Archives for April 2017

Did you know that April is National Financial Literacy Month?

What started out as a financial-literacy awareness day more than a decade ago is now a month-long campaign that has been recognized by Congress every year since 2004. The program is designed to highlight the importance of financial literacy and teach people of all ages how to manage their money wisely. And, according to recent surveys, Americans have a lot of room to improve in their financial knowledge.

A July 2016 study by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) shows that 63% of Americans are unable to correctly answer more than three of five questions about basic economics and finance. FINRA’s study included more than 25,000 American adults, who represented national population in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and education.

About 40% of those surveyed spend less than they earn. The other 60% are either breaking even or spending more than they earn, which means they are unable to save money steadily.

It’s no surprise then that the study also shows that 50% of Americans don’t have a “rainy day” fund to cover expenses for three months — in case of emergencies such as sickness, job loss or economic downturn. Those without an emergency savings face unexpected financial blows that not only compromise their personal financial stability, but decrease overall economic stability as well.

Let’s look at three tips that could enhance your financial literacy, or that of one of your friends or family members.

Set and Follow a Budget that Works for You

There are norms in budgeting, but those are variable and defined by influences out of your control, including your zip code and tax bracket. Ask yourself what your normal is. An estimation tool you might use is the 50/30/20 rule. That ratio breaks down like this:

  • 50% of net income: Spend about 50% of your take-home pay on “fixed costs” — bills that are about the same amount each month. This might include things such as rent/mortgage, car payments, utilities, cell phone service, and memberships or subscriptions (Netflix, gym, Spotify).
  • 30% of net income: In the 50/30/20 plan, about 30% of your net pay would go toward flexible spending — also commonly called disposable income or lifestyle expenses. These might include costs for hobbies, shopping, and entertainment. We will include gas and groceries in this category because even though they are needs, how you spend your money on these things might vary. One month, you might travel, which means you might spend more that month on gas and food/groceries.
  • 20% of net income: Reserve about 20% of your net income for your financial goals. Three important goals to think about are paying down credit-card debt, saving for retirement, and building that emergency fund.

Manage your habits; change them if needed so they work for you. And remember that financial stability doesn’t necessarily mean mortgages and car payments. Determine your normal.

Start Saving Now

Saving money is easy to put off doing, since the consequences of not steadily saving may not be noticed or felt until later in life when you try to buy a house, send your kids to a top college or retire at a certain age.

So, start now — one of the easiest ways to make regular savings deposits is to pay yourself first from each paycheck. That way, it’s gone before you even notice it’s missing. Though saving for retirement usually is priority, you might also want to make sure you have financial reserves for emergencies.

Set Specific Financial Goals

It’s never too soon, or too late, to set financial goals. According to an ongoing survey conducted by the National Financial Educators Council on its website, participants between the ages of 18 and 24 made barely passing scores of between 68% and 73% on the 30-question test, designed to measure a person’s ability to earn, save and grow their money. The results were only marginally better — at 73% — for those in the 25- to 50-year-old age group.

The first steps to setting financials goals include:

  • securing a steady source of income;
  • making sure you have financial reserves;
  • protecting yourself and your family from financial upheavals or disaster by buying the right insurance for life, health, disability income, and possessions.

Getting further ahead each year takes patience and planning. If your reserves stay flat, inflation will diminish its value. Stay alert and ready to go after opportunities to grow your money.

Think about what your personal financial goals are — sorting them by wants or needs might help. Decide which ones are long-term or short-term goals and prioritize them. Choose goals you’re enthusiastic about to help you reach them.

With your 50/30/20 budget, you should be able to distribute your limited resources in ways that make it possible to reach your goals.

If you have questions or would like to learn more about certain financial topics, we are happy to talk. Send us an email, or give us a call at 419-425-2400.

 

 

Stocks Up on French Election Uncertainty – Weekly Update for April 24, 2017

Domestic stocks posted losses on Friday, April 21, largely due to investor concerns about the French election. Despite these daily losses, U.S. indexes broke their two-week losing streak, with the S&P 500 adding 0.85%, the Dow gaining 0.46%, and the NASDAQ increasing 1.82%. International stocks in the MSCI EAFE grew by 0.18%.

What Did We Learn Last Week? 

  • The French Election Is Concerning Investors

Uncertainty surrounding France’s presidential election contributed to investor caution last week. After Sunday’s ballot, National Front candidate Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round of voting on May 7, which decides the new president. Le Pen has promised to remove France from the European Union if she wins, a choice that could affect markets and currencies.

  • Quarterly Earnings Reports Are Mostly Strong

By Friday morning, 95 companies in the S&P 500 had reported their quarterly earnings; 77% of them beat earnings-per-share estimates.

  • Existing Home Sales Jumped 4.4% in March

Sales of existing homes hit levels not seen since 2007, and median home prices are up 6.8% over a year ago. Supply levels remain tight, and demand is high, as 48% of homes sold last month were on the market for less than a month.

  • Housing Starts Declined 6.8% in March

While the headline number for housing starts may seem pretty disappointing, it largely reflects the results of a return to typical March weather after unseasonably mild weather boosted starts in January and February. Overall, housing starts are up 9.2% over this time last year.

  • The Consumer Price Index Missed Expectations

Declines in gas and other energy prices contributed to the U.S. Consumer Price Index (CPI) falling 0.3% in March—its first monthly decline in more than a year.

  • Tax-Plan Information May Be on the Horizon

On April 20, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated that tax reform remains important. The next day, President Trump said a tax plan should be coming this week.

  • Oil Prices Dropped

Crude oil prices fell below $50 a barrel after losing 2.15% on Friday. Investors are showing concern about whether output decreases by OPEC can balance out against increasing U.S. production and prevent oversupply.

What’s Ahead

Moving into the last week of April, we will learn both first quarter GDP readings and gain further insight into consumer confidence and housing performance. On Friday, April 28, initial readings for first quarter GDP will help deepen our understanding of where the economy stands right now. Consensus estimates are at a soft 1.1% growth, even lower than last quarter’s 2.1% increase. After seeing this week’s low CPI numbers, combined with retail and inventory data, Barclays decreased its GDP estimate to only 0.8%.

Last week provided a variety of data and perspectives that are continuing to reveal themselves. As momentum from the French presidential outcomes and our own economic growth unfolds, we will watch these developments closely. Meanwhile, we encourage you to continue a long-term focus on your goals, and we are here to discuss any questions you may have along the way.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday: S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller HPI, New Home Sales, Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report
Thursday: Durable Goods Orders, International Trade in Goods, Pending Home Sales Index
Friday: GDP, Employment Cost Index, Consumer Sentiment

First Glance: What Does Our Economy Look Like This Year? – Weekly Update for April 17, 2017

Last week, major indexes experienced losses for the second week in a row, with the S&P 500 falling 1.21%, the Dow giving back 1.01%, the NASDAQ dropping 1.26%, and the MSCI EAFE declining 0.14%.

Markets closed on April 14 for the Good Friday holiday, but in the four trading days, a number of headlines dominated the news cycles:

  • International tensions surrounding Syria and North Korea continued to heighten.
  • The U.S. dropped its biggest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan.
  • United Airlines lost $250 million in market value on Tuesday after footage emerged of a passenger’s violent removal from an overbooked flight.

These headlines drew great attention last week, and we will continue to follow events as they develop. Meanwhile, we want to focus on newly released data from last week that gives perspectives on where the economy is today—and what we should watch for in the coming months. In a nutshell, the reports hinted at relatively slow growth in the first quarter of 2017.

Inflation and Spending Dropped

  • The producer price index, which measures price changes for producers of goods and services, missed expectations and fell 0.1% in March.
  • The consumer price index, which measures price changes in a group of goods and services consumers purchase, fell 0.3%—much more than predicted.
  • Retail sales declined 0.2% in March, the second monthly drop in a row.

Consumer Sentiment and Jobless Claims Were Positive

  • The April Consumer Sentiment Index readings beat expectations, revealing people’s assessment of current economic conditions being near the all-time high.
  • Jobless claims came in well below expectations to show fewer people filing first-time unemployment claims—indicating a strong labor market.

Analyzed together, this new data could indicate that the Federal Reserve will be less likely to raise rates in June. However, we still have two more months of data and market performance until that meeting, and much can change in that time. Consumer spending accounts for approximately 70% of the total economy. Thus, high consumer sentiment and a tightening labor market—coupled with delayed income-tax returns—could help the economy pick up in the coming months.

Right now, we are in the thick of quarterly earnings season. Last Thursday, we saw J.P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup exceed their earnings estimates and still lose value in their shares that day. Determining whether this investor response is industry specific or indicative of other sentiment changes will be a key detail to examine in the coming weeks. The forthcoming reports will give key insights into the health of corporate America—and the market’s reaction to the companies’ performance.

We will continue to watch political and market developments and how they affect our overall economy. In the meantime, we encourage you to keep a focus on your long-term goals and the strategies that can help support your financial life.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: Housing Market Index
Tuesday: Housing Starts, Industrial Production
Wednesday: Beige Book
Friday: Existing Home Sales

April 2017 Market Update Video

In this month’s video, I will discuss some of the major headlines that influenced markets over the past month. In addition, I share three signs of the tremendous economic progress the US has made over the past 8 years  — and provide insight into what these developments could mean for you as an investor.

If you have any questions about your portfolio after viewing this video, please give us a call at 419-425-2400, or send us an email. We would love to talk with you.

Special Quarterly Update: Stocks Post Strong Gains In Q1

The first quarter of 2017 is now behind us, and although we won’t have complete economic data for a while, we do know that domestic stocks had a solid start to the year. Last week, major indexes took a pause from some recent gains and began the second quarter of 2017 with less than thrilling performance. The S&P 500 lost 0.30%, the Dow was down 0.03%, the NASDAQ gave back 0.57%, and the MSCI EAFE declined 0.72%. For this week’s update, we’re going to examine what happened to markets in the first quarter.

How did markets perform in Q1?

All three major domestic indexes posted sizable gains in the first three months of 2017:

  • S&P 500 up 5.5%
  • Dow up 4.6%
  • NASDAQ up 9.8%

As we mentioned last week, the NASDAQ’s nearly double-digit growth represented its best quarter since 2013.

However, the majority of the markets’ gains happened in January and February. While the NASDAQ increased 1.48% in March, the S&P 500 stayed flat and the Dow lost 0.72% in the same period.

Which stocks outperformed in Q1?

Large cap stocks—companies with more than $5 billion in market capitalization—drove much of the growth we saw last quarter. Tech stocks performed especially well, gaining more than 12% over the quarter. In fact, S&P Info Tech, which tracks information technology stocks in the S&P 500, was the quarter’s highest performing sector index.

How did politics affect market performance in Q1?

As the new presidential administration came to power last quarter, investors closely followed policy news and headlines. We encourage you to pay more attention to economic fundamentals than media reports, but we understand that completely ignoring political conversations would have been challenging in Q1.

Overall, investor expectations for the new administration’s pro-growth policies helped push the markets to numerous record highs last quarter. However, when Congress chose not to vote on the American Health Care Act, market concerns increased about whether new policy changes would actually occur. The Dow lost 317 points the week of the expected—but cancelled—healthcare vote.

How high was volatility in Q1?

Even though policy debates have seemed to heighten the emotional landscape this year, the VIX measure of volatility recorded its lowest Q1 average ever. The 11.69 level is also the second lowest quarterly average since 1990.

What might be on the horizon?

Earnings season is upon us, and investors will be watching to see whether reports match expectations. According to FactSet, the S&P 500’s estimated earnings growth rate for Q1 2017 is 8.9%—which would be its best year-over-year earnings growth since 2013. Only a handful of S&P 500 companies have reported their earnings so far; of these reports, 57% exceeded the mean sales estimate and 74% exceeded the mean earnings-per-share estimate.

In addition to earnings, the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate decisions will be on many people’s minds throughout 2017. After raising rates on March 15, the Fed expects at least two more increases this year. So far, the markets absorbed these increases well, with the Dow even gaining 100 points on the Fed’s last meeting day.

Ultimately, we have many data points, policy updates, and economic indicators to focus on in the coming months. As of now, 2017 has started with strong market performance, high consumer confidence, and low volatility.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Tuesday: JOLTS
Wednesday: Import and Export Prices, EIA Petroleum Status Report
Thursday: PPI-FD, Consumer Sentiment
Friday: Consumer Price Index, Retail Sales, Business Inventories

Q1’s Initial Data & Records: What’s Next? – Weekly Update for April 3, 2017

With the first quarter of 2017 now behind us, we have seen the three major indexes all gain more than 4.5% so far this year. In fact, the NASDAQ just experienced its best quarter since 2013 due to tech stocks driving growth.

Despite closing down on Friday, the indexes added to their quarterly gains last week.  The S&P 500 grew by 0.80%, the Dow was up 0.32%, and the NASDAQ gained 1.42%. At the same time, international stocks in the MSCI EAFE lost 0.26% for the week.

What else happened last week?

  • Oil gained on word from OPEC

Oil prices experienced their largest weekly gains in 2017, ending above $50 a barrel. This growth is largely a result of speculation that OPEC (an intergovernmental organization of 13 oil-producing countries) will continue its agreement to curb oil output. By reducing supply, the nations aim to reduce the supply glut that drives prices down.

  • Q4 GDP increased with revisions

The final revisions for fourth quarter GDP beat expectations, coming in at 2.1%—up from the previous estimates of 1.9% growth. This plodding growth is in keeping with the economic recovery we have experienced the past several years.

  • Inflation hit a key Fed benchmark

When deciding on monetary policy, the Federal Reserve pays close attention to the PCE deflator, an inflation measurement from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They want to see this data above 2%. We learned last week that in February the PCE deflator hit this level for the first time since 2012. If this trend continues, we could see additional interest rate increases this year.

  • Consumer confidence and sentiment remained high

The Conference Board’s March readings for consumer confidence jumped to the highest levels since December 2000, surprising economists who expected the reading to decline from February. The University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment readings also showed an increase for March. However, the Michigan survey’s chief economist pointed out that participants’ sentiment showed a deep partisan divide. With confidence and uncertainty seemingly split along party lines, the effect on spending behaviors remains to be seen.

So far, the first quarter of 2017 has brought market growth and several positive economic data reports—coupled with heated policy debates occurring in government and the media. Moving forward, we will continue to seek the best opportunities to pursue your goals and keep you informed with the information you need to help make solid decisions.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Manufacturing Index, Construction Spending
Tuesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, Factory Orders
Wednesday: ISM Non-Manufacturing Index
Friday: Employment Situation