Here we are after yet another interest rate increase! Is there an end in sight? I hope so. I believe that Mr Ben is making his statement to set his style and clearly outline that this is not Alan Greenspan�s house anymore. Most Federal reserve board meetings are scheduled for two days and if there is action taken by the Fed, it is usually announced by 1:00pm on the first day. By that time on June 28, we were told he would make the interest rate action announcement by the afternoon of the second day. I can not remember that happening for many, many years. Mr Bernacke is clearly marking his turf. He has issued several reports and the economists have poured over every word to form their opinions.
The reports validated the idea that economic growth is moderating - and it is that moderation, the Fed indicated in its recent FOMC statement, that should help to limit inflation pressures over time. In normal English, this means they may pause and not raise rates again in August, their next scheduled meeting. Today, the prime rate stands at 8.25% and one year ago, it stood at 6.25%. I hope we have an end in sight.
The Bond Market
We have a flat yield curve, as opposed to an inverse yield curve. An example of this is that a six month t-bill will yield 5.28%. A ten year treasury will yield 5.19% and the 30 year yield is 5.28%, exactly the same as the six month rate. This indicates that you can lend your money for six months or thirty years and receive the same rate. There is no premium earned for lending your money (buying a bond) with a longer maturity, so smart money is staying with short durations right now.
The Stock Market
During the months of May and June, the market was a Disney adventure ride. The market fell and the bears were out. The market rose and the bulls were back. All in response to the outcome of the fed meeting (inflation under control?), rising interest rates by 25 or 50 basis points, housing construction falling and the dollar falling against the euro.
Enjoy your summer!
I am still training for the Vineman Aqua Bike on August 12. It is a 1.2 mile swim and a 56 mile hilly bike ride through the hills and vineyards of Santa Rosa, Ca. I will also swim in the Seal Beach rough water swim on July 15 as long as I do not see any dorsal fins in the water! Get out and enjoy the outdoors and summer bbq�s.
Funeral services for my mother were held July 5, 2006. She has rejoined my father, brother, and all of my grandparents. She was a strong, beautiful, gracious woman who was loved by many friends and family. There is now an excellent bridge player in heaven.
Sandra C. Field, CSA, MBA, CFP
And in the end, it�s not the years in your life that count. It�s the life in your years.
In addition to our regular phone number 714-827-5794, API now has a toll free number, 866-642-5173.
The new privacy laws (HIPPA) are impacting the use of Health Care Directives (HCD). I have enclosed a form that should be signed and kept with your HCD. This form directs your doctor to release all protected health information to the individual named in your HCD. If you would like the form emailed to you, please call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Starting in 2007, the Medicare Part B premium will be based on the member�s adjusted gross income (AGI). Currently, the part B cost is $88.50/month. In 2007, the premium is expected to rise to $99.50. If a married couple has an AGI of $160,000 or more the premium will be $112.70; AGI more than $200,000 will be $132.60; AGI more than $300,000 will be $152.50 and if your AGI is over $400,000 the premium will be $172.40.
If you are properly diversified, you always have something to complain about. ~J. Patrick Collins, Jr. ~
Enjoy the summer and let us know of all your adventures!
Carol Somoano, MBA, CFP
Asset Planning, Inc.
The best news of the summer is that my daughter, Nikki, completed the Santa Barbara Triathlon with me. She joined my triathlon training group, TriDivas, and trained for months; doing ocean swims, biking and running. We did the triathlon, side by side, in 1:33. Quite a feat for an 8 year old! She loved tackling such a big goal and the accomplishment that goes with it. I competed in the Seal Beach Rough Water Swim, Naples Island Swim, Santa Barbara Swim (all one mile each), the Long Beach Triathlon and the Santa Barbara Triathlon.
Ask yourself this daily question: How would the person I want to be do the thing I'm about to do?" - Jim Cathcart, Professional Speaker/Author
The Fed and the Economy
The Federal Reserve could have taken a pause in the race to raise interest rates, in light of Katrina, but they did not. They lifted rates another � point, the eleventh rate increase in a row. They are scheduled to meet again on November 1 and December 13th. By now, the adjustable rate mortgages and home equity lines of credit are beginning to climb. I am fearful of adjustable mortgage rates increasing for all those that purchased homes in the last few years and wage increases cannot keep pace. I see signs of inflation coming back in 2006 and the Fed must also be concerned to continue raising rates.
Greenspan will leave office in January, 2006 and he does not want to leave the economy in jeopardy. Oil and natural gas prices are driving inflation pressures, as expected, and discretionary income will be squeezed as this continues. Are prices of homes beginning to deflate? The market has cooled and this time next year may be the time to buy as the 5 year adjustable rate mortgages will be coming due. As homeowners find they cannot afford the increased mortgage payment, this will put more homes on the market and prices should decline.
The economy and the market were in good shape before the devastation of the hurricanes. The future of the rebuilding and the demand for building materials will positively impact many sectors and companies. Prices have already increased for raw materials, such as lumber, concrete, and copper. The S & P 500 is up 1.7% year to date but 7% of the holdings are in energy. The oil and gas companies are rising to the top, as their cap weighting grows.
If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today ~E. Joseph Cossman~
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have done unbelievable damage, both physically and emotionally, to those in their path. For days, we stared at the television, trying to comprehend the damage done by a force of nature. How long will this clean up and rebuilding take? How will it be rebuilt? How will New Orleans, one of the most unique cities in the US, be restored? How will the people be able to resume their lives when all has been lost? We have several families in our area that have been relocated from Louisiana and New Orleans, arriving sick and devastated, with children needing to begin school. We must realize people are still living in shelters and need help. They will need to be supported for many, many months to come. Please continue to give for their continued support.
I attended the Financial Planning Association Conference and had the privilege of hearing Steven Covey, author of �The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People,� and more recently �The Eighth Habit,� which was the subject of his presentation.
His message was this: �Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.� By this Covey means that each person has a unique personal gift to offer the world and when those gifts are activated, the world is changed for the better. He said that each of us should cultivate our vision, our discipline, our passion and our conscience, which he associated with mind, body, heart and sprit. �Vision is what is possible,� he said. �What you envision in the future, or what you see in another person, makes those things possible and gives them permission to happen.� What is your vision? What do you see in others? Find your voice!
Are you prepared for a major disaster to hit Los Angles or Orange County? We are at risk for earthquake and fire damage. Do you have food and water stored in your home? Work out at plan and know where you would meet your family members if your home or surrounding area is damaged or inaccessible. Cell phones may not work so have a plan in advance. Have your data stored on a CD.
Sandra C. Field, CSA, MBA, CFP
Asset Planning certainly has news! Joanne is off on maternity leave and her baby boy (Miles) is due July 17. We already miss her. Lori left Asset Planning on June 7 and moved to Texas after the passing of her mother. We wish her well and can not blame her for leaving California. She was able to buy a house outright in Texas and her daughter now has a horse to ride on her own property. Who says there isn�t a real estate bubble in California??
Our great new additions to the staff are Carol Somoano and Margo Lynch. Both Margo and Carol will assist me with financial planning clients. Carol will also develop her own asset management clients and manage money.
Carol received her CFP designation in 2004, in addition to her Personal Financial Planner certificate from UCI. She also has an MBA from Cal State Fullerton. She holds licenses in insurance, real estate and is also a Notary Public. Keep this in mind when you need something notarized- Carol is here to assist you! Carol will focus on comprehensive financial planning and asset management. Carol is also the mother of three children.
Margo has her certificate in Personal Financial Planning from ucla (have to put it in small caps since I am from USC) and has taken the Certified Trust Financial Advisor exam and is awaiting news of passing. She is working on her CFP and will sit for the exam soon. Margo�s focus in on the complexity of trusts and avoiding taxation.
Try a thing you haven't done three times. Once, to get over the fear of doing it. Twice, to learn how to do it. And a third time, to figure out whether you like it or not. ~Virgil Thomson (advice given at age 93)~
TD Waterhouse and Ameritrade announce the intention to merge
TD Ameritrade is the proposed name of the new company. Ameritrade is acquiring 67% of TD Waterhouse. Combined, the two companies will make the third largest brokerage company, behind Charles Schwab and Fidelity. It will become the largest discount brokerage in the US. I see this move in a positive light. Ameritrade did not have a brokerage branch network which TD Waterhouse has. It may take six months or more for the merger to be completed so any changes will not be apparent until then.
Check your current homeowner insurance policy to see if they are adding coverage for identity theft. Allstate, Fireman�s Fund, AIG, Chubb, Farmers, Metlife and Travelers have all added this coverage. Some companies add it to the homeowner coverage and some sell it as a rider for $25 to $50 per year. The policy will help with the hassle and expense of restoring your good name. It may also pay for legal fees for advice, lost wages, credit reports and loan reapplications when needed.
Summer Travel plans aboard
Check a ship�s sanitation record. The Centers for Disease Control posts cruise ships� scores and date of last inspection at www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp. You will also find tips to avoiding a stomach illness aboard an ocean liner.
The Yuan and the Dollar
Is there a link between China�s currency and the US housing market? James Berman, JD explains it this way:
China pegs the yuan to the US dollar. The Chinese don�t want to do anything to cut off the source of their massive growth over the last decade-exports. The yuan�s artificial undervaluation boosts their massive export machine. In order to link the yuan to the dollar, Chinas has to hold large dollar-denominated reserves. It has to buy massive amounts of US Treasury bonds. That artificially depresses yields on the 10 year Treasury. That�s why, even though the fed funds rate has been raised, the 10-year yields have had a relatively flat yield curve. Pushing those yields down artificially pushes 15 and 30 year mortgage rates down. They are at 40 year lows, supplying a huge amount of cheap money for people to purchase homes they could never have afforded before.
Someday, China will buy fewer of our bonds. It�s a question of when, not if. When they do, interest rates are going to go up more that most people are predicting, possibly 200 or 300 basis points. 100 basis points is equivalent to 1%.
I think he has an interesting point of view. Many economists are concerned over the amount of US Treasuries the China holds. What to do? Convert your adjustable rate mortgage to a fixed mortgage. 22% of all new mortgages are a form of �interest only� so people can qualify. If interest rates spike, foreclosures will be very high.
�If you think you can�t, you won�t. If you think you can, you might.� Henry Ford
2005 is half over already! Are you making progress on your goals set for this year? I completed the Danskin Triathlon on June 5. It was � mile swim, 14 miles biking and a 3.1 mile run in the hills. I have a few more triathlons and ocean swims scheduled. I am trying to get back to training four days a week. Get outside and enjoy your summer!
One goal for the summer: Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has never been properly thanked. Take the time.
Sandra Field, CSA, MBA, CFP
Asset Planning, Inc.
Swimming with the Dolphins
I am back from vacation and had a great time swimming with the dolphins. Nikki loved her time with the dolphin in the picture above. We also saw a live alligator on the golf course; along with snakes, wild turkeys, herons, cranes and wonderful marsh birds. That makes for very exciting golf!
Market Rollercoaster in March
March is always an exciting month. Either the market soars to new highs (2000) or drops to new lows (2002); it never seems to be predictable. What is predictable is the continued demand for oil. The cost of oil continues to climb, touching $58 a barrel and then dropping back to $54.00. I believe the cost of oil will remain high for some time and do not envision the price back in the range of $30 per barrel this year.
If you want to succeed, you must make your own opportunities as you go.
~John B. Gough~
Tips from Alan Greenspan: He believes the economy delivered a solid performance in 2004. So far in 2005 �activity appears to be expanding at a reasonably good pace.� I recently met with chief economists of two different mutual fund families. They each see the economy continuing to grow in 2005, and much of the expansion is coming from the business sector. The spending consumer has carried us for the last few years and now businesses are starting to expand, hire more staff and increase productivity.
The yield curve continues to flatten. The spreads between AAA corporate bonds and BBB corporate bonds have also dramatically narrowed over the past year. In a recovering economy, a company�s underlying fundamentals strengthen, thus resulting in increased earnings. This strengthening in company fundamentals generally increases credit quality. As credit quality strengthens, prices usually raise causing spreads to narrow. As the economy loses strength, a company�s fundamentals decline, thus lowering price and widening the spread.
On March 22, 2005, the Federal Reserve board raised the Fed Funds rate another � point to 2.75%. The increase in the federal funds rate marked the seventh time the Fed has pushed rates higher since it started its current credit tightening campaign in June 2004. At that time, the funds rate stood at a 46-year low of 1 percent.
I feel like Chicken Little. I have been saying that as interest rates rise, bond prices will fall. So far, the Fed has increased rates seven times and long-term bond prices have not fallen. What is going on? Alan Greenspan also expressed puzzlement over why long term interest rates, such as mortgage rates, have not been rising in conjunction with the Fed�s seven hikes of short-term rates. He stated two weeks ago that the mystery as become �less of a conundrum� because long-term rates have been rising in recent weeks. I don�t feel so bad if he is confused over it too! 30-year mortgage rates, currently near 6 percent, could be at 6.75 percent by year's end.
Greenspan began his shift from short-term interest rates to longer-term interest rates with comments in prepared testimony before Congress beginning Feb. 16. In reference to the puzzling decline in long-term rates amid consistent Fed rate increases, Greenspan termed it a "conundrum" and postulated it may be a "short-term aberration." While he included the comments as part of the official record, he did not speak of them. However, all of his comments are evaluated and his message was delivered. Rates on the 30 year mortgage moved from an average of 5.59 to just under 6%.
There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and from learning from failure.
~Colin L. Powell~
The amount of income that FICA is currently taxed on is $92,000. The FICA tax is 6.2%. When it was proposed that the limit be removed, thus taxing all income earned, I was in favor of that proposal. If the level of taxed income rises, so does the maximum benefit paid by Social Security to the higher earners, though it rises less steeply. Even though that may mean my clients may have to pay a bigger share of taxes, I felt that was fair.
What I did not stop to consider was that it is the higher wage earners that are also saving the most money. They are ones that are able to contribute the maximum to their retirement programs such as a 401k or SEP IRA. They also make IRA contributions in addition to the retirement plans. They are the savers that our country needs to keep.
When the Clinton tax increase was heavily weighted toward the higher-income brackets, the results were reviewed afterward. What they found was that the very-high-income earners didn�t change their lifestyles significantly to pay the increased taxes; instead, they reduced their saving.
This could be very damaging since our nation is already desperately low in individual savings. It has been said it could damage the economy�s growth rate that would hamper, rather than help, the nation�s ability to fund the retirement of the baby boom generation.
I believe it will take several different solutions to fix our social security problem and perhaps an increased FICA limit is part of it. We need to find the happy medium where the high-income wage earners can pay more tax, still keep the same level of saving and continue to spend like the dependable consumers they are.
There is talk of letting the normal retirement age rise to 70. It is already scheduled to increase to 66 in 2011 and to age 67 in 2027. I believe, as they say, that dog won�t hunt. Some workers can not physically continue to work to age 70, yet they are not qualified to be �disabled�.
My health is good; it�s my age that is bad. ~Roy Acuff~
Supreme Court ruling
On April 5, 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that assets held in an individual retirement account (IRA) are not savings that can be attached by creditors in bankruptcy proceedings. This had always been a state issue and the State of California did not give creditor protection to IRA accounts. This is very good news. This adds protection to an IRA account that makes it equal to a qualified retirement plan. In the past, if a client was at risk for litigation being filed against them, assets in an IRA could have been used to pay for an award of damages. Their 401k account or a defined benefit plan could not be used as an asset. An example would be a doctor with a large malpractice suit and settlement against them. If the judgment award was larger than the insurance coverage for damages, the plaintiff could attach other assets, such as an IRA. Now, the IRA is protected and can not be attached.
Sandra C. Field, CSA, MBA, CFP
The Good News�
USC played for the BCS title at the Fed Ex Orange Bowl game. After 22 straight wins and two back to back National Titles, the USC football team is the undisputed Champion. Quarterback Matt Lienart, Heisman winner, and the offensive line was awesome and our defense was dominating over the Oklahoma Sooners in a crushing 55 to 19 win. I am an avid football fan so this will was a great end to the season. Note the BCS title game will be held at the Rose Bowl in 2006. Now, if only my Minnesota Vikings could pull it together in the playoffs.
More good news: Joanne Liu, our paraplanner and research analyst is pregnant! She is due in July with her first child. We wish her an easy pregnancy and the office hopes she has a girl.
Investment review: 2004 was a good year!
After a difficult summer, both large and small-cap companies rallied impressively in 2004�s fourth quarter. For the quarter, the S&P 500 was up 9.2% versus gains of 14.1% for the Russell 2000 and 14.7% for the Nasdaq Composite.
Despite underperforming in the more difficult second and third quarters, small-caps significantly outperformed their large-cap counterparts for the full year. In 2004, the Russell 2000 was up 18.3% versus gains of 10.9% for the S&P 500 and 8.6% for the Nasdaq Composite. As I have said, you can never tell where the �party� will be between small cap and large cap, value verses growth. Diversification plays a key part in every portfolio.
There is almost always something to fear-recessions, inflation, deflation, political instability, and so on. We have found we have no ability to add value by incorporating these fears into our investment process. Instead, we use a time horizon that is long enough that such issues fade in importance. Bill Nygren, Oakmark Funds portfolio manager.
IRA and retirement contribution limits increase
You may now contribute $4,000 to your IRA for tax year 2005, those over 50 can add a catch up of $500. The annual contribution for 401k, 403b, SEP, 457 plans is $14,000 with a catch up of $4,000. Simple plans can contribute $10,000 with a $2,000 catch up.
Long Term Care Insurance tax deductions
Under new 2005 limits, policyholders between age 50 and 60 can deduct $1,020; those between age 60 to 70 can deduct $2,720 and those older than 70 can deduct $3,400. This is still subject to itemizing your medical expenses and 7.5% of your AGI. Check with your CPA for clarification if you pay LTC premiums.
Credit Report for free
You can now obtain an annual credit report for free. www.annualcreditreport.com. The toll free phone is (877) 322-8228. Do not respond to e-mail requests for personal information purporting to be from reporting companies- it�s a scam. Citibank and Washington Mutual also have been hit by scam emails asking customers to click on a link to verify their personal information. The emails carry the Citibank and Wa Mu logos and look authentic. Beware.
The Bad News�
The thing about national disasters is the feeling of helplessness it brings. I watch TV and witness the devastation with horror. I want to help people and comfort those who have lost family members and feel helpless. I can only send money and hope it is applied to those in need, in the best way they see fit.
If you wish to help the victims of this horrific disaster, here are a few web sites that will aid the victims in Asia. Red Cross:www.redcross.org Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (I have been involved with this group for years) www.doctorswithoutborders.org U.S. Fund for UNICEF (helping the children) www.unicefusa.org Another useful site is www.USAfreedomCorps.gov Here you will find information on over 70 different organizations that can help the victims. Try to give checks, not cash, and do not give to telemarketers since their administrative cost is the highest.
The Deficit and the Dollar
A growing number of economists are asking how much longer the U.S. can rely on Asian central banks to finance the federal budget deficit. China, Japan and other Asian nations have amassed $2.2 trillion in foreign reserves with the majority in our treasuries. China has been buying more euros, pounds and yen than dollars lately, which may contribute to the rise in the euro and the further fall of the U.S. dollar. The greater the budget deficit, the more the U.S. has to borrow to fund the federal machine. More borrowing increases the supply of Treasury bonds and more bonds on the market results in further devaluation of our dollar.
A partial answer? Reduce the fiscal deficit and increase savings by Americans. Look for more incentives to save on a tax deferred basis coming from the Bush administration. You will begin to hear about the Lifetime Savings accounts (LSA) and Retirement Savings Accounts (RSA) he proposed four years ago.
Happiness is wanting what you have and not wanting what you don�t have. ~Shakyamuni Budda,500 BC~
Social Security Reform
It will be interesting to watch the push for partial privatization of Social Security. I am personally against the formation of private accounts to allow individuals to invest their social security accounts. I am fearful of the future when individuals make the wrong investment choices and diminish their account balances. The system needs reform but I am not sure this is the correct answer.
The maximum annual earnings subject to Social Security tax will be $90,000 in 2005. Earnings required for a quarter of coverage will increase to $920. Those retired under full retirement age can earn $12,000 per year without giving up earnings and for those that reach your full retirement age, you can earn $31,800 in 2005. Current beneficiaries will receive a 2.7% cost-of-living adjustment beginning in January.
Set Goals for 2005
I have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Orange County Financial Planning Association. I am also the Education Chairperson for the FPA and the leader of the Orange County NAPFA study group. There goes my spare time for golf.
Don�t forget to think ahead and plan what you want to accomplish in 2005. A goal to work on or a milestone to achieve makes the journey much more meaningful. I will be swimming with dolphins (Discovery Cove in Orlando) this coming Easter Sunday with my family. I will be on vacation from March 25 to April 2, 2005 so plan your IRA and SEP contributions early.
If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun. � Katharine Hepburn, American Actress
Sandra C. Field, CSA, MBA, CFP