Articles tagged with: Michael Moffitt

What Affects Oil Prices

While doing your holiday shopping this year, you may have noticed something strange going on. Suddenly, you had more money to spend than you did this time last year. A Christmas miracle? Perhaps, but more likely it’s due to the massive drop in oil prices.

Even if you didn’t do any shopping, you’ve probably noticed that prices at the pump are lower than they’ve been in years. Consumers all over the country are rejoicing in fact that filling up their care isn’t quite as emptying on their wallet. My clients have been no exception, but they’re also wondering, “Why?”

It’s a great question. Why exactly are oil prices falling? And what does it mean for the markets?

Read on to find out.

Oil prices 101

Contrary to popular belief, the price of oil isn’t set by any one man or entity. Oil prices are dictated by two things: the law of supply and demand, and by the expectation of future supply and demand. The former is fairly easy to understand. When the demand for oil is greater than the supply, the price rises. Conversely, when the supply of oil is greater than the demand for it, prices drop. This is partially what’s happening now. Partially.

You see, current supply and demand is not the only thing driving oil prices. As I mentioned, expected supply and demand plays a large role, too. In this case, when the expectation is that future demand will decrease, oil prices fall as a result.

Who sets these expectations? Speculators. A speculator is defined as:

“A person who trades derivatives, commodities, bonds, equities or currencies with a higher-than-average risk in return for a higher-than-average profit potential. Speculators take large risks, especially with respect to anticipating future price movements, in the hope of making quick, large gains.”1

Basically, speculators are a special breed of investors who try to project whether the value of a commodity will rise or fall in the future, then either buy or sell that commodity accordingly.

In this case, speculators felt earlier in the year that the demand for oil would drop for several reasons:

  • The continued economic weakness around the world means less people are traveling or commuting, meaning they are spending less on gasoline.
  • While oil is still the world’s primary fuel source, more people and businesses are turning to other forms of energy.
  • The supply of oil would remain stable or even increase.

This last point is important. Several of the various oil-exporting nations around the world could still take steps to raise prices if they wanted to.   How? By cutting back on their own production. (Remember, when supply goes down, demand goes up, thus raising prices.) But none of these nations are taking the bait. The two main players are Saudi Arabia and Russia. Saudi Arabia is the most influential member of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Saudi Arabia has refused to cut oil production despite the fact that the world’s supply far outpaces the demand for it. Why? Because if oil prices were to rise, it would benefit several of Saudi Arabia’s main competitors, especially the United States, Russia, and Iran, who all need higher prices to turn a profit. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, can survive on lower oil prices because of their massive cash reserves, and because extracting oil is far less costly for them. This means that lower oil prices harm their competitors while leaving them unscathed, allowing them to dominate more of the market.

Russia has also refused to cut production, despite the fact that falling prices is severely hurting their economy. (More on this in a moment.) Russia reasons that if they cut production, the countries they normally export to would increase their own production and have no need for Russian oil in the future.

So there you have it: a few reasons why oil prices have fallen so dramatically. But what does the future hold? And what does this all mean for the markets?

How Falling Oil Prices Affect the Markets

As you already know, falling oil prices means lower prices at the gas station. But oil prices aren’t the only thing dropping.

When the price of oil falls, it takes everything dependent on oil prices with it. Take Russia, for instance. Some economists estimate that Russia loses about $2 billon in revenue every time the price of oil drops by a dollar. That’s because the sale of oil and gas makes up 70% of its export income.2 This in turn affects the value of the ruble, Russia’s currency, which is veering on the edge of collapse. A falling ruble, meanwhile, hurts bonds and other positions investing in emerging markets, of which Russia is one.

Closer to home, falling oil prices makes life harder for energy companies and companies closely aligned with the energy industry. The result: falling stock prices, which leads to market volatility as a whole. The United States markets got a taste of this in early December. Oil shock hit Canada even harder, thanks to the sheer number of Canadian energy companies trading on the markets. In this global economy, economic stress in one region usually leads to a tremor in another. And one person’s good fortune can be another’s bad luck.

But Here’s the Good News

With that said, I believe the overall impact of falling oil prices is a positive one. Whether you’re at the pump or paying your monthly heating bill, the numbers have to make you smile.

For the most part, spending less money on energy consumption is a good thing! It’s good for consumers and it’s good for the overall economy. After all, less money spent on gas means more spent on other goods and services, thereby pumping additional money into other sectors of the economy. This creates a kind of “rising tide that lifts all boats” effect.

The volatility I mentioned earlier has largely subsided as investors get used to the idea of cheaper oil. Since then, the markets have been surging. As of this writing, the Dow has topped 18,000 for the first time in history, and the S&P 500 is trading at an all-time high as well.3 Investors are realizing that the money they aren’t spending on gas can be put to good use. Furthermore, the United States’ overall economy is looking healthier, having grown 5% in the third quarter.4 And the holiday season—the “Santa Claus” rally, as some call it—is almost always a wonderful time for the markets. The end of the year looks to be a good one.

Where Does Oil Go from Here?

It’s almost impossible to know for sure what oil prices will do in 2015. There are just too many factors in play—economic, environmental, and geopolitical. (Friendly tip: if you are ever looking for an effective sedative, just start reading crude oil forecast reports. Works like a charm.) That said, most of the estimates I’ve seen suggest prices will likely rise somewhat in 2015, but remain far below what they were in early 2014 when oil was selling for over $100 a barrel.5 That means cheaper oil for the immediate future. To celebrate, I want you to do two things for me:

  1. Enjoy cheap(er) gas for as long as it lasts! Maybe go on that road trip you’ve always wanted to take … just don’t forget to send me pictures!
  2. Remember that my team and I are always watching the markets—and your portfolio—carefully. If we see any major developments, we’ll certainly let you know.

Understanding the ins and outs of oil prices can be difficult even for those who do it for a living. I hope this made the situation a little clearer! But if you have any questions about this or any other topic, please don’t hesitate to let me know. I always enjoy hearing from you.

On behalf of all of us here at Cornerstone Financial Group, have a Happy New Year!

Mike Moffitt may be reached at 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.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results. All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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.

Bonds are subject to market and interest rate risk if sold prior to maturity. Bond values will decline as interest rates rise and bonds are subject to availability and change in price.

The fast price swings in commodities will result in significant volatility in an investor’s holdings.

Resources:

1 “Definition of Speculator”, Investopedia.com, accessed December 19, 2014.http://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/speculator.asp#axzz1qtKjMwIt

2 Tim Bowler, “Falling oil prices: Who are the winners and losers?” BBC, December 16, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-29643612

3 Jesse Solomon, “Dow hits 18,000 for first time ever,” CNN Money, December 23, 2014. http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/23/investing/stocks-markets-dow-18000/

4 Matt Egan, “US economy grows incredible 5%,” CNN Money, December 23, 2014. http://money.cnn.com/2014/12/23/news/economy/us-gdp-economy-5-percent-growth/

5 “Short-Term Energy Outlook,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, December 9, 2014. http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/steo/report/prices.cfm

 

 

 

 

More Irrational Exuberance?

Has unchecked optimism inflated asset values?

“Irrational exuberance.” That phrase – uttered by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan in 1996 and reputedly coined by economist Robert Shiller – has become part of the investment lexicon. Now and then, bears reference it – especially when the market turns red-hot.

Late last year, many Wall Street investment strategists thought the S&P 500 would advance about 5.8% in 2014. They were wrong. As 2014 ends, the broad benchmark is poised for another double-digit annual gain. Asked to explain the difference, bearish market analysts might point to irrational exuberance.1

Irrational exuberance – the run-up of asset values due to runaway enthusiasm about an asset class – reared its head catastrophically in 2000 (the tech bubble) and in 2007 (the housing bubble). In the first edition of his book of the very same title (2000), Shiller warned investors that stocks were overvalued. In the second edition of Irrational Exuberance (2005), he cautioned that real estate was overvalued. The fact that he’s trotting out a third edition of the book in 2015 was some people a little spooked. 2,3

Has quantitative easing (QE) bred irrational exuberance once again? As a 2011 Forbes.com headline put it, “Trees Don’t Grow to the Sky – Even with the Fed Behind Them.” You could argue – quite convincingly – that the Fed has propped up the stock market since 2008, and that the great gains of this bull market were primarily a result of QE1, QE2 and QE3.4

No further easing, no further gains, the logic goes (or least not gains resembling those seen in recent years).

As 2014 ends, bears insist that stocks are greatly overvalued. To back up their argument, they point to recent movements in the CAPE (Cyclically Adjusted Price-to-Earnings) or P/E 10 ratio. This closely-watched stock market barometer (created by Shiller and his fellow economist John Campbell) tracks a 10-year average of the S&P Composite’s real (inflation-adjusted) earnings.5,7

(If you’re wondering what the S&P Composite is, it is a historically wide, big-picture window on the U.S. equities market that unites data from the S&P 500 – which has only existed since 1957 – with prior S&P indices.)6

Since 1881, the P/E 10 ratio of the S&P Composite has averaged about 16.5. At the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000, it hit 44.2. It stumbled to a low of 13.3 when the market bottomed out in March 2009, but it was up at 26.5 as December began, about 60% above its historic mean.5

Why should this concern you? This P/E 10 ratio has only topped the 25 level three times – in 1929, 1999 and 2007.7

But isn’t the market healthy & ready to stand on its own? That’s what the bulls insist, and given the S&P 500’s 2.45% rise for November following the end of QE3, they may be right. Ardent bulls contend that another secular bull market began in March 2009 – history just hasn’t confirmed its secularity yet.8

In fact, Shiller himself recently noted that even though the high P/E 10 ratio is troubling, it has been mostly above 20 since 1994. (Low bond yields may explain some of that.) A numeric gap from 26 to 20 is decidedly less alarming than one from 26 to 16.7

Whatever occurs, remember that stocks don’t always go up. (Home prices don’t always ascend either.) The longer a bull market progresses, the more challenges it overcomes, the greater the chance that this particular reality of equity investing may be lost.* While diversification does not protect against marketing risk or guarantee enhanced overall returns, it may pay to diversify your portfolio across asset classes for this very reason, now and in the future.

Mike Moffitt may be reached at ph# 641-464-2248 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.

 *Stock investing involves risk including loss of principal.

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 – blogs.wsj.com/moneybeat/2014/11/23/a-sign-of-health-for-stocks-cautious-2015-forecasts/ [11/23/14]

2 – money.cnn.com/2005/01/13/real_estate/realestate_shiller1_0502/ [1/13/05]

3 – irrationalexuberance.com/main.html?src=%2F [12/8/14]

4 – forbes.com/sites/etfchannel/2011/01/20/trees-dont-grow-to-the-sky-even-with-fed-behind-them/print/ [1/20/11]

5 – advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/PE-Ratios-and-Market-Valuation.php [12/1/14]

6 – advisorperspectives.com/dshort/updates/Validating-the-SP-Composite.php [12/8/14]

7 – tinyurl.com/pwungau [8/18/14]

8 – online.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3023-monthly_gblstkidx.html [11/30/14]

 

 

 

 

Hybrid Insurance Products with Long-Term Care Riders

With the cost of long term care insurance rising, they are gaining attention.

Could these products answer a financial dilemma? Many high net worth households worry about potential long term care expenses, but they are reluctant or unable to buy long term care insurance. According to a 2014 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, less than 8% of U.S. households have purchased LTCI.1

Long term care insurance (LTCI) policies have a “use it or lose it” aspect of the coverage: if the insured party dies abruptly, all those insurance premiums will have been paid for nothing. If the household is wealthy enough, maybe it can forego buying a LTC policy and absorb some or all of possible LTC costs using existing assets.

Are there alternatives allowing some flexibility here? Yes. Recently, more attention has come to hybrid LTC policies and hybrid LTC annuities. These are hybrid insurance products: life insurance policies and annuities with an option to buy a long term care insurance rider for additional cost. They are gaining favor: sales of hybrid LTC policies alone rose by 24% in 2012, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance’s 2014 LTCi Sourcebook. Typically, the people most interested in these hybrid products are a) wealthy couples concerned about the increasing costs of traditional LTCI coverage, b) annuity holders outside of their surrender period who need long term care coverage. Being able to draw on LTCI if the moment arises can be a relief.2

They can be implemented with a lump sum. Often, assets from a CD or a savings account are used to fund the annuity or life insurance policy (the policy is often single-premium). In the case of a hybrid LTC policy, the bulk of the policy’s death benefit can be tapped and used as LTC benefits if the need arises. In the case of a hybrid LTC annuity, the money poured into the annuity is usually directed into a fixed-income investment, with the immediate or deferred annuity payments increasing if the annuity holder requires LTC.2,3

What if the annuity or policy holder passes away suddenly, or dies with LTC benefits left over? If that happens with a hybrid LTC policy, you still have a life insurance policy in place. His or her heirs will receive a tax-free death benefit. It is also possible in certain cases to surrender the policy and even get the initial premium back, however you must have a “Return of Premium” rider in place, which comes as an additional cost to the policy. The annuity holder, of course, names a beneficiary – and if he or she doesn’t need long term care, there is still an immediate or deferred income stream from the annuity contract.3

There are some trade-offs for the LTC coverage. Costs of these products are usually defined by the insurer as “guaranteed” – LTCI premiums are fixed, and the value of the policy or annuity will never be less than the lump sum it was established with (though a small surrender charge might be levied in the first few years of the annuity). In exchange for that, some hybrid LTC policies accumulate no cash value, and some hybrid LTC annuity products offer less than fair market returns.4

Tax-free withdrawals may be used to pay for LTC expenses. Thanks to the Pension Protection Act of 2006, the following privileges were granted regarding hybrid insurance products:

*All claims paid directly from appreciated hybrid LTC annuities and hybrid LTC policies are income tax free so long as they are used to pay qualified long term care expenses. In using the cash value to cover LTC expenses, you are not triggering a taxable event.2,4 

*Owners of traditional life insurance policies and annuities are now allowed to make 1035 exchanges into appropriate hybrid LTC products without incurring taxable gains.2

If you shop for a hybrid insurance product, shop carefully. The first hybrid LTC policy or hybrid LTC annuity you lay eyes on may not be the cheapest, so look around before you leap and make sure the product is reasonably tailored to your financial objectives and needs. Remember that annuity contracts are not “guaranteed” by any federal agency; the “guarantee” is a pledge from the insurer. If you decide to back out of these arrangements, you need to know that some insurers will not return your premiums. Also, keep in mind that over the long run, the return on these hybrid products will likely not match the return on a conventional fixed annuity or LTCI policy; actuarially speaking, when interest rates rise there is no incentive for the insurer to adjust the fixed income rate of return in response.2,4

Are hybrid insurance products for you? If you can’t qualify medically for LTCI but still want coverage, they may represent worthy options that you can start with a lump sum. You might want to talk to your insurance or financial consultant about the possibility.

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.

 Life insurance policies contain exclusions, limitations, reductions of benefits, and terms for keeping them in force. Your financial professional can provide you with costs and complete details.

Fixed annuities are long-term investment vehicles designed for retirement purposes. Gains from tax-deferred investments are taxable as ordinary income upon withdrawal. Withdrawals made prior to age 59 ½ are subject to a 10% IRS penalty tax and surrender charges may apply.

Guarantees are based on the claims paying ability of the issuing company.

Riders are additional guarantee options that are available to an annuity or life insurance contract holder. While some riders are part of an existing contract, many others may carry additional fees, charges and restrictions, and the policy holder should review their contract carefully before purchasing.

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 – rwjf.org/content/dam/farm/reports/issue_briefs/2014/rwjf410654 [2/14]

2 – forbes.com/sites/jamiehopkins/2014/04/21/new-and-unexpected-ways-to-fund-long-term-care-expenses/ [4/21/14]

3 – fa-mag.com/news/hybrid-ltc-insurance-gains-traction-among-the-affluent-17070.html [2/25/14]

4 – kitces.com/blog/is-the-ltc-cost-guarantee-of-todays-hybrid-lifeltc-or-annuityltc-insurance-policies-just-a-mirage/ [10/16/13]

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]

Financial Considerations for 2015

Is it time to make a few alterations for the near future?

2015 is less than two months away. Fall is the time when investors look for ways to lower their taxes and make some financial changes. This is an ideal time to schedule a meeting with a financial, tax or estate planning professional.

How do economists see next year unfolding? Morningstar sees 2.0-2.5% Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the U.S. for 2015, with housing, export growth, wage growth, very low interest rates and continuing vitality of energy-dependent industries as key support factors. It sees the jobless rate in a 5.4-5.7% range and annualized inflation running between 1.8-2.0%. Fitch is far more optimistic, envisioning U.S. GDP at 3.1% for 2015 compared to 1.3% for the eurozone and Japan. (Fitch projects China’s economy slowing to 6.8% growth next year as India’s GDP improves dramatically to 6.5%.)1,2

The Wall Street Journal’s Economic Forecasting Survey projects America’s GDP at 2.8% for both 2015 and 2016 and sees slightly higher inflation for 2015 than Morningstar (with the Consumer Price Index rising at an annualized 2.0-2.2%). The Journal has the jobless rate at 5.9% by the end of this year and at 5.5% by December 2015.3

The WSJ numbers roughly correspond to the Federal Reserve’s outlook: the Fed sees 2.6-3.0% growth and 5.4-5.6% unemployment next year. A National Association for Business Economics (NABE) poll projects 2015 GDP of 2.9% with the jobless rate at 5.6% by next December.4

What might happen with interest rates? In the Journal’s consensus forecast, the federal funds rate will hit 0.47% by June 2015 and 1.17% by December 2015. NABE’s forecast merely projects it at 0.845% as next year concludes. That contrasts with Fed officials, who see it in the range of 1.25-1.50% at the end of 2015.3,4

Speaking of interest rates, here is the WSJ consensus projection for the 10-year Treasury yield: 3.24% by next June, then 3.58% by the end of 2015. The latest WSJ survey also sees U.S. home prices rising 3.3% for 2015 and NYMEX crude at $93.67 a barrel by the end of next year.3

Can you put a little more into your IRA or workplace retirement plan? You may put up to $5,500 into a traditional or Roth IRA for 2014 and up to $6,500 if you are 50 or older this year, assuming your income levels allow you to do so. (Or you can spread that maximum contribution across more than one IRA.) Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible to varying degree. The contribution limit for participants in 401(k), 403(b) and most 457 plans is $17,500 for 2014, with a $5,500 catch-up contribution allowed for those 50 and older. (The IRS usually sets next year’s contribution levels for these plans in late October.)5

Should you go Roth in 2015? If you have a long time horizon to let your IRA grow, have the funds to pay the tax on the conversion, and want your heirs to inherit tax-free distributions from your IRA, it may be worth it.

Are you thinking about an IRA rollover? You should know about IRS Notice 2014-54, which lets taxpayers make “split” IRA rollovers of employer-sponsored retirement plan assets under more favorable tax conditions. If you have a workplace retirement account with a mix of pre-tax and after-tax dollars in it, you can now roll the pre-tax funds into a traditional IRA and the after-tax funds into a Roth IRA and have it all count as one distribution rather than two. Also, the IRS is dropping the pro rata tax treatment of such rollover amounts. (Under the old rules, if you were in a qualified retirement plan and rolled $80,000 in pre-tax dollars into a traditional IRA and $20,000 in after-tax dollars into a Roth IRA, 80% of the dollars going into the Roth would be taxed under the pro-rated formula.) The tax liability that previously went with such “split” distributions has been eliminated. The new rules on this take effect January 1, but IRS guidance indicates that taxpayers may apply the rules to rollovers made as early as September 18, 2014.6  

Can you harvest portfolio losses before 2015? Through tax loss harvesting – dumping the losers in your portfolio – you can claim losses equaling any capital gains recognized in a tax year, and you can claim up to $3,000 in additional losses beyond that, which can offset dividend, interest and wage income. If your losses exceed that limit, they can be carried over into future years. It is a good idea to do this before December, as that will give you the necessary 30 days to purchase any shares should you wish.7

Should you wait on a major financial move until 2015? Is there a chance that your 2014 taxable income could jump as a consequence of exercising a stock option, receiving a bonus at work, or accepting a lump sum payout? Are you thinking about buying new trucks or cars for your company, or a buying a building? The same caution applies to capital investments.

Look at tax efficiency in your portfolio. You may want to put income-producing investments inside an IRA, for example, and direct investments with lesser tax implications into brokerage accounts.

Finally, do you need to change your withholding status? If major change has come to your personal or financial life, it might be time. If you have married or divorced, if a family member has passed away, if you are self-employed now or have landed a much higher-salaried job, or if you either pay a lot of tax or get unusually large IRS or state refunds, review your current withholding with your tax preparer.

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.

Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.

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 – news.morningstar.com/articlenet/article.aspx?id=666682&SR=Yahoo  [9/29/14]

2 – 247wallst.com/economy/2014/09/30/downside-risks-to-global-gdp-growth/ [9/30/14]

3 – projects.wsj.com/econforecast [9/30/14]

4 – blogs.wsj.com/economics/2014/09/29/business-economists-see-lower-interest-rates-than-the-fed-sees-in-late-2015/ [9/29/14]

5 – shrm.org/hrdisciplines/benefits/articles/pages/2014-irs-401k-contribution-limits.aspx [11/1/13]

6 – lifehealthpro.com/2014/09/30/irs-blesses-split-401k-rollovers [9/30/14]

7 – dailyfinance.com/2013/09/09/tax-loss-selling-dont-wait-december-dump-losers/ [9/9/13]

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.)

How is Health Care Reform Affecting the Federal Deficit?

Some analysts think it is helping reduce the deficit; but others wholeheartedly disagree.

Has the Affordable Care Act actually cut Medicare spending? The numbers from the Congressional Budget Office make a pretty good argument for that, and suggest that the ACA has had a distinct hand in the recent drop in the federal deficit. Detractors of the ACA say that statistical argument doesn’t tell the whole story.

Medicare has been a major factor in the deficit’s expansion. Its cumulative cash flow deficits came to $1.5 trillion in the first decade of this century, according to the Congressional Budget Office; across the current decade, those cumulative cash flow deficits are projected to hit $6.2 trillion as more and more baby boomers become eligible.1

Admirers of the ACA contend that its technical changes (reductions in payments to some providers, simplified payment systems geared to holistic care, discouragement of hospital readmissions and greater use of generic drugs) are holding Medicare costs in check. These changes have led the CBO to hack 12% off its estimate for Medicare spending across 2011-20. In 2014 dollars, the federal government spent about $12,700 on Medicare per recipient in 2010; the CBO sees that declining to about $11,300 in 2019.2

In the big picture, the savings projects to $95 billion in Medicare’s 2019 budget. That is more than the projected 2019 federal outlay for welfare, unemployment insurance and Amtrak combined. It also means Medicare’s trust fund will now last until at least 2030 according to the Medicare Trustees.1,3

Does the ACA deserve all the credit? Not really, say its detractors. They argue that while health care spending and Medicare spending have slowed in the past few years, it isn’t because of the ACA’s changes. The counterargument posits that Medicare spending lessened as a consequence of the recession (and the shallow recovery that followed) and higher-deductible health plans that meant greater out-of-pocket costs for consumers.1

Another contention: lawmakers could have done much more to reduce Medicare spending all along, but backed off of that opportunity. When Congress passed the Balanced Budget Agreement in 1997, it authorized cuts in federal payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. These cuts (which would have significantly reduced Medicare spending) were supposed to occur in 2003, but Congress has postponed them 17 times since that date.1

Hasn’t the federal deficit declined anyway? It has, and it is also about to grow again. By the CBO’s estimate, the federal deficit for the current fiscal year will be $506 billion, equivalent to 2.9% of U.S. gross domestic product. At the turn of the decade, the deficit was above $1 trillion, corresponding to 9.8% of GDP. The CBO thinks that the deficit will rise again in two years, however, as an effect of increasing federal spending. As for the federal debt held by the public, it has risen 103% during the current administration.4

The deficit aside, the self-insured may pay cheaper premiums in 2015.
Preliminary research from the non-profit Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the mean premium on “silver” plans (the popular and second-cheapest choice among standard plans) will decline 0.8% next year. The KFF’s per-city projections vary greatly, though. For example, it forecasts “silver” plan premiums dropping 15.6% in Denver next year and rising 8.7% in Nashville.4

Bottom line, the CBO sees less Medicare spending ahead. That will contribute to a reduction in the federal deficit, and whether the projected decline is attributable to economic or demographic factors or the changes stemming from the ACA, that is a good thing.

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 – forbes.com/sites/gracemarieturner/2014/10/07/its-time-to-end-the-doc-fix-dance-and-move-on-to-real-reform/ [10/7/14]
2 – nytimes.com/2014/08/28/upshot/medicare-not-such-a-budget-buster-anymore.html [8/28/14]
3 – washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/08/27/yes-obamacare-is-cutting-the-deficit/ [8/27/14]
4 – msn.com/en-us/news/politics/obama%E2%80%99s-numbers-october-2014-update/ar-BB7PQFw [10/6/14]

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]