Articles tagged with: financial advisor

The End of File & Suspend for Married Couples

A great claiming strategy to try & optimize Social Security benefits disappears.

Congress just changed the Social Security benefit rules. On October 30, Capitol Hill lawmakers approved a two-year federal budget deal. As part of that agreement, they authorized the most significant change to Social Security policy seen in this century, disallowing two popular strategies people have used to try and maximize retirement benefits.1

The file-and-suspend claiming strategy will soon be eliminated for married couples. It will be phased out within six months after the budget bill is signed into law by President Obama. The restricted application claiming tactic that has been so useful for divorcees will also sunset.2

This is aggravating news for people who have structured their retirement plans – and the very timing of their retirements – around these strategies.

Until the phase-out period ends, couples can still file and suspend. The bottom line here is simply stated: if you have reached full retirement age (FRA) or will reach FRA in the next six months, your chance to file and suspend for full spousal benefits disappears in Spring of 2016.3

Spouses and children who currently get Social Security benefits based on the work record of a husband, wife, or parent who filed-and-suspended will still be able to receive those benefits.3

How exactly did the new federal budget deal get rid of these two claiming strategies? It made substantial revisions to Social Security’s rulebook.

One, “deemed filing” will only be allowed after an individual’s full retirement age. Previously, it only applied before a person reached FRA. That effectively removes the restricted application claiming strategy, in which an individual could file for spousal benefits only at FRA while their own retirement benefit kept increasing.2

The restricted application claiming strategy will not disappear for everyone, however, because the language of the budget bill allows some seniors grandfather rights. Individuals who will be 62 or older as of December 31, 2015 will still have the option to file a restricted application for spousal benefits when they reach Full Retirement Age (FRA) during the next four years.2

Widows and widowers can breathe a sigh of relief here, because deemed filing has no bearing on Social Security survivor benefits. A widowed person may still file a restricted application for survivor benefits while their own benefit accumulates delayed retirement credits.2

Two, the file-and-suspend option will soon only apply for individuals. A person will still be allowed to file for Social Security benefits and voluntarily suspend them to amass delayed retirement credits until age 70. This was actually the original definition of file-and-suspend.2

Married couples commonly use the file-and-suspend approach like so: the higher-earning spouse files for Social Security benefits at FRA, then suspends them, allowing the lower-earning spouse to take spousal benefits at his or her FRA while the higher-earning spouse stays in the workforce until 70. When the higher-earning spouse turns 70, he/she claims Social Security benefits made larger by delayed retirement credits while the other spouse trades spousal benefits for his/her own retirement benefits.4

No more. The new law says that beginning six months from now, no one may receive benefits based on anyone else’s work history while their own benefits are suspended. In addition, no one may “unsuspend” their suspended Social Security benefits to get a lump sum payment.2

To some lawmakers, file-and-suspend amounted to exploiting a loophole. Retirees disagreed, and a kind of cottage industry evolved around the strategy with articles, books, and seminars showing seniors how to generate larger retirement benefits. It was too good to last, perhaps. The White House has wanted to end the file-and-suspend option since 2014, when even Alicia Munnell, the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, wrote that “eliminating this option is an easy call … when to claim Social Security shouldn’t be a question of gamesmanship for those with the resources to figure out clever claiming strategies.”4

Gamesmanship or not, the employment of those strategies could make a significant financial difference for spouses. Lawrence Kotlikoff, the economist and PBS NewsHour columnist who has been a huge advocate of file-and-suspend, estimates that their absence could cause a middle-class retired couple to leave as much as $70,000 in Social Security income on the table.3

What should you do now? If you have been counting on using file-and-suspend or a restricted application strategy, it is time to review and maybe even reassess your retirement plan. Talk with a financial professional to discern how this affects your retirement planning picture.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com.

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/258629-senate-approves-budget-deal-in-overnight-vote [10/30/15]

2 – marketwatch.com/story/key-social-security-strategies-hit-by-budget-deal-2015-10-30 [11/2/15]

3 – pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/column-congress-pulling-rug-peoples-retirement-decisions/ [11/1/15]

4 – slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2015/10/budget_deal_closed_social_security_loophole_known_as_file_and_suspend.html [10/30/15]

Using CRUTs & CRATs to Sell Your Business Interest

These estate planning tools may also help in exit planning.

Discover a pair of underappreciated exit planning vehicles. Charitable remainder unit trusts (CRUTs) and charitable remainder annuity trusts (CRATs) are commonly seen as estate planning tools. What frequently goes unseen is their value in exit planning for business owners.

Does it look like you will sell your company to a third party? Do your “second act” or “third act” goals include financial independence, philanthropy and leaving significant wealth for your heirs? If you find yourself answering “yes” to these questions, a CRUT or CRAT may help you address those objectives and potentially enhance your outcome.

CRUTs & CRATs are variations of charitable remainder trusts (CRTs). A CRT is an irrevocable tax-exempt trust that you can fund with highly appreciated C corporation stock (or optionally, other types of highly appreciated assets). Since CRTs are irrevocable, they are difficult to undo.

How do you sell your ownership interest through a CRUT or CRAT? As the trust creator (or grantor), you donate said C corp stock to the CRUT or CRAT. Because the trust is tax-exempt, it can sell those highly appreciated C corp shares without triggering immediate capital gains tax.1

The CRUT or CRAT sells your ownership shares to the outside buyer of your company, and it becomes your tax-exempt retirement fund. It invests the cash realized from the sale of your ownership shares in either fixed-income or growth securities; it provides you with recurring payments out of the trust principal, which occur for X number of years or for the duration of your life (or even longer). Payout is mostly fixed – once determined, the percentage of the trust which the annuity is tied cannot be changed and you cannot access the principal. The payments can even go to people other than yourself – they can optionally go to your parents, they could go to your grandkids.1,2

You are offered another tax break as well. You can take a one-time charitable income tax deduction for the value of the donation used to fund the trust (i.e., a tax deduction applicable in the current tax year). This demands an appraisal of the highly appreciated assets being donated to the CRUT or CRAT, obviously. The deduction amount also depends on calculations using IRS life expectancy tables, the term of the trust, interest rates, and payout schedules and amounts.1,3

On one level, a CRUT or CRAT is an agreement you make with the IRS. In exchange for all these tax perks, you agree to give 10% or more of the initial value of the CRUT or CRAT to a qualified charity or non-profit organization. Many CRUT or CRAT grantors intend to leave no more than that to charity.2

When the grantor passes away, a last tax break occurs. While 100% of the trust assets now become part of his or her taxable estate, the estate may take a deduction for the remainder interest that goes to the qualified charity or non-profit.3

Some CRUT and CRAT grantors strategize to offset the eventual gifting of 10% (or more) of trust assets. They have the beneficiaries of the CRUT or CRAT fund an irrevocable life insurance trust (ILIT). When the grantor passes away, they receive insurance proceeds sufficient to replace the “lost” wealth. Since the ILIT owns the life insurance policy, the life insurance payout isn’t included in the taxable estate of the deceased and it isn’t subject to transfer taxes.3

What’s the fundamental difference between a CRUT & a CRAT? The difference concerns the recurring payments out of the trust to the grantor. In a CRUT, those payments represent a percentage of the fair market value of the principal of the trust (and that principal is revalued annually). There is investment risk involved in CRUTs. Should the value of the underlying investment go down significantly, your annuity income can go down as well. In a CRAT, they represent a fixed percentage of the initial value of the principal.1

Older business owners may find the CRAT is a more appealing choice, while younger business owners may be more attracted to the CRUT. Yearly distributions from a CRUT must amount to at least 5% and no more than 50% of the trust principal revalued annually. Yearly distributions from a CRAT must come to at least 5% but no more than 50% of the initial value of the donated assets.1,3

Can an owner fund a CRUT or CRAT with S corp shares? No. A charitable remainder trust can’t serve as a shareholder in an S corp, so if you donate S corp stock to a CRT, there goes your S corp status. It should also be noted that C corp stock subject to recourse debt can’t go into a CRT.1

Are you interested in learning more? Establishing a trust can be complicated. It is important to talk to a legal, financial, or tax professional about the potential of CRUTs and CRATs. What you learn may lead you toward a better outcome for your business.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph. 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com.

Website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – arne-co.com/selling-business-using-crt/ [11/18/14]

2 – forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2013/08/14/charitable-shelter-how-cruts-cut-capital-gains-tax/ [8/14/13]

3 – bbt.com/bbtdotcom/wealth/retirement-and-planning/trusts-and-estates/charitable-remainder-trusts.page [11/18/14]

 

 

 

Keeping Holiday Spending Under Control

What little steps can you take to keep from getting carried away?

You’ve seen the footage on the news. You’ve been in the middle of it. You’ve stood in the vexing lines. You’ve circled for the elusive parking spots. Holiday shopping can be downright frenzied – and impulsive.

You don’t necessarily need to go to the mall to feel the pressure and the urges – a half-hour with your laptop or tablet can put you in the same frame of mind.

But how do you keep your spending under control, whether in a brick and mortar store or at home? Here are some tips.

Make a plan. Most people do their holiday shopping without one. Set a dollar limit that you can spend per week – and try to spend less than that. As you plan your financial life – and check on your plan every few days – you may feel a little less stressed this holiday season. In fact, you might want to make two budgets – one for shopping, the other for entertaining.

Recognize the hidden costs. Holiday shopping isn’t just a matter of price tags. When you don’t visit brick-and-mortar retailers, you don’t eat at the food court or coffee shop and you don’t spend money for gas. Carpooling to the mall or taking public transit can help you save some cash.

On the other hand, when you shop online, there’s always shipping to consider. It can make what is seemingly a bargain less so. Free or discounted shipping feels like you’re getting a gift.  Online retailers can also be very finicky about returns. Miss a deadline to return something to an online retailer (who hasn’t?) and you may end up paying sizable return fees or just getting stuck with what you purchased.

Counteract those holiday expenses elsewhere in your budget. Maybe you spent a couple hundred more than you anticipated on that flat-screen. To offset that extra spending, pinpoint some areas where you can save elsewhere in your budget. Could you find cheaper auto insurance? Could you eat in more this month? Could you drive less or cancel that gym membership or premium cable subscription?

If you do go overboard, strategize to attack that excess debt. You may want to pay off the smallest debt first, then the next smallest and so forth onto the largest. That’s the debt snowball approach advocated by Dave Ramsey. Or you may want to take the debt stacking approach favored by Suze Orman, whereby you pay down the debt with the highest interest rate first, then the one with the second highest interest rate, and so on.

With the latter method, you can potentially realize greater savings on interest charges, but you lose the accomplishment of quickly erasing a debt. In the debt snowball strategy, you make minimum payments on all your debts (just as in the debt stacking approach), but you devote all your extra cash to the debt with the smallest balance. The upside there is the psychological high of (quickly) paying off a debt; the downside is the lingering, larger interest charges that come with the larger debts.

If you aren’t vigilant, the holiday season could leave you with a “debt hangover,” or contribute to a severe debt load you may be burdened with. According to the Federal Reserve, the average indebted U.S. household suffered with $15,593 in credit card debt in August. That was a 2.36% increase from a year before.1

If you feel like indulging yourself, indulge sensibly. Some people do give themselves holiday gifts, and the same logic applies – whether it is a meal, a motorcycle, or a spa package, don’t break the bank with it.

Lastly, think about setting aside some “holiday money” for 2015. If your finances allow, how about putting $100 or $200 aside for next season? Invested in interest-bearing accounts (or elsewhere), that sum could even grow larger.

Michael Moffitt may be reached at ph. 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com

website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor.  Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-card-data/average-credit-card-debt-household/ [11/26/14]

Mike’s Chili

Here’s a special recipe from Mike Moffitt himself to help ward off this cold weather.  Prepare for your family and friends, then enjoy!

1 can red kidney beans                           1 large baked, peeled & diced potato
1 can red beans                                      ¼ tsp. garlic
1 can chili beans                                     2 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 ½ lbs. hamburger (browned/drained)  1 large can tomato sauce
1 can tomato soup                                  ¼ tsp. MSG
1 can vegetable soup                             ¼ tsp. dry mustard
2 T. chili powder                                     1/3 C. ketchup
1 bay leaf                                               1 T. lemon juice
1 T. salt                                                  1/3 C. brown sugar
1 C. onion (chopped)                             1 C. (or more) water

Blend all ingredients in a Dutch oven and simmer several hours. (You can also substitute macaroni in place of the potato.)

IRS Raises Retirement Plan Contribution Limits

Roth & traditional IRAs won’t get 2015 COLAs, but other plans will.

A little inflation means a little adjustment. As the Consumer Price Index is up 1.7% over the last 12 months, the federal government is giving Social Security benefits a 1.7% boost for 2015 and lifting annual contribution limits on key pension plans as well.1

401(k), 403(b), 457 & TSP annual contribution limits increase by $500. You will be able to defer up to $18,000 into these plans in 2015. The catch-up contribution limit will also rise by $500 to $6,000 next year, so if you are 50 or older in 2015 you are eligible to contribute up to $24,000 to these retirement savings vehicles. (The above adjustments do not apply to all 457 plans.)2

SIMPLE IRAs get a similar COLA. Their base contribution and catch-up contribution limits also go up $500 for 2015. The limit for the base contribution will be $12,500 next year, and the catch-up limit rises to $3,000.3

Limits also rise for SEP-IRAs and Solo(k)s. Small business owners will want to take note of the new maximum deferral amount of $53,000 for 2015, a $1,000 increase. As for the compensation limit factored into the savings calculation, that limit will be $265,000 next year, $5,000 more than the 2014 limit. A side note: the threshold for an employee to be included in a SEP plan goes up $50 to $600 next year (i.e., that worker has to receive $550 or more in compensation from your business in 2015).2,3

Take note of the slightly higher phase-out range for Roth IRA contributions. Next year, you won’t be able to make a Roth IRA contribution if your AGI exceeds $193,000 as a married couple filing jointly, or $131,000 should you be a single filer or head of household. Those figures are $2,000 above the 2014 eligibility thresholds. Joint filers with AGI of $183,001-193,000 and singles and heads of household with AGI of $116,001-131,000 will be able to make a partial rather than full Roth IRA contribution next year.3     

Phase-out ranges on the deduction of regular IRA contributions have also been altered. Here are the 2015 adjustments to these thresholds (this gets pretty involved). If you are a single filer or file as a head of household and you contribute to a traditional IRA and you are also covered by a workplace retirement plan, the AGI phase-out range for you is $1,000 higher next year ($61,001-71,000). If you file jointly and contribute to a traditional IRA and are also covered by a workplace retirement plan, the AGI phase-out range is $98,001-118,000. Above the high end of those phase-out ranges, you can’t claim a deduction for traditional IRA contributions.2

If you contribute to a traditional IRA and your employer doesn’t sponsor a retirement plan, yet your spouse contributes to a workplace retirement plan, the AGI phase-out on deductions of traditional IRA contributions strikes when your combined AGI ranges from $183,001-193,000.2

And if you are married, filing separately and covered by a workplace retirement plan, the phase-out range on deductions of traditional IRA contributions is $0-$10,000 (this never receives a COLA).2,3

AGI limits for the Saver’s Credit increase. Americans saving for retirement on modest incomes will be eligible for the credit next year if their AGI falls underneath certain thresholds: single filers and marrieds filing separately, adjusted gross income of $30,500 or less; heads of household, AGI of $45,750 or less; joint filers, $61,000 or less.3

Contribution limits for profit-sharing plans rise as per limits for 401(k)s. A participant in such a plan is looking at a 2015 elective deferral limit of $18,000 ($24,000 if s

Mike Moffitt may be reached at phone# 641-782-5577 or mikem@cfgiowa.com or website:  www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC.  Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor.  Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – tinyurl.com/lxbv6rq [10/21/14]

2 – irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Announces-2015-Pension-Plan-Limitations;-Taxpayers-May-Contribute-up-to-$18,000-to-their-401%28k%29-plans-in-2015 [10/23/14]

3 – forbes.com/sites/ashleaebeling/2014/10/23/irs-announces-2015-retirement-plan-contribution-limits-for-401ks-and-more/ [10/23/14]

4 – irs.gov/Retirement-Plans/COLA-Increases-for-Dollar-Limitations-on-Benefits-and-Contributions [10/23/14]

he or he is old enough to make catch-up contributions). The yearly compensation limit on such plans will be $5,000 higher in 2015 at $265,000.4

 

Fall Financial Reminders

The year is coming to a close. Have you thought about these financial ideas yet?

As every calendar year ends, the window slowly closes on a set of financial opportunities. Here are several you might want to explore before 2015 arrives.

Don’t forget that IRA RMD. If you own one or more traditional IRAs, you have to take your annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from one or more of those IRAs by December 31. If you are being asked to take your very first RMD, you actually have until April 15, 2015 to take it – but your 2015 income taxes may be substantially greater as a result. (Note: original owners of Roth IRAs never have to take RMDs from those accounts.)1

Did you recently inherit an IRA? If you have and you weren’t married to the person who started that IRA, you must take the first RMD from that IRA by December 31 of the year after the death of that original IRA owner. You have to do it whether the account is a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA.1

Here’s another thing you might want to do with that newly inherited IRA before New Year’s Eve, though: you might want to divide it into multiple inherited IRAs, thereby promoting a lengthier payout schedule for younger inheritors of those assets. Otherwise, any co-beneficiaries receive distributions per the life expectancy of the oldest beneficiary. If you want to make this move, it must be done by the end of the year that follows the year in which the original IRA owner died.1

Can you max out your contribution to your workplace retirement plan? Your employer likely sponsors a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, and you have until December 31 to boost your 2014 contribution. This year, the contribution limit on both plans is $17,500 for those under 50, $23,000 for those 50 and older.2,3

Can you do the same with your IRA? Again, December 31 is your deadline for tax year 2014. This year, the traditional and Roth IRA contribution limit is $5,500 for those under 50, $6,500 for those 50 and older. High earners may face a lower Roth IRA contribution ceiling per their adjusted gross income level – above $129,000 AGI, an individual filing as single or head of household can’t make a Roth contribution for 2014, and neither can joint filers with AGI exceeding $191,000.3

Ever looked into a Solo(k) or a SEP plan? If you have income from self-employment, you can save for the future using a self-directed retirement plan, such as a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) plan or a one-person 401(k), the so-called Solo(k). You don’t have to be exclusively self-employed to set one of these up – you can work full-time for someone else and contribute to one of these while also deferring some of your salary into the retirement plan sponsored by your employer.2

Contributions to SEPs and Solo(k)s are tax-deductible. December 31 is the deadline to set one up for 2014, and if you meet that deadline, you can make your contributions for 2014 as late as April 15, 2015 (or October 15, 2015 with a federal extension). You can contribute up to $52,000 to SEP for 2014, $57,500 if you are 50 or older. For a Solo(k), the same limits apply but they break down to $17,500 + up to 20% of your net self-employment income and $23,000 + 20% net self-employment income if you are 50 or older. If you contribute to a 401(k) at work, the sum of your employee salary deferrals plus your Solo(k) contributions can’t be greater than the aforementioned $17,500/$23,000 limits – but even so, you can still pour up to 20% of your net self-employment income into a Solo(k).1,2

Do you need to file IRS Form 706? A sad occasion leads to this – the death of a spouse. Form 706, which should be filed no later than nine months after his or her passing, notifies the IRS that some or all of a decedent’s estate tax exemption is being carried over to the surviving spouse per the portability allowance. If your spouse passed in 2011, 2012, or 2013, the IRS is allowing you until December 31, 2014 to file the pertinent Form 706, which will transfer that estate planning portability to your estate if your spouse was a U.S. citizen or resident.1

Are you feeling generous? You may want to donate appreciated securities to charity before the year ends (you may take a deduction amounting to their current market value at the time of the donation, and you can use it to counterbalance up to 30% of your AGI). Or, you may want to gift a child, relative or friend and take advantage of the annual gift tax exclusion. An individual can gift up to $14,000 this year to as many other individuals as he or she desires; a couple may jointly gift up to $28,000 to as many individuals as you wish. Whether you choose to gift singly or jointly, you’ve probably got a long way to go before using up the current $5.34 million/$10.68 million lifetime exemption. Wealthy grandparents often fund 529 plans this way, so it is worth noting that December 31 is the 529 funding deadline for the 2014 tax year.1

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# (641) 782-5577 or mikem@cfgiowa.com.
website: www.cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.
1 – forbes.com/sites/deborahljacobs/2014/10/08/eight-key-financial-deadlines-to-keep-in-mind-this-fall/ [10/8/14]
2 – tinyurl.com/kjzzbw4 [10/9/14]
3 – irs.gov/uac/IRS-Announces-2014-Pension-Plan-Limitations;-Taxpayers-May-Contribute-up-to-$17,500-to-their-401%28k%29-plans-in-2014 [10/31/13]

Pullback Perspective

This latest stock market pullback has provided an unwelcome reminder that stocks do not always go up in a straight line. Even within powerful bull markets such as this one, pullbacks of 5 – 10% have been quite common and do not mean the bull market is nearing an end. In this week’s commentary, we attempt to put the pullback into perspective. We look beyond this latest bout of volatility and share our thoughts on the current bull market, compare it with prior bull markets at this stage, and discuss why we do not think it’s coming to an end.

Pullbacks Don’t Mean the End of the Bull Market

Pullbacks such as this one, which has reached 5%, have been normal. Sometimes stocks get ahead of themselves. When they do, investor concerns can be magnified and profit taking might take stocks down more than might be justified by the fundamental news. We see this latest pullback as normal within the context of an ongoing and powerful bull market and do not see its causes (European and Chinese growth concerns, the rise of Islamic State militants, Ebola, the Russia-Ukraine conflict, etc.) as justifying something much bigger.

The S&P 500 has now experienced 19 pullbacks during this 5.5-year-old bull market, during which the index has risen by 182% (cumulative return of 217% including dividends). The 1990s bull market included 13 pullbacks; there were 12 during the 2002 – 2007 bull market. At an average of three to four pullbacks per year, we are in-line with history. We understand the nervousness out there, but what we have just experienced looks pretty normal at this point.

When volatility has been so low for so long, normal volatility does not feel normal. Investors have become unaccustomed to what we would characterize as normal volatility. While most of the 5% drop came in a short period of time last week (October 6 –10), the level of volatility experienced last week is not at all uncommon within an ongoing economic expansion and bull market. Volatility tends to pick up as the business cycle passes its midpoint, which we believe it has. Reaching this stage just took longer than many had expected during the current cycle.

Also, keep in mind that the 335 drop in the Dow Jones Industrials that we experienced on Thursday, October 9, 2014, is not as dramatic as it once was. That loss was less than 2%, with the Dow near 17,000 when it occurred, compared with 3 – 4% losses associated with that number of points on the Dow earlier in the recovery.

These pullbacks do not mean the end of the bull market is near, nor does the fact that we have not had a 10% or more correction since 2011. In fact, most bull markets since World War II included only one correction of 10% or more, and the current bull has already had two (2010 and 2011). We do not believe the current economic and financial market backdrop has sufficiently deteriorated for the pullback to turn into a bear market, as we discuss below.

Why This Pullback Is Unlikely to Get Much Worse

So why do we think this pullback is unlikely to turn into a bear market? There are number of reasons:

• The economic backdrop in the United States remains healthy. Gross domestic product (GDP) is growing at above its long-term average, providing support for continued earnings growth; the U.S. labor market has created 2 million jobs over the past year; and the drop in oil prices may support stronger consumer spending.
• Our favorite leading indicators, including the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI), the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Index, and the yield curve, suggest that the bull market may likely continue into 2015 and beyond, with a recession unlikely on the immediate horizon.
• The European Central Bank (ECB) is likely to add a dose of monetary stimulus to spark growth in Europe, the source of much of the global growth fears that have driven recent stock market weakness. China stands ready to invigorate its economy as well.
• Interest rates, and therefore borrowing costs for corporations, remain low. The Federal Reserve (Fed) is in no hurry to raise interest rates.
• Valuations have become more attractive. Price-to-earnings ratios (PE) have not reached levels that suggest the end of the bull market is forthcoming, based on history. We view PEs, which have fallen about 0.5 points from their recent peak, as reasonable given growing earnings and low interest rates.
• The S&P 500 is marginally above its 200-day moving average at 1905. Historically, this level has proven to be strong support. Although the index may dip slightly below this level in the near term, we expect the range around that level (1900 – 1910) to provide strong support for the index again and would not expect it to stay below that range for very long.

Bull Markets Don’t Die of Old Age

The current bull market is one of the most powerful ever at this stage, just over 5.5 years in. Since March 9, 2009, when the current bull market began, the S&P 500 has risen 182% (total cumulative return of 217%), topping all other bull markets since World War II at this stage. The 1949 and 1982 bull markets were close, with gains of 170% and 163% (respectively) at this stage, but were not quite as strong.

So does that mean that this bull market is too old and should end? We don’t think so. Bull markets die of excesses, not old age, and we do not see the excesses that characterize an impending bear market. The labor markets are not strong enough yet to generate significant upward pressure on wages to drive inflation. U.S. factories have excess capacity. As a result, the Fed is unlikely to start hiking interest rates until the middle of 2015, and rate hikes are likely to be gradual. It will likely take numerous hikes to slow the U.S. economy enough to tip it into recession (and invert the yield curve), which is unlikely to come until at least 2016. We do not see stock valuations or broad investor sentiment as excessive. We expect this bull market to complete its sixth year in March 2015 and believe there is a strong likelihood that it continues well beyond that date.

Conclusion
We do not believe the volatility seen in recent weeks, which is in-line with historical trends, is an early signal of a recession or bear market. Nor do we think the age of this bull market means it should end, given the favorable economic backdrop, central bank support, and reasonable valuations. Although we will continue to watch our favorite leading indicators for warning signs of something bigger, we think this latest bout of volatility is nothing more than a normal, though unwelcome, interruption within a long-term bull market. We maintain our positive outlook for stocks for the remainder of 2014 and into 2015.

Mike Moffit may be reached at phone# 641-782-5577 or email: mikem@cfgiowa.com
Website: cfgiowa.com

Michael Moffitt is a Registered Representative with and Securities are offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investments advice offered through Advantage Investment Management (AIM), a registered investment advisor. Cornerstone Financial Group and AIM are separate entities from LPL Financial.

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURES
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing. All performance reference is historical and is no guarantee of future results. The economic forecasts set forth in the presentation may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.
Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal. Price-to-earnings ratio is a valuation ratio of a company’s current share price compared to its per-share earnings.
INDEX DESCRIPTIONS
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index is a capitalization-weighted index of 500 stocks designed to measure
performance of the broad domestic economy through changes in the aggregate market value of 500 stocks representing all major industries.