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investing

Can We Stop the Tide?

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

I love Warren Buffett’s metaphor about the tide going out. It’s hilarious and true. Jerome Powell’s response demonstrates the magnitude of the task at hand in 2020. Now, a confession: Jerome Powell never said he could stop the tide—at least not in words. However, he is trying to stop the economic tide from allowing struggling businesses to borrow more and more money until the current global healthcare crisis is over.

A little background: When the federal government exceeds its budget, it must borrow. There is only one government agency where this does not apply, the Fed. My favorite metaphor for the Fed is the hammer. To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Whether we are in a real estate crisis or a global pandemic, the Fed has one response: create money. And because it does not have to borrow, there is no limit to the amount it can make. The Fed wields a hammer of infinite size.

Just as you may have projects at home that require other tools, it makes sense that a hammer cannot solve all of America’s problems. A pandemic seems like it may be one of these. It has not stopped the Fed from trying. In less than 3 months in 2020, the Fed created more money than it did during the previous 12 years combined. (That includes the 2008 Great Recession and the trillions of dollars to get out of it.)

A consequence of the unprecedented government intervention is a massive amount of wealth creation. The Fed’s money goes mostly into debt markets, which pushes prices higher and makes the owners of assets wealthier. The wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own approximately 80 percent of market assets, so there is an unintended consequence of increasing the wealth gap. This is not the Fed’s fault exactly. Remember, it may have unlimited amounts of money, but it is really limited in how it can spend it.

You may be wondering, doesn’t printing money create inflation? Why haven’t we seen it in the last decade? Inflation is rising prices. It has averaged only 2 percent despite the $7 trillion created by the Fed during the previous 12 years and the $27 trillion borrowed by the federal government, most of this over the last 20 years. Instead, let’s describe it as follows: “Inflation is when prices go up for the stuff you want.” By that definition, I think inflation has been higher than 2 percent.

So, will we see inflation get even worse? All it takes is for demand to grow faster than supply, but this hasn’t happened yet. Consider investors like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. When the Fed pushes up the value of their investments, do they buy another home or a big-screen TV? The wealth creation that the Fed engages in is unlikely to turn into major inflation unless it creates a significant increase in demand. Once consumers get accustomed to rising prices, then further increases may follow.

If the Fed had written checks out to every American for $21,000, there would have been a massive increase in spending. Demand would have been way beyond supply, and the prices of homes, cars, and other items would have skyrocketed. The Fed cannot do this, and it wouldn’t want to. Stable prices and full employment are its two mandates.

However, I believe that a more mild increase in inflation may come in the next decade. While the Fed’s money went into financial assets, there was an effort by the federal government to help Americans more directly.

The CARES Act provided $1,200 in cash to most Americans, including approximately 70 million children and over a million deceased. In addition to this, around 20 million unemployed Americans received a $600 per week boost to unemployment benefits.

All this adds up to a lot of extra stimuli, and it has had a more direct impact on spending, saving, and even investing. Approximately 30 percent of all income is now coming from the government.

The federal government is $27 trillion in debt, which is well beyond the size of our entire economy. And there may be even more stimulus coming.

As this stimulus works its way into the economy over the coming years, we may see inflation begin to rise for the first time in a long time.

Another potential impact of the Fed’s actions is also unintended. We call it moral hazard. If we avoid the pain and devastation of recession, then when will we learn the hard lessons?

Finally, will all this help productivity and innovation or hinder it? Will we have to pay off any of this debt, or will we use inflation to make it less meaningful? Only time will tell.

Even with all the uncertainty, the Fed firmly believes it does not have much choice. Jerome Powell likes to describe the Fed stimulus as a bridge to keep Americans out of financial harm until this crisis has passed. This is what I would call the Great Financial Experiment of 2020. This is not only happening in the United States but all over the developed world.

The success so far has been stunning and without major unintended consequences, but it’s also still early–very early. So, as investors, we look for opportunities to participate, but we never forget the risks. Only time will show if the United States of America and the rest of the developed world successfully stopped the tide from going out.

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What is Regulation Best Interest?

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

By now, if you have accounts with SFS, you have received a new form called Customer Relationship Summary (CRS) from Securities America and an ADV Part 3 from Smedley Financial Services. So, why are you getting these forms, and what do they actually mean to you?

There is a new regulation that is designed to put your best interest first. It is called Regulation Best Interest, or Reg BI for short, and it went into effect on June 30th, 2020.

Reg BI requires an investment professional to act in your best interest and hold themselves to high standards of disclosing all important information, caring for their client, reporting any conflicts of interest, and maintaining strict compliance.

Form CRS is intended to explain the customer relationship with our Broker-Dealer, Securities America. This form clarifies the difference between investment services and advisory services and explains the difference between brokerage and advisory fees. It also details how the Broker-Dealer makes money and any disciplinary history for Securities America.

Form ADV Part 3 is specific to Smedley Financial. This form is intended to clarify the types of services we can provide, the fees you may pay, our fiduciary obligation to act in your best interest, any conflicts of interest, how we make money, and the fact that we do not have any disciplinary issues.

These forms are a good step forward towards putting a client’s best interest first. However, in my experience, most clients already expect this of their financial advisor.

The good news is that since the beginning, Smedley Financial has been a fiduciary and has always strived to put our clients’ best interests first. And we will continue to do so. For our clients, Reg BI should not have any meaningful impact. It should raise the bar for other “advisors” to make sure they hold themselves to the same fiduciary standard.

Reg BI also clarifies the sometimes-muddy waters of who can call themselves “advisors.” Professionals who just sell insurance or a product, or who only process trades as a stockbroker, cannot call themselves “advisors.” An “advisor” is someone who has the appropriate securities license to purchase stocks and bonds and is also licensed to give clients advice.

At Smedley Financial, we hold ourselves to an even higher standard by not only being investment advisors but also financial planners and life-centered planners. Our financial planning helps you figure out what resources you have, will have, and will need in order to meet your goals. Our life-centered planning helps you figure out how to live the life you want with the time you have left on this planet.

We appreciate you as clients, especially during these unusual times. If you have any questions regarding the forms provided or would like to review your plan, don’t hesitate to call us.

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Living In Unprecedented Times

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie | No Comments

The last five months have been record-setting in more ways than we could have imagined. The impact has been wide-reaching – and I am not referring to the COVID-19 virus numbers.

Technology has provided opportunities that have businesses, including ours, to service clients and continue to run their operations while working from home. It allowed students to continue their studies remotely and check in with their teachers when needed. We have access to almost anything: news, shopping, connecting with family and friends, and investment markets, all of which are amazing. In fact, it is hard to imagine what we would have done without technology.

Newer technology has opened the doors for people to save and invest at entry levels without barriers, such as minimum investments. Apps have become popular among the DIY crowd, which are too often young and inexperienced investors.

Securities regulators have spent countless hours creating Regulation Best Interest, as explained in Mikal’s article. Regrettably, they have done little to educate and protect DIY investors who are not prepared for the leveraged risks and hidden fees of this new world. One of these investors even paid the ultimate price.

An app on a phone gives anyone fingertip access to investing. One of these apps offers game-like screen appearances, prompts users to place trades when looking up a stock ticker, and displays falling confetti to make them feel good when placing a trade. These apps even allow investors to leverage their investment through options – something professionals are required to have tested and trained for before offering them to their clients. What these apps do not offer is common sense or an advisor to help investors understand the associated risks of specific investments. They lack education and risk assessment before making speculative, high-risk investments.

We have heard disastrous reports of investors borrowing on credit cards and accessing home equity loans to invest, only to lose the lion’s share of their investment. As financial advisors, we find this very disheartening.

All investors should be educated about their investment options, risks, and costs. Smedley Financial makes a concerted effort to provide you with information and education regarding investing through our Money Moxie and Money Matters newsletters, regular webinars, seminars, and, most importantly, one-on-one meetings with clients. If you have questions or need more information regarding finances or investing, please reach out to our wealth management advisors.

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No One Can Predict The Future

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

No one can predict the future. Especially not me. On my LinkedIn page in March 2019, I posted: “I wouldn’t be surprised that we have some good growth in stocks for (2019). You usually have good growth right before a recession. However, 2020 could be a challenging year.” I had no idea it would be as challenging as it has been!

Even though I was right, I was not predicting the future. I was just following statistics and other economic indicators. Little did I know that a global pandemic would stall the U.S. (and world) economy and send it into a freefall. This yanked the 1st quarter into the red. Now, all we need to meet the technical definition of a recession is for the 2nd quarter to be negative as well.

Stocks are not the economy. There has never been a better example of this than the year 2020. The economy is hurting. Consumer spending is down double digits, and unemployment is near 20 percent.

Stocks, on the other hand, have been improving as the government has printed money. Some pundits think stocks have already bottomed and are just headed up from here. Others think we will head lower towards the mid-March bottom. Some have even suggested that this economy looks a lot like a depression. These are all conjectures. No one can predict the future.

This uncertainty leads people to question their financial future: Will I be able to pay my bills for the next 6 months? Will I be able to retire when I planned? Will my nest egg be enough to see me through retirement?

Years ago, questions like this led us at SFS to create a system that is simple yet powerful. It is designed for times like these. The goal is to provide an inflation-adjusted income for the rest of your life, regardless of the storms that may come. It helps remove a lot of the uncertainty around the security of your finances.

We call it a Lifetime Income Plan. The concept is simple: you segment your assets into time frames based on when you will need income. The assets set aside to generate income for the next 5 years should be conservative and protected.

The successive 5-year time segments should be moderate to aggressive, depending on the time frame and your personal risk tolerance. This system can be used whether you are already in retirement or just starting to save for the future.

While the design is simple, the application can be much more complex. As always, we recommend consulting with one of our Certified Financial Planners (CFP®) who are well versed in income distribution strategies.

No one knows exactly how things will turn out with the Coronavirus and how large or long-lasting the impact will be. However, with careful planning, you can help prepare your financial future for any storm that comes.

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What To Do With Your 401(k), If…

By | 2020, Money Moxie | No Comments

1: You are still employed by the sponsor company

Keep investing! The 401(k) implements an effective purchasing strategy called dollar- cost averaging. This strategy involves making regular and continuous fixed-dollar investments. But it is more than just a payroll deduction plan. Dollar-cost averaging removes the risk of trying to time the market.

By using dollar-cost averaging in a long-term investment account, the average cost per share ends up being less than the average price per share. This is because you buy less shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low. In other words, volatility can work in your favor. So keep investing.

2. You are no longer working for the sponsor company but are employed elsewhere

You have some options.

(1) You can take a partial or full distribution. In most cases, this is a taxable event and may carry additional tax penalties. In rare situations, is this a good idea. Speak with a professional advisor before choosing this option.

(2) You can leave your 401(k) with your previous company. You can no longer contribute to it, but it will continue to perform based on the investments you have selected.

(3) If your new employer offers a 401(k) and you are eligible for it, you can roll your old 401(k) into your new 401(k) plan. This is a tax-free rollover, and you will need to select new investments based on what the new plan offers.

(4) You can roll the old 401(k) into an IRA. In most cases, this is what we recommend. An IRA gives the account owner more control, more investment options, and better planning opportunities than a 401(k). Like a 401(k), an IRA is a retirement account with annual maximum contribution limits and early withdrawal penalties. A rollover is not considered a contribution, and therefore any amount can be rolled.

3. You are no longer working for the sponsor company and are not employed

You have the same options as above, with the obvious exception of rolling to your new 401(k). If you are retired, however, the rollover option to the IRA may be even more appealing. When it comes time to take distributions from your retirement accounts, the IRA has some significant advantages. Some of these include better risk management strategies, tax-saving distribution strategies, and avoiding mandatory distributions from Roth accounts.

4. You need financial help due to COVID-19

The CARES Act allows some individuals to take early withdrawals from retirement accounts in 2020 without the early withdrawal penalty. If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have a spouse or dependent diagnosed with COVID-19, or have experienced a layoff, furlough, reduction in hours, have been unable to work, or lack childcare because of COVID-19, you may qualify. Withdrawals may impact your tax liability, so speak with a financial advisor before taking an early distribution.

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Election Years: Positively Volatile

By | 2020, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

It may turn out to be a typical election year. I expect stocks to be up in 2020, but in the single digits—much less than in 2019. Investors dislike uncertainty, and 2020 will be filled with plenty of political unknowns. Despite some extra ups and downs, election years tend to be positive for stocks. Hang in there.

A lot of Republicans could have missed out from 2009 to 2016. Similarly, Democrats would have missed the 2017-2020 markets. The rule for election volatility is that it comes sooner than most investors expect. Most summers have a bit of a slowdown. In election years, that drop usually hits in spring.

The classic October drop is typical even in election years, but don’t get caught saying, “I’ll invest when the election is over.” The market usually begins to climb a couple of weeks before the final vote.

Some rotation in the markets may develop as we learn who the candidates will be. Still, the most likely outcome is gridlock in Washington, with the Republicans staying in control of the Senate and the House controlled by Democrats. Regardless of your political opinions, gridlock is usually good for stocks because large companies plan 10+ years ahead of time and prefer a predictable business environment.

*Research by SFS. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. The S&P 500 index is widely considered to represent the overall U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Diversification does not guarantee positive results. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass. This information is subject to change at any time, based upon changing conditions. This is not a recommendation to purchase any type of investment.

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Investing Is Not Like Buying A Refrigerator

By | 2020, Executive Message, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Some people think that investing has been simplified so much that it is like buying a refrigerator: You spend a few hours researching the options and then select a product that will last for 10 years. While there have been significant improvements to simplify investments, there is still a world of knowledge that is needed to select the right investments for your personal goals and time horizon. Buying the wrong refrigerator won’t wreck your retirement, but buying the wrong investment might.

Inside of a 401(k), the participant is the money manager. Because of this, the options had to be simplified. This has given rise to retirement-ready investments that have target dates based on when a participant will retire. We applaud this because most investors don’t know the nuances of investing in large-cap companies vs. small-cap companies, etc. The closer you get to retirement, and the more assets you have, the more important investment selection becomes.

Investment selection is less like picking out a fridge and more like being the forecaster for a home improvement store. That forecaster must determine beforehand how much is needed of each product, for each department, at the right time of year. If the quantity or timing is significantly off, then it puts the store in jeopardy of decreasing revenue and potential bankruptcy. Because of this complexity, a forecaster needs to have advanced training, education, and experience.

With investments, not only do you have to understand the individual investment, but you also must understand how it is impacted by the different market sectors, business cycle movements, politics, and the world economic environment.

At SFS, we are lucky to have a chief investment strategist, James Derrick, who has his MBA, CFA, and two decades of money management experience. He managed investments through the downturns of 2000-2003 and 2007-2009 when the S&P 500 lost 55% and 57%, respectively.* In fact, other financial advisors hire James and SFS to manage their clients’ money.

Don’t risk your retirement nest egg. You aren’t buying a refrigerator. Choose a money manager with the foresight, knowledge, and experience to help protect you against the downturns while allowing your assets to grow in the good times.

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Investment Truth

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

Just when you think you have things figured out, the world changes.

As investors, we get excited when the markets rise and fearful when they fall. The world is always happy to give us advice. At SFS, our goal is to identify the truth in the cacophony of headlines so we can implement strategies to help you navigate a changing world.

We may be tempted to believe that if we work hard enough, we can predict what will happen. This is not true. The stock market seems to move in the direction that surprises the greatest number of people. Just when investors think they know, the world changes.

Following rules can help us avoid many investment mistakes. Over long periods of time (10+ years), the U.S. markets have almost always been positive. Implementing this rule means this: stay invested.

Warren Buffett described the stock market as a mechanism that transfers money “from the impatient to the patient.” You will feel more patient in difficult times if you have a customized financial plan with your goals and a plan of action.

Volatility is normal. The ups and downs are a part of investing, but they are exactly what leads to poor decisions. Combat this tendency with diversification and risk management.

In theory, good diversification should mean that a portion of your portfolios is making money. In reality, there is no guarantee, but diversification still helps.

Measuring risk begins by accurately determining how much risk you can and should take. Take too much and there is no way you can make good decisions in the storm. Take too little and you won’t reach your goals. Oscillate back and forth between the two, and you are likely moving backwards.

Our advisors at SFS can help you know how much risk is appropriate for you, and we can get you in a portfolio to match that need.

These are just a couple of my rules that help me maintain successful strategies in a world of endless opportunity and obfuscation. We blend all the rules with the economic realities we see in order to give you the best advice and portfolios that we can.

*Research by SFS. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal. S&P 500 time period chosen to display a sample of the timing of government actions. The S&P 500 is an index often used to represent the U.S. stock market. One cannot invest directly in an index. Past performance does not guarantee future results. The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and may not actually come to pass.

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From Investing FOMO to FEAR

By | 2019, Money Moxie, Newsletter | No Comments

My daily commute often leaves me sitting in traffic on State Street in Salt Lake City. Sometimes it can take 10 minutes to move 3 blocks. During these seemingly hopeless times, I often see a cyclist pass me. I consider the wisdom of selling my car and riding my bike. However, no matter how bad the traffic, I eventually pass the biker–no exception. (As a biking enthusiast, I regularly commute on a bike, but it is not faster.)

As investors, we faced similar thoughts in 2018. Should we make a short-term decision even though we know which vehicle will get us where we want to go quicker?

Investors entered 2018 with a Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). The stock market had just completed a year where every month was positive. A tax cut had just been passed to stimulate greater consumer and corporate spending. Around the world, growth seemed synchronized, and expectations were rising.

Here is a review of my three predictions for 2018 with commentary on how things turned out.

U.S. growth exceeds 3 percent. The impact of the tax cut, which I referred to as a “sugar rush,” temporarily lifted U.S. growth to make the first forecast correct. The benefits of the cut were so short-lived that investor excitement quickly turned to concern.

The Federal Reserve finally has an impact. Interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve in recent years had largely been ignored by the stock market. This prediction also came true, especially in December when a rate increase was done despite all the problems going on in financial markets.

Investors would be disappointed with the market, but positive economic growth would help the market end the year positive. This prediction seemed to be correct for much of the year. However, it failed in the part that mattered most.

The stock market ended 2018 in an absolute panic! Oil prices were plummeting. The White House could not get a deal done on trade with China. The federal government had its third shutdown in just one year. And, despite all this, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates stating that nothing had changed; the economy was strong.

The stock market sell-off intensified, and the bull market arguably came to an end on Christmas Eve. December performance of the S&P 500 stocks was the worst since 1931. Historically, that makes some sense. The Great Depression began in 1929.

But we were not in the midst of a depression — quite the opposite. Corporate earnings were at record levels. The real GDP growth in this country was around 3 percent. Consumer spending, which represents 70 percent of the U.S. economy, rose in December by 4.5 percent!

What is an investor to do when the economic data is positive, and the market is so negative? At times like this, it is critically important to stay focused on your long-term goals.

It is our job at SFS to help you develop these goals and keep you on track to achieve them. We have tools to provide the necessary clarity and strategies to implement to help you keep moving forward.

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Just For Women – Let it Grow

By | 2018, Money Moxie | No Comments

Sharla J. Jessop, President of SFS, taught us at the Just for Women conference how to “Let it Grow” from a wealth perspective.

She reminded us that “The best way to attain money and wealth in life is no secret … spend less than you make!” She went on to teach us the best way to have your wealth grow.

When investing, manage your risk and don’t freak out! Make sure you are emotionally comfortable with your investment plan.

Protect what you have with a “financial bodyguard.” This is someone to watch over your wealth when you can’t. Finally, make sure your beneficiaries are up to date and educate yourself about cyber threats.

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