacancies on the boards overseeing Social Security and Medicare — seats that have been empty for more than two years.3

Meanwhile, starting next year, Medicare recipients with annual incomes higher than $500,000 ($750,000 for couples) are scheduled to pay a higher percentage of their Medicare bills. They will pay 85 percent of the program’s parts B and D costs, up from 80 percent. The average Medicare beneficiary pays around 25 percent of bills. This change was included as part of Congress’ stop-gap budget deal signed into law in February.4

 As for the future, trustees of both Medicare and Social Security are asking lawmakers to take action to help make sure recipients get full benefits in the future. In their respective 2017 annual reports, Social Security trustees predict that the trust fund will run out by 2034, which will trigger a projected 23 percent reduction in benefits, and Medicare trustees expect the trust fund for Part A to be depleted by 2029, at which point it would only be able to pay out 88 percent of expected benefits.5

 Content prepared by Kara Stefan Communications.

 1 Alana Semuels. The Atlantic. Feb. 22, 2018. “This Is What Life Without Retirement Savings Looks Like.” https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/02/pensions-safety-net-california/553970/?utm_source=fbb. Accessed March 1, 2018.

2 Ray Martin. CBS News. Feb. 22, 2018. “Social Security underpays thousands of widows and widowers.” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/social-security-underpays-thousands-of-widows-and-widowers/?ftag=CNM-00-10aab7e&linkId=48472768. Accessed March 1, 2018.

3 Charles P. Blahous III and Robert Reischauer. Rollcall.com. Jan. 22, 2018. “Opinion: Now More Than Ever, Social Security and Medicare Need Their Public Trustees.” https://www.rollcall.com/news/opinion/avoid-crisis-confidence-medicare-needs-public-trustees. Accessed March 1, 2018.

4 Brittany De Lea. Feb. 27, 2018. “Medicare beneficiaries with higher incomes to foot bigger share of costs.” https://www.foxbusiness.com/features/medicare-beneficiaries-with-higher-incomes-to-foot-bigger-share-of-costs. Accessed March 1, 2018.

5 Donna Borak. CNN Money. July 13, 2017. “Social Security trust fund projected to tap out in 17 years.” http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/13/news/economy/social-security-trust-fund-projection/index.html. Accessed March 27, 2018.

We are able to provide you with information but not guidance or advice related to Social Security benefits. Our firm is not affiliated with the U.S. government or any governmental agency.

We are an independent firm helping individuals create retirement strategies using a variety of insurance products to custom suit their needs and objectives. This material is intended to provide general information to help you understand basic retirement income strategies and should not be construed as financial advice.

The information contained in this material is believed to be reliable, but accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed; it is not intended to be used as the sole basis for financial decisions. If you are unable to access any of the news articles and sources through the links provided in this text, please contact us to request a copy of the desired reference.

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