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DWM is committed to learning for its team, clients and friends. In this changing world, it’s extremely important to stay current in all areas impacting your financial future.

We encourage all of team members to “drill down” on current topics important to you and contribute to our weekly blogs.  Questions from our clients and their families are often featured in our blogs.  

Financial literacy for clients and their families is very important to us.  We generally hold an annual wealth management seminar for all of our clients.  We encourage regular, at least semi-annual, meetings in person with our clients to review family updates, progress on financial goals, asset allocation and performance of investments.  We’re happy to assist younger members of the family as part of our total wealth management program.

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The Life Insurance Puzzle

Written by Ginny Wilson.

puzzle.jpg

We read an article last month in Investment News that suggests that life insurance should not be used as a savings vehicle. As you might imagine, there was some uproar among the life insurance industry readers that heartily disagreed with the premise of the “Guestblog” by Blair Duquesnay.   Ms. Duquesnay believes that there are certainly appropriate purposes for life insurance, but saving for retirement is not one of them. She stated in a follow-up that “life insurance is an instrument of protection, not accumulation.” We wanted to look a little closer into this to understand both sides of the argument.

First, let’s start with some of the universally acceptable reasons for having a life insurance policy. As Ms. Duquesnay says, life insurance should be purchased, in general, “because there will be a financial impact” on a business or family if someone dies. Certainly, protecting our loved ones or business partners is prudent and responsible. If something happens to you, you might want to provide a benefit for regular or special spending needs, potential increased child care costs, a mortgage payoff or other debt relief. Similarly, a death benefit might help cover college costs or provide a lifetime of comfortable support to our dependents. Some policies can be used for estate planning, long-term care or asset protection. It is also true that, in general, the need for a life insurance death benefit may decline over time, as your life circumstances change.

Let’s talk about the different types of life insurance:

1.Term Life, or annually renewable life insurance, offers an affordable premium to buy a particular level of insurance for a specific period of time. Maybe you use it, maybe you won’t and maybe you keep it going, maybe you don’t, but, either way, at the end of the term, the policy expires and, generally, there is no longer a need to have it. There is no additional value to the policy beyond the safety net of the death benefit.

2.Whole Life is the most common form of permanent life insurance, which means the benefit coverages will be around for your lifetime, as long as you pay the premiums. There are two parts to it – an investment portion (cash value) and an insurance portion (face value or death benefit). Premiums are fixed and are considerably higher than term policies, with high mortality charges for keeping the guaranteed death benefit. These products are designed to stay in force for your lifetime and come with steep surrender charges if you terminate the policy early. There are also substantial up-front commissions and fees for investing part of your premiums in a tax-deferred account. You can access your cash value by taking a loan out with the insurance company against the account value in the policy and they will charge you interest. If you stop paying the premiums, you may be able to switch to a paid-up policy that will be worth the existing cash value, but in general, these products are expensive to keep in place.

3. Universal Life is designed to also be a permanent insurance policy, but is considered adjustable because the policy offers the flexibility of changing premium amounts and having a fixed or increasing death benefit. If you need to stop paying or reduce premiums, your accumulated cash value can be used to keep the policy from lapsing. Once the policy value goes to zero, the policy and death benefit lapse forever. There can be steep surrender charges if terminating or withdrawing from your account, which will reduce any accumulated cash value. Like Whole life policies, your premium pays a portion to a high-interest cash value account and a portion for a death benefit. The growth is dependent on the performance in the accounts, on investment earnings (or losses) and on the amount of your premium contributions. The flexibility can be beneficial, but the policy value can deteriorate and lapse and the fees and costs are much higher than a term policy.

4. Variable Life – these are policies built like Universal life contracts (there are also hybrid Variable Universal Life policies, just to make it more confusing), but the investments are kept in managed mutual fund sub accounts with investments selected from a menu. This gives the policy holder more investment choice (and risk) for the cash value account in the policy. However, like Universal life, the same risk applies - the accumulation is dependent on the amount paid with your premium and the performance of the investments in the cash value account. The flexibility might be attractive, but it also increases the risk to the policy. Again, once the policy value goes to zero, the policy and death benefit lapse forever.

There are more insurance products and deeper complexities to the above definitions, but this is a basic outline of some of the life insurance choices. As you can see, the “permanent” life insurance policies and their saving (or investment) option can be costly and will allow for less flexibility in the growth of your investment savings than using standard investment accounts not tied to insurance. We generally find that the expensive fees, commissions and surrender charges keep us from recommending these products as a saving vehicle. “Buy term and invest the rest” is the motto of most fee-only advisors. The insurance industry is always working to improve these products and find the sweet spot for combining protection with accumulation. We certainly agree that there may be appropriate circumstances for using the more complex insurance products. At DWM, we don’t sell any of these insurance products, but we are happy to review your current policies or insurance needs to help you find the sweet spot for you and your family!

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DWM 3Q18 Market Commentary

Written by Brett Detterbeck.

Money on the Table

Get yourself fit! A diversified portfolio is like a well-balanced diet. You need all major asset classes/food groups for proper nutrition. Think of the major asset classes (equities, fixed income, alts) as your protein, carbs, and fats. If you were to load up in one particular area (e.g. carb loading), you might feel better in the short-term, but it could seriously affect your health in the long-term. And it’s the same way with investing: if you “overindulged” in any one particular area for too long; you are bound to get ill at some point. Which is a good segway for this quarter’s market commentary. Yes, US stocks – those in the large cap growth area in particular - ended the third quarter near records, but now is not the time to be one-dimensional.

But, before we dive into a proper nutritional program, let’s see how the major asset classes fared in 3q18:

Equities: Let’s start with the spicy lasagna…the S&P500, the hot index right now, which climbed 7.7% in the quarter and up 10.6% for the calendar year. However, most don’t realize that just three companies (Apple, Amazon, & Microsoft) make up one-quarter of those year-to-date (“YTD”) gains. Besides these outliers, returns in general for equities are more muted as represented by the MSCI AC World Index registering a 3.9% 3q18 & 3.65% YTD return. Emerging Markets* continue to be the cold broccoli, down 1.1% for the quarter and now -7.7% for the year. In other words, even though the headlines – which like to focus on domestic big-cap stocks, like the ones in the S&P500 and Dow – are flashing big numbers; in reality, the disparity amongst equity benchmark returns is huge this year with some areas up sizably and some areas down sizably.

Fixed Income: The Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, was basically unchanged for the quarter and down 1.6% YTD. The Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index fell 0.9% and now down 2.4% YTD. Pretty unappetizing. The shorter duration, i.e. the weighted average of the times until the fixed cash flows within your bond portfolio are received, the better your return. It’s a challenging environment when interest rates go up, but the Fed continues to do so in a gradual and transparent manner. Last week, the Fed raised its benchmark federal-funds rate to a range between 2% and 2.25%. We could see another four rate hikes, one for each Fed quarterly meeting, before they stop/pause for a while.

Alternatives: The Credit Suisse Liquid Alternative Beta Index, our chosen proxy for alternatives, increased +0.7% for the quarter and now off only 1.2% for the year. Alts come in many different shapes and forms so we’ll highlight just a few here. Gold** continued to drop, down 4.9% for qtr and now off 8.6% for year. Oil*** continues to rise, up 4.7% 3q18 & 27.5% YTD. MLPs**** jumped 6.4% on the quarter and now +5.0% for 2018. Whereas alts have not been “zesty” as of late, think of them like your morning yogurt: a great source of probiotics, a friendly bacteria that can improve your health when other harmful bacteria emerge.

So after a decent 3q18 for most investors, where do we go from here and what should be part of one's nutritional program?

Let’s first talk about the economy. It’s been on a buttery roll as of late. The Tax Cut & Jobs Act of 2017 has created a current environment for US companies that has rarely been more scrumptious, as evidenced by earnings per share growth of 27% year-over-year (“YOY”). Unemployment clicked in at last measure at 3.9% and most likely will continue to drop in the near future. With the economy this strong, many may find it surprising to see the lack in wage growth and inflation. Wages are only up 2.8% and core inflation is up only up 2.0% YOY. Wages are staying under control as the Baby Boomers and their higher salaries exit the work field, replaced by lower-salaried Millennials and Gen Z. Part of the lack of inflation growth is because of the internet/technology that gives so much information to the Buyer at the tip of their fingers, keeping a lid on prices. Trade talk/tariffs, have been a big headliner as of late creating a lot of volatility; but that story only seems to be improving with the revised NAFTA taking shape with Mexico and Canada. Some type of agreement with China could be on the near horizon too.

This is all delectable news, but the tax stimulus effect will peak in mid-2019 and companies will have to perform almost perfectly to remain at their current record profit margin levels. With earnings a major component of valuation, any knock to them could affect stock prices. Further, the S&P500 is now trading at a forward PE ratio of 16.8x, which is north of its 16.1x 25-year average. This is not the case in other areas of the world – Europe, Japan, Emerging Markets - where valuations are actually lower than averages. If you haven’t done so already, time to put those on your menu.

It’s not only a good diet you want for your portfolio; you also want to make sure of proper fitness/maintenance, i.e. rebalancing back to established long-term asset allocation mix targets. Time to bank some of those equity gains and reinvest those into the undervalued areas if you haven’t already done so recently. Regular portfolio rebalancing helps reduce downside investment risk and instills discipline so that investors avoid “buying high” and “selling low”, a savory way to keeping you and your portfolio healthy.

In conclusion, we are in interesting times. The economy is peppery-hot, but incapable of keeping this pace. A slowdown is inevitable. The question is two-fold: how big will that slow-down be, and are you prepared for it? Now is the time to revisit your risk tolerance and compare that to how much risk is in your current portfolio. That spicy lasagna, aka the S&P500, has been a delicious meal as of late, but don’t let too much of it ruin your diet. Make sure your portfolio is diversified in a well-balanced manner. Stay healthy and in good shape by working with a wealth manager like DWM who can keep your portfolio as fit as a triathlete.

Brett M. Detterbeck, CFA, CFP®

DETTERBECK WEALTH MANAGEMENT

 

*represented by the MSCI Emerging Markets Index

**represented by the iShares Gold Trust

***represented by the Morningstar Brent Crude Commodity ER USD

****represented by the UBS AG London BRH ETracs Alerian MLP ETF

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The Financial Crisis: 10 Years Later

Written by Lester Detterbeck.

 

financial crisis 10 yrs later

 

On September 15, 2008, Lehman Brothers imploded; filing a $691 billion bankruptcy that sent stock markets into a deep dive of 40% or more. The global financial crisis ultimately would destroy trillions of dollars in wealth- $70,000 for every single American. The deep financial trough produced the Great Recession.

Now, 10 years later, how are we doing and what lessons have we learned?

How are we doing?

Official economic statistics would say that the American economy is fully recovered. We are in a 9+ year bull market with a cumulative total return of 350%. The total combined output of the American economy, known as our gross domestic product (“G.D.P.”) has risen 20% since the Lehman crisis. The unemployment rate is lower than it was before the financial crisis. These key measurements, now a century old tradition, however, don’t tell the whole story. The official numbers are accurate, but not that meaningful.

For many Americans, the financial crisis of 2008-2009 isn’t over. It left millions of people-who were already just “getting by”- even more anxious and angry about their future. The issue is inequality. A small, affluent segment of the population receives the bulk of the economy’s harvest. It was true 10 years ago and is even more so today. So, while major statistics look good, they really don’t measure our country’s “human well-being.”

The stock market is now 60% higher than when the crisis began in 2007. While the top 10% of Americans own 84% of the stocks, the other 90% are much more dependent on their homes for their overall net worth. The net worth of the median (not the “average”) household is still 20% lower than it was in 2007, despite the record highs for the stock markets.

The unemployment rate, currently at 3.9%, does not take into account two major items. First, the number of idle working-age adults has swelled. Many of them would like to work, but they can’t find a decent job and have given up looking. Currently, 15% of men aged 25-54 are not working and not even looking; therefore, they are not considered “unemployed.” Second, many Americans are working at or near the federal minimum hourly wage- which has been $7.25 per hour since July 2009. Neither group is benefitting from low, low unemployment rates.

There is a movement to change these metrics to something more meaningful.   A team of economists, Messrs. Zucman, Saez and Piketty, have begun publishing a version of G.D.P. that separates out the share of national income flowing to rich, middle class and poor. At the same time, the Labor Department could modify the monthly jobs report to give more attention to other unemployment numbers. The Federal Reserve could publish quarterly estimates of household wealth by economic class. Such reports could change the way the country communicates about the economy. Economist and Nobel Laureate Simon Kuznets, who oversaw the first G.D.P. calculation in 1873, cautioned people not to confuse G.D.P. with “economic welfare.”

 

What lessons have we learned?

Mohammed A. El-Erian, the chief economic adviser at Allianz, the corporate parent of PIMCO, recently summarized, in the “Investment News,” some key lessons learned from the crisis.

Accomplishments:

  • A safer banking system due to strengthened capital buffers, more responsible approaches to balance sheets and better liquidity management
  • A more robust payment and settlement system to minimize the risk of “sudden stops” in counterpart payments
  • Smarter international cooperation including improved harmonization, stronger regulation and supervision and better monitoring

Still outstanding issues:

  • Long-term growth still relying on quick fixes rather than structural and secular components
  • Misaligned internal incentives encouraging some institutions who are still taking pockets of improper risk-taking
  • The big banks got bigger and the small got more complex through the gradual hollowing out of the medium-sized financial firms
  • Reduced policy flexibility in the event of a crisis because interest rates in most of the advanced world, outside of the U.S., are still near zero and world-wide debt is significantly higher than 10 years ago.

Yes, we’ve made some good progress in the last 10 years since the financial crisis. But, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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