Archives for December 2016

17 Financial Resolutions for 2017

financial-resolutions-blog-imageAs the end of 2016 approaches, now is the time to start thinking about how you will make 2017 fulfilling and fruitful for you and your loved ones. For more than 4,000 years, many people have celebrated the start of their new year by making promises to change their behavior or improve themselves. And it’s no wonder why: While New Year’s resolutions can be hard to keep, they may also make you more than 10 times more likely to achieve your goals than if you hadn’t made a resolution at all!

So, no matter what you hope to accomplish next year and beyond, here are 17 financial resolutions to help make 2017 healthy, happy, and successful:

1. Create emergency savings

Life is full of unexpected emergencies, and having extra cash on hand can help keep a serious illness, home repair, or other sudden financial need from derailing your finances. Prepare for unpredictable expenses by putting aside six to eight months of expenses in an easily accessible cash-equivalent account.

2. Make a monthly budget and stick to it

Budgets may sound like a lot of unnecessary work, especially if you’re financially comfortable. But if you’re not tracking your spending, you may be surprised by how quickly it adds up — and which expenses are costing you the most. As 2017 begins, set a budget and work on sticking to it for three months. Track your performance and revise the budget, as needed. Don’t aim for perfection; instead, try for incremental improvement.

3. Save more for the future

Creating a disciplined savings strategy is an important way to stay on track for your retirement and other goals. We recommend keeping separate “buckets” of savings for short-, medium-, and long-term goals, and leveraging tax-advantaged accounts where possible. Let us know if you’d like help saving for specific goals so that we can help ensure you have the right strategy for your needs and timeline.

4. Make retirement plan contributions regularly instead of all at once

Even if you’re diligently saving, you may be among the 71% of Americans who haven’t put aside enough money for retirement. One key change you can make is to take advantage of time in the market. Instead of waiting until the last minute to make your annual contributions, give your money more time to grow by making automatic contributions to your accounts every month.

5. Maximize your retirement-plan contributions

Tax-managed retirement accounts are one of the most powerful ways to save for a more comfortable retirement, because they allow you to control your tax liabilities today — while accumulating assets for the future. Make the most of these accounts by contributing as much as you can each tax year. We usually recommend maxing out employer-sponsored plans first to take advantage of any matching contributions your employer may offer. Give us a call if you need help understanding your retirement account options.

6. Pay down high-interest debt

Did you know that 54% of Americans believe they will never pay off their debts? Don’t let high-interest debt keep you from getting ahead financially. If you’re carrying a significant amount of debt, make paying it down a top priority this year. Contact us, and we’ll help you create a strategy for managing your expenses and paying off your debt.

7. Set goals for the future and work with a professional to help you achieve them

From our experience, people who set goals for themselves and create strategies to pursue them are much more likely to see success. We’re here to help you and your family define exactly what you hope to accomplish in 2017 and beyond — and then build a strategy to achieve your objectives.

8. Create a powerful legacy for the world

We believe that a rich life involves more than financial success and a comfortable lifestyle. Whether you want to leave something to your loved ones or support causes you care about, take time to address the legacy you’d like to leave.

9. Review your estate planning and legal documents

Your core legal documents need regular reviews to ensure they keep up with any changes in your life. If a few years have passed since you looked at your documents, dust them off and make sure that they still represent your wishes. And if you seek more guidance on your estate plan, will, or other legal needs, we can connect you to thorough resources and helpful advice.

10. Review the beneficiaries of your financial accounts and insurance policies

As life changes, you need to periodically review and update your account beneficiaries. Since beneficiary provisions are independent of your will or other estate provisions, keeping them current is critical. Contact us for assistance with gathering account documents and making any needed updates.

11. Stay on top of your health

Healthcare is a major expense for most Americans, especially if serious illness strikes. Take steps to protect your wellbeing by building a healthy lifestyle and prioritizing preventive care.

12. Protect your credit and identity

Identity theft and financial fraud are serious threats that can compromise your financial wellbeing. Protect yourself by reviewing financial statements and bills carefully for unauthorized activity. Regularly update your passwords for all financial accounts and always shred any sensitive documents before you dispose of them. Check your credit report for free each year at www.annualcreditreport.com.

13. Review your tax strategies for potential savings

Every dollar you save in taxes is one that you can reinvest in your current lifestyle or future goals. But, recent tax-law updates mean that your tax burden may have changed — or even increased. Give us a call to discuss tax strategies that may help you reduce your tax liabilities.

14. Involve your children and grandchildren in your finances

Fostering financial wisdom is a powerful way to help your children and grandchildren build a solid, stable life — and help ensure you’re able to pass on your values and wealth in the future. Rather than keeping your finances private from your loved ones, we recommend including them in conversations about your goals and priorities. We also invite you to bring them to our next meeting. We’ll help them understand how we work together and what their roles and responsibilities may be in the future.

15. Schedule times to discuss finances with your spouse

If you (or your spouse) rarely get involved in the family finances, now is the time to start. Work together to make financial decisions and make sure that each of you understands the overall game plan for your finances. At minimum, make sure that your spouse knows how to access financial accounts and understands your wishes.

16. Identify your goals for 2017

Determine exactly what you hope to accomplish in 2017. Whether you want to earn more money, go on a wonderful vacation, or spend more time with your family, take a moment now to write down your goals. To increase the odds of achieving these goals, consider sharing them with a friend and providing regular updates on your progress.

17. Keep your financial resolutions

Just 8% of people keep their New Year’s resolutions — but by making your goals simple, specific, and actionable, you can increase your chances of being among this select group. Instead of saying: “I will save more for the future in 2017,” say: “I will contribute $4,500 to my retirement accounts by December 31, 2017,” or “I will pay off $2,000 of credit card debt by April 15.”

As 2016 draws to a close, we would like to once again thank you for the trust and confidence you’ve placed in our firm. We are sincerely grateful for the privilege and opportunity to serve you today and for years to come.

If you have questions about your future or would like some support in keeping your financial resolutions, we are here to help. Please call us any time at 419.425.2400. Together, let’s make 2017 a success!

Footnotes, disclosures, and sources:
These are the views of Hixon Zuercher Capital Management, and should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named representative nor the Investment Advisor gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. Please consult your financial advisor for further information.

 

 

Steady Holiday for the Market – Weekly Update for December 27, 2016

2016-11-28-blog-image-1In the last full trading week of 2016, domestic markets were relatively quiet, with many people out of the office for the holidays. Nonetheless, all three major domestic indexes ended the week in positive territory. The S&P 500 was up 0.25%, the Dow gained 0.46%, and the NASDAQ added 0.47%. International equities in the MSCI EAFE were also up, increasing by 0.36%. The Dow continued to flirt with surpassing the 20,000 mark for the first time—reaching within fewer than 13 points at its highest trading point on Wednesday, December 21—before closing at 19,933.81 for the week.

Outside of the markets, we received a number of reports that painted a mostly positive view of the U.S. economy.

Good News

  • GDP revised up again: For its final report on economic growth in the third quarter, the Commerce Department adjusted the GDP up for the second time—to a 3.5% annual rate. This analysis shows the fastest economic growth in two years.
  • Consumer sentiment hits nearly 13-year high: The monthly index measuring consumers’ views on the current and future state of the economy increased by 4.7 points to reach 98.2 for December. This reading is the highest since January 2004.
  • New home sales beat expectations: Economists predicted that new home sales for November would increase by 2.1%, but last week’s data showed the increase was in fact 5.2%. Consumers anticipating higher interest rates in the future could be contributing to the expectation-beating results.

Mixed News

  • Personal incomes stayed flat: Despite economists’ predictions that personal incomes would increase by 0.3% in November, the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ data showed them flatten. Even with last month’s stagnation, personal incomes are up 3.5% for the year.
  • Durable goods orders declined: After increasing by 4.8% in October, durable goods orders dropped by 4.6% in November—due largely to a 73.5% decrease in civilian aircraft orders. While no one likes to see a decrease, the report had several positive highlights, including an unexpectedly large increase in orders for U.S.-made capital goods.

Overall, even though last week was fairly slow for trading, we continue to see signs that the economy is improving—even if it is still far from perfect. We look forward to discovering what 2017 holds for investors and hope for more record highs and an economy that picks up speed as time goes on.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Markets Closed in Observance of Christmas Holiday
Tuesday: Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: Pending Home Sales Index
Friday: Bond Market Closes at 2 p.m. ET

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Rising Rates and Your Portfolio – Weekly Update for December 19, 2016

rates-are-upLast week was mixed for the markets, as the Dow increased by 0.44%, while the S&P 500 lost 0.06%, the NASDAQ dropped 0.13%, and the MSCI EAFE gave back 0.55%. We also saw a variety of data released, giving a similarly mixed view of recent economic activity. Retail sales and the Consumer Price Index showed modest gains, while industrial production and housing starts both declined.

The biggest headline from last week, however, was a development the market anticipated for quite some time: The Federal Reserve decided to raise its benchmark interest rates—for only the second time since 2006.

Why did the Fed raise rates?

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the group of Fed officials who meet to determine interest rates and other policies choices, has a mandate to “foster maximum employment and price stability.” In its quest to uphold this mandate, the FOMC aims to keep inflation at 2%, as this level can help support accurate financial forecasting and decisions while preventing harmful deflation.

The act of adjusting interest rates can help control inflation and support economic strength. At its most basic, when the Fed lowers rates, they are indicating that the economy is contracting—and when they raise rates, they are indicating that the economy is growing.

When describing her organization’s decision to raise rates this month to a range of 0.5 – 0.75%, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said, “My colleagues and I are recognizing the considerable progress the economy has made. We expect the economy will continue to perform well.” The FOMC also said they may introduce three additional interest rate increases in 2017, up from their previous prediction of two raises.

In other words, the Federal Reserve believes our economy is on the right track and inflation may begin to rise. They are using the tool of interest rate increases to help keep employment and inflation at healthy levels.

How did the markets react to the interest rate increase?

Overall, investors seemed to react reasonably to the interest rate increase. The VIX, a measure of expected volatility in the markets, increased by 4.6%—but it remains at low levels. In other words, the likelihood of great volatility seems slim.

One area of the market, however, did not respond well to the Fed’s interest rate increase and inflation increase prediction: bonds. This summer, global bond markets experienced a rally in response to a variety of factors, including potential slowing economic growth worldwide. But since the U.S. election, the value of government debt has dropped by more than $1 trillion, as investors now expect greater inflation and a quickening economy. Essentially, the faster the economy and inflation grow, the less value that long-term government debt holds—contributing to the bond market’s recent losses.

How could the rate increase affect you?

Rising interest rates have both positive and negative effects for individuals. If you have money earning interest in the bank, you can expect to earn a slightly higher return. Conversely, if you borrow money—such as taking out a new mortgage or refinancing existing liabilities—your interest rate may be higher than before the Fed’s announcement.

In addition, the interconnected relationships between equities, bond markets, and other financial vehicles will evolve as interest rates increase. These shifts can be much more complex, and we are here to help you stay on top of any changes and align your financial life with the current market environment.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: Janet Yellen speaks at 1:30 p.m. ET
Wednesday: Existing Home Sales
Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, GDP
Friday: New Home Sales, Consumer Sentiment

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December 2016 Market Update Video

In this month’s update, I will discuss the major headlines that influenced the markets in November, and provide insights on what these developments mean for you as an investor.

If you have any questions or concerns, or want to discuss your portfolio, please give us a call at (419) 425-2400, or send us an email. We would love to talk with you.

What Do The Rising Markets Mean For The Future? – Weekly Update for December 12, 2016

2016-11-28-blog-image-1On Friday, December 9, all three major U.S. stock indexes ended at record high. For the first time in five years, they each posted gains every day of the trading week. The S&P 500 was up 3.08%, the Dow added 3.06%, and NASDAQ increased 3.59%. International stocks in the MSCI EAFE even gained 2.9%, despite potential risks from the Italian referendum and impending end of the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing.

From our vantage point, we see a rally that appears to be picking up steam. Looking at this impressive growth, however, it’s easy to wonder whether the markets are becoming overvalued and a correction is in order.

In keeping with this concern, last Monday, December 5, marked the 20th anniversary of Former Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan’s famous warning about “irrational exuberance.” Back in 1996, Greenspan worried that overvalued stocks and extreme investor enthusiasm could drive stocks to reach unsustainable levels. His warning didn’t slow the markets’ growth at the time, and several more years passed before the eventual dot-com crash.

So, are we facing the same irrational exuberance as in 1996?

Hardly. We’d argue that rather than being overvalued, the markets have yet to reach their fair price. Domestic fundamentals continue to provide positive data on the economy.  With a new presidential administration coming in 2017, we may see regulations lift and banks push more money into the economy, causing growth to accelerate.

In fact, economist Brian Wesbury posted a video last week predicting the Dow would reach 36,000 in the next four to five years—an increase of more than 84%. He also asserts that the S&P 500 is undervalued by 30% and may gain 14% over the next four quarters.

Now, we aren’t comfortable making specific predictions like this—because no one can predict the future. But, we do agree with Wesbury’s calculations showing that the market is undervalued.

In other words, the markets’ recent growth seems to be based on rational exuberance. Investors see opportunities on the horizon, and they’re ready to grab them.

What’s ahead in this exuberant moment?

We’re happy to see new potential for growth, but we will continue to make choices based on detailed analysis rather than emotional reactions. This week, we’ll be paying close attention to the Federal Reserve’s December meeting, where the markets currently give a 95% chance that interest rates will increase.

Remember that we are here to help you capture momentum that will support your long-term goals. We won’t take more risk than is appropriate for your needs and comfort. If you have questions about your priorities, portfolio, or plan, let’s talk. We are always available at hello@hzcapital.com or 419-425-2400. Thanks for reading!

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: FOMC Meeting Begins, Import and Export Prices

Wednesday: FOMC Meeting Announcement, Fed Chair Press Conference at 2:30 p.m., Retail Sales

Friday: Housing Starts

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Enjoying the Rally, Focused on the Future – Weekly Update for December 5, 2016

2016-12-05-blog-imageAfter a three-week run where all major U.S. indexes posted significant gains, we saw more mixed results last week. The Dow was up 0.10%, but the S&P 500 lost 0.97% and the NASDAQ was down 2.65%. The MSCI EAFE’s measure of international developed markets also dropped 0.24%.

Rallies such as the one we’ve experienced since Donald Trump’s election can’t go on forever, so we aren’t too concerned about these minor pullbacks. In fact, as we’ve recently said, when you look more deeply at the data, we see many reasons to believe that our economy is moving in the right direction.

Good News This Week

Positive economic news for the U.S. continued to come in this week, including reports that:

Of course, despite the ongoing indications that our economy is doing well, everything isn’t perfect in the U.S. We’d like to see the economy growing even faster than it is. And while unemployment is low, the measure of people who are underemployed is still too high at 9.3%.[vi]

Overall, we continue to see signs that our plow-horse economy may be picking up speed and building greater strength in the process.

Potential Risk: Italian Referendum

 From our perspective, the most immediate risk to market performance could be the Italian Referendum. On December 4, Italians voted against Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional amendment that would have reduced their Senate’s size and power while limiting the regional governments’ strength. From Renzi’s perspective, this move would stop the gridlock so common in Italy’s government while helping to stabilize the country, improve investor confidence, and speed economic recovery.

As 2016 has shown us with the unexpected victories of Brexit and Donald Trump, populist sentiments are on the rise worldwide. The Italian “No” vote not only represents a concern with concentrating power in the federal government but also a general pushback against the ruling party and status quo.

Now that “No” has prevailed, we may see additional instability in Europe. Prime Minister Renzi has promised to step down, leaving big questions about who will lead Italy and how they will find a new leader. In addition, some of Italy’s largest banks may now be at risk of insolvency, as they have fewer tools for lifting the $380 billion of bad loans that weigh them down.

No one knows what the long-term outcomes of this vote will be for Italy or Europe. We anticipate that some ripples of volatility may wash up on our shores in the process. We hope that, similar to Brexit, the initial market reaction will not last for long and that investors will quickly return to a focus on growth and fundamentals.

How to Move Forward With Confidence

From the first quarter’s stock-market volatility to a number of surprising votes, this year has presented many opportunities for emotions to enter investing. We understand how tempting it may be to sell when equities aren’t performing well —and to pursue greater growth when they are. Ultimately, emotions have no place in investing.

Recently, we’ve spoken to many clients who want to ride the post-election growth train. Just as we’re here to help you from despairing when stocks tumble, we also want to help control euphoria when the markets rally. Rallies can’t continue forever, and impulsive choices can challenge your security. As always, we want you to take the right amount of risk for your unique circumstances and stay focused on the long-term goals that we’re pursuing together.

If you have any questions about how current events are affecting your financial life, we are here to talk. Please contact us any time.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

 Monday: ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
Tuesday: International Trade, Productivity and Costs
Wednesday: Gallup U.S. Job Creation Index
Friday: Consumer Sentiment

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