March 2017 Market Update Video

Since February was a record-breaking month for the economy, Josh and I decided we wanted to try to break a record of our own. Watch our video to find out how we did!

Also in this month’s video, we’ll discuss some of the major headlines that influenced markets in February — 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.

Too Close to Call: Fed’s Decision on Interest Rates – Weekly Update for March 6, 2017

On Wednesday, March 1, the three major domestic indexes all had their best performance in 2017 and reached record highs yet again. In fact, the S&P 500 hit 2,400 for the first time ever on the same day the Dow went above 21,000 for the first time. While the markets cooled slightly on Thursday and Friday, all three indexes were up for the week. The S&P 500 added 0.67%, the Dow increased by 0.88%, and the NASDAQ was up 0.44%. International equities in the MSCI EAFE also grew, adding 0.39% for the week.

In the midst of more record performance, we received a number of data updates that help improve our understanding of the true economic environment and potential for the Fed to increase interest rates next week.

What We Learned Last Week

  • Fourth Quarter 2016 GDP Readings Stayed the Same

On February 28, we received the second reading of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the fourth quarter of 2016. The consensus expectation was for the reading to increase to 2.1% from the 1.9% growth in January’s Advance report. However, the newest data did not show any change in Q4 GDP.

  • Manufacturing Activity Increased

The ISM manufacturing survey beat expectations to come in at 57.7 for February—the highest reading in 2.5 years and the best yearly start since 2011. Levels over 50 indicate expansion, so this data provides a positive signal for our manufacturing sector.

  • Service Sector Activity Increased

In February, the service sector grew for the 86th straight month, with the ISM non-manufacturing survey coming in at 57.6. Both new orders and business activity had faster expansion, and the employment index also increased.

  • Consumer Confidence Hit a More Than 15-Year High

The latest consumer confidence numbers from the Conference Board have not been this high since July 2001. Fewer people think that jobs are “hard to get,” and many “consumers expect the economy to continue expanding in the months ahead.” Of course, consumer confidence is no guarantee for future circumstances; instead, it measures sentiment and currently indicates that many people feel more positively about the economy.

  • Personal Income Went Up

The latest personal income data indicated a 0.4% increase in January—for a 4.0% yearly increase. In addition, the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) deflator, which measures consumer inflation, grew by 0.4% in January, the largest monthly increase since 2011. The Federal Reserve follows the PCE deflator very closely, so this recent jump could be another sign that a March interest-rate increase could be more likely to occur.

These data updates are only a few of the economic details we learned last week, but together, they may help explain why the Fed could increase rates in the March 14 – 15 meeting. As recently as Tuesday morning, the odds of a rate hike were only 35%. By Friday, they had increased to 81%, due to strong economic data and remarks from Fed representatives. On Friday, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said that if employment and inflation continue to change as they expect, then a change to the “federal funds rate would likely be appropriate.”[xviii]

Combined with the recent PCE deflator increases, this Friday’s employment data should help provide more context for the Fed’s decision. However, as we have seen before, no one truly knows what the Fed will decide until they make their announcement after the meeting. For now, we will monitor the data and wait to hear the Fed’s announcement on March 15.

Economic Calendar

Monday: Factory Orders
Tuesday: International Trade
Wednesday: Productivity and Costs
Thursday: Import and Export Prices
Friday: Employment Situation

Upcoming Reports Impacting the Market – Weekly Upate for February 27, 2017

Once again, domestic markets reached record highs last week. The S&P 500 was up by 0.69% and the NASDAQ increased by 0.12%. With its 0.96% week-over-week growth, the Dow has posted gains for 11 straight days and is currently experiencing its longest record streak since 1987. On the other hand, international equities in the MSCI EAFE lost ground, dropping by 0.25% for the week.

Last week did not offer much new information on economic fundamentals. With the exception of January increases for new single-family homes and the fastest pace of existing home sales since 2007, we do not have a tremendous amount of new data to share.

In the absence of this data, focusing on the roiling political conversations becomes much easier. As we have said before, we encourage you to pay attention to how the economy is performing—not what the headlines are blaring. Rather than recount the policy debates and political back-and-forth, we will discuss three important economic developments on our horizon: revised GDP, February CPI, and Fed interest rate deliberations.

What’s Ahead?

February 28: Revised Q4 2016 GDP

On Tuesday, we will receive the second growth estimate of the U.S. economy during the fourth quarter of 2016, which came in at 1.9% in the first estimate. Consensus is that the revised estimate will increase to 2.1%, but we will have to wait until March 30 to see the third and final measurement of Q4 economic growth.

The Bottom Line: GDP is key in measuring the U.S. economy’s strength. Any upward revisions would signal our economy is growing faster than the initial readings indicated.

March 15: February Consumer Price Index (CPI)

In January, the CPI experienced its largest month-over-month jump since 2013. The upcoming February report will help to show whether prices are continuing to increase and how the cost of living is changing.

The Bottom Line: The CPI measures changes to the average cost of specific goods and services that consumers purchase and is a key indicator for inflation. This data
affects the bond and equity markets, labor contracts, Social Security payments, tax brackets, and more 

March 15: Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) Meeting Announcement

From March 14 – 15, the FOMC will meet and determine whether or not to raise the Federal Reserve’s benchmark interest rates. After the meeting concludes, Fed Chair Janet Yellen will announce their decision—a move that market participants will watch very closely. Yellen recently commented that “Waiting too long to [raise rates] would be unwise.” However, Wall Street does not expect an increase in March and shows a less than 1 in 5 chance of this move.

The Bottom Line: When the Fed changes its benchmark interest rate, the effects reverberate throughout our economy. According to Barron’s, the FOMC interest-rate policy meetings “are the single most influential event for the markets.” If the Fed decides to raise rates, this choice would affect interest rates now and also imply that monetary policy will continue to tighten throughout 2017.

These upcoming details are only a few of the noteworthy economic details on the horizon. If you have questions about what other fundamental data we are tracking or believe could affect your financial life, we are always here and would love to connect!

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: Durable Goods Orders, Pending Home Sales Index
Tuesday: GDP, Consumer Confidence
Wednesday: Motor Vehicle Sales, PMI Manufacturing Index, ISM Mfg Index,
Friday: PMI Services Index, ISM Non-Mfg Index

Tips for Tax Deduction and Credit Planning

Tax season is in full swing — and the federal filing deadline is fewer than two months away on Tuesday, April 18. As you prepare to file your taxes, we want to help you make the most of your available credits and deductions. After all, every dollar you do not spend on taxes is one you can potentially invest toward your financial future. So, we’ve compiled tips for tax deduction and credit planning, with information on who is eligible and how you could possibly benefit.

Understanding Available Credits

Each tax credit you qualify for will directly reduce your tax payments. The IRS offers two kinds of credits: refundable and nonrefundable. With refundable credits, you can receive a refund, even if you owe less than the credit amount. On the other hand, nonrefundable credits offer a refund amount up to your tax liability.

Knowing which tax credits you qualify for can significantly reduce the amount of taxes you owe — and possibly even result in a refund. The IRS has a number of credits for individual taxpayers, but here is a list of common ones you could qualify for:

  • Earned-Income Tax Credit: For households with low- to moderate-income.
    The income limits can fluctuate, and many more people qualify for this credit than may realize it. In fact, 25% of eligible taxpayers do not claim this credit — which can be over $6,000 per household.
  •  Child and Dependent Care Credit: For households who pay for childcare.
    If you have dependent children and pay for childcare, you may qualify for credits up to $6,000, depending on your adjusted gross income (AGI).
  • Credit for the Elderly or Disabled: For taxpayers 65 and older, or those on permanent disability who meet income requirements.
    This credit starts at $3,750 and goes as high as $7,500. So, if you fit the age or disability restrictions, researching your eligibility is well worth the effort.
  •  Lifetime Learning Credit: For households paying for education.
    This credit can provide you up to $2,000 toward qualified tuition and enrollment fees. To be eligible, you must have a modified AGI less than $130,000 as a married couple or $65,000 as an individual.
  • Premium Tax Credit: For households that purchased health insurance through a federal or state marketplace.
    This credit helps people cover the cost of premiums for insurance they purchase through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Depending on your income and other personal details, you may be able to receive a premium tax credit if you, your spouse, or your dependent purchased an eligible health insurance plan.

 Planning Your Deductions

Deductions help reduce your taxable income, thereby hopefully lowering your tax liabilities. Between itemized and standard deductions, taxpayers claimed nearly $2 trillion in the most recently tracked year. That’s a lot of money! But, chances are, many people miss eligible deductions and still pay more in taxes than they need to.

Remember, when you use the standard deduction, you can likely claim a higher deduction if you or your spouse has a qualifying vision impairment or a birthday on January 2, 1952, or earlier.

If you itemize your deductions, you are likely familiar with the opportunities to write off your home mortgage interest, tuition fees, and charitable contributions. But here are a more few deductions you may be eligible to take, depending on your circumstances:

  • State Sales Tax: Mostly for households who don’t pay state or local income tax.
    If you only pay federal income taxes, you may be able to deduct your state sales tax on your federal return. This deduction is especially helpful if you made a large, taxable purchase in 2016, such as a car.
  • Business Travel Expenses: For taxpayers who have unreimbursed work travel.
    If you paid for travel to conferences, meetings, or other work obligations, you may be able to deduct your expenses. The list of potentially deductible items goes beyond transportation and lodging to include dry cleaning, meals, business calls, and more.
  • Student Loan Interest: For households paying student loan debt.
    If you currently pay student loan debt, you may be able to deduct interest, depending on your income and specific circumstances. Deductions can be up to $2,500 for student loan interest — and you are allowed to claim this deduction even if you don’t itemize deductions on your tax return.
  • Sale of Your Home: For households who profited from selling their main home in 2016.
    If you sold your primary residence last year and earned a profit, you may qualify to claim this exclusion. If you qualify, you can exclude up to $250,000 of the gain from your income – or up to $500,000 if you file taxes jointly with your spouse.

Because the opportunities to reduce your tax liabilities are vast, and these credits and deductions are only the beginning, it is best to consult with your tax preparer or a qualified tax professional. Various factors in your unique financial life will guide what options are available to you. If you have questions or would like to learn more about how you can make the most of your 2016 federal taxes, we are happy to talk. Send us an email, or give us a call at (419) 425-2400. We can also connect you with qualified tax professionals, should you seek further support.

January Reporting & An Up Market – Weekly Update for February 21, 2017

Another week, another round of record highs. Despite concerns about how France’s upcoming presidential election could affect the European Union’s stability, U.S. stocks ended the week up yet again. The S&P 500 gained 1.51%, the Dow added 1.75%, and the NASDAQ increased 1.82%—growth that represents record highs for all three indexes. International equities in the MSCI EAFE also posted positive returns, with 0.78% growth for the week.

A number of data reports also came out last week, and they tell a mostly encouraging story about the economy right now.

JANUARY INCREASES

Consumer Price Index Up by 0.6%

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures the average prices of specific consumer goods and services, beat expectations and experienced its largest month-over-month jump since 2013. The index is now 2.5% higher than a year ago, a sign that inflation could be picking up.

Producer Price Index Up by 0.6%

Whereas the CPI evaluates price changes from a consumer’s perspective, the Producer Price Index (PPI), measures changes from the seller’s perspective. For January, the PPI also beat expectations, with energy experiencing a 4.7% increase.

Retail Sales Up by 0.4%

The monthly Retail Sales report shows growth or contraction in consumer demand for goods and can help indicate whether the economy is expanding. In addition to January’s 0.4% growth, the latest report included upward revisions for November and December 2016. Overall, Retail Sales are up 5.6% over January 2016.

Small Business Optimism Index Up by 0.1 points

Each month, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) releases the results of its Small Business Optimism Index, which shows results from its member surveys. This report measures the mood of small business owners—the largest employers in the U.S.—and January’s results are the highest reading since December 2004. Last month’s growth comes on the back of December’s 7.4 point jump, the survey’s largest ever increase. In other words, small business owners are interested in hiring and expanding, good news for American workers and the economy.

JANUARY DECREASES

Industrial Production Down by 0.3%

Last month, industrial firms, such as factories and mines, produced a lower volume of raw goods. If you dig deeper, however, the data is likely less concerning than what it may seem at first. For example, warmer-than-normal temperatures in the contiguous U.S.—a factor that does not have to do with the economy—contributed to utility output’s 5.7% decrease, the largest drop since 2006.[xv]

Housing Starts Down by 2.6%

The number of new houses beginning construction fell in January, but future construction permits increased by 4.6%—higher than any time since November 2015.[xvi] Housing Starts are also up 10.5% over January 2016.[xvii] While the most recent report shows a monthly dip, the data indicates that housing has grown over the past year and will continue to grow in the future.

As you can gather from the balance between data increases and decreases, the January reports we received last week indicate an economy that is growing. We will continue to monitor the pace of growth and stay on top of political developments as we strive to determine what changes or opportunities may be on the horizon.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR

Monday: U.S. Markets Closed for Presidents Day Holiday
Wednesday: Existing Home Sales
Friday: New Home Sales, Consumer Sentiment

What To Do With The Trade Deficit – Weekly Update for February 13, 2017

The political world has presented much conversation lately, but one topic has had Americans’ attention since campaigning season: tax reform. Last week, President Trump announced that a tax plan is forthcoming, and domestic markets responded by reaching record highs. In fact, we saw positive market performance even before the announcement, as the S&P 500 and Dow posted new records two days in a row, while the NASDAQ reached record highs every day except Monday. By Friday, the Dow was up 0.99%, the NASDAQ added 1.19%, and the S&P 500 capped its fourth consecutive week of gains to increase by 0.81%. On the other hand, the MSCI EAFE was down this week, posting a 0.03% loss.

In today’s highly politicized market environment, we understand that you seek insight on how changes could affect your financial life. While we could focus on potential policy or tax adjustments, many of these details are still unclear. Rather than addressing speculation, we prefer to analyze and share key data that we do have details on from last week: the trade deficit.

What happened? The most recent trade deficit numbers came in last week, showing that in December 2016 the following occurred:

Why should you care? As we discussed a few weeks ago, trade is integral to our economy—and we saw a decrease in net exports slow GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2016. Essentially, when the U.S. imports more goods than we export, the economy may not perform as well.

However, analyzing the trade deficit is not a simple “lower is better, higher is worse” circumstance. In a healthy economy, the trade deficit can increase, as Americans’ incomes grow and they buy more imported goods. Understanding what signs are positive and which are negative can help you better know where we stand.

What can we learn from this week’s findings? The trade deficit is larger than a year ago, but the increases are less dramatic than what some headlines may imply. For instance, a MarketWatch article shared that “U.S. trade deficit hits highest level in four years.” But when you look at the changes on a graph, the difference may seem less extreme than the headline implies.

Ultimately, while the balance between imports and exports is meaningful, the volume of trade matters greatly as well. December’s increasing trade volume—both imports and exports—can show us that both U.S. and global economies are improving.

Looking ahead, changes to trade deals and corporate tax rates could have significant effects on the trade balance and volume. We will continue to evaluate this monthly metric to look for insight into our economy’s fundamental strength. As always, we will work to keep you informed so you know what is happening and how we are pursuing your goals in an evolving world.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Tuesday: Producer Price Index
Wednesday: Consumer Price Index, Retail Sales, Industrial Production, Housing Market Index
Thursday: Housing Starts
Friday: E-Commerce Retail Sales

February 2017 Market Update Video

 

In this month’s video, Josh will discuss some of the major headlines that influenced markets in January — and provide some insight into what these developments could mean for you as an advisor.

If you have any questions or concerns after watching this video, please get in touch with us. We would love to talk to you. You can give us a call at (419) 425-2400, or send us an email.

Thank you for watching!

January Jobs Jump – Weekly Update for February 6, 2017

Political headlines continued to fill the news last week, and while domestic markets declined during mid-week trading, they rebounded on Friday, February 3. Overall, the week showed only modest movement, as the S&P 500 added 0.12%, the NASDAQ was up 0.11% to end at a record high, and the MSCI EAFE grew by 0.01%. The Dow was down by 0.11% but still managed to end above 20,000 after dipping below this benchmark between Tuesday and Thursday.

So, why did domestic markets perform well on Friday? A better-than-expected jobs report.

The January Jobs Report

Depending on which survey you look at, economic experts predicted the economy would add an average of between 175,000 and 180,000 jobs in January. Instead, on Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ report showed the economy added 227,000 jobs last month—far higher than predicted. This increase means job growth has continued for 76 months in a row.

You gain a much clearer picture, however, when you look beyond the big headlines and see what other data tells us. Here’s a quick rundown of what we found:

Hourly Earnings Increased, but by a Very Small Margin

Average hourly earnings grew by only 3 cents in January—and showed a 2.5% increase over last year. This monthly growth is less than a third of what we saw in December 2016. However, one industry in particular may have caused these slower gains, as a 1% decrease in financial industry earnings depressed overall wage growth.

Unemployment Increased, but for a Potentially Positive Reason

When you hear that unemployment increased from 4.7% in December to 4.8% in January, this may sound like bad news. However, a major reason for this increase is that labor force participation grew by 0.2% in January, the first increase in months. In other words, after sitting on the sidelines, more people are now rejoining the labor force and creating additional opportunities for economic growth.

Jobs Are Available, but Workers May Need Training or Relocation

While labor force participation increased last month, its 62.9% rate is still near the lowest level in decades. According to Glassdoor Chief Economist Andrew Chamberlain, approximately 5.5 million jobs remain open in the U.S.—close to a record number. Some of these jobs, such as retail and food service, don’t require much training, but they aren’t always located near where unemployed workers live. Other jobs in the hot fields of healthcare and technology require training and skills that many workers simply do not have right now. As a result, closing the gap between open jobs and willing workers is a complex challenge for employers and job-searchers alike.

The Bottom Line

The labor market is continuing to improve, but the pace remains slower than what most people would prefer. Nonetheless, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest revisions show that private-sector payrolls have increased for 83 straight months, the longest growth streak since the 1920s.

How any potential new pro-growth policies affect the labor market remains to be seen, as does how to fill the millions of open jobs available right now. In the meantime, people are working more hours for higher pay than they were this time last year, and job participation is growing.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:
Monday: Labor Market Conditions Index
Tuesday: International Trade
Wednesday: EIA Petroleum Status Report
Friday: Import and Export Prices, Consumer Sentiment

 

6 Tax Filing Errors to Avoid

The dawn of 2017 brings opportunities to create new resolutions or plans for the next 12 months — and also marks the beginning of tax season. While tax day on April 18th can seem far off, this year’s deadline will be here before you know it.

As you start the process of gathering your tax documents and completing your return, we want to provide a reminder of common filing errors to look out for. Whether you hire a professional or go it alone, avoiding these mistakes can help ensure your taxes are correct and prevent unnecessary delay or feedback from the IRS.

Tax Filing Errors to Avoid

 1. Having incorrect or missing Social Security Numbers

The IRS processes millions of tax returns each year, and they need correct identifying information in order to address yours correctly. Transposing numbers when writing your Social Security Number (SSN) or accidentally recording your spouse’s or children’s SSN incorrectly is easy when you’re writing or typing quickly. Before you submit your taxes, check each SSN against the Social Security card to make sure the numbers are accurate.

2. Choosing the wrong filing status

Your filing status determines many aspects of your tax responsibilities — from your standard deduction to applicable credits. So, ensuring you select the right option is crucial. Because you may be eligible for more than one filing status, this year’s best choice could be different than in the past. To explore which filing status is right, visit https://www.irs.gov/uac/what-is-my-filing-status and complete a five-minute survey to determine which choice fits your circumstances and will result in the lowest tax liabilities.

3. Not addressing life changes

Life is full of transitions, and many of them affect your tax liabilities. When you begin to work on your taxes or meet with your tax preparer, identify any changes that impact your financial life. Marriage, divorce, and house buying are common life events to address, but the list extends much further:

  • Do you have a child who started daycare?
  • Did a parent move in with you?
  • Did you turn a spare room into a home office?

Take an inventory of your life in 2016 and look for changes that could matter to your taxes.

4. Missing or miscalculating charitable donations

Contributing to nonprofits is a powerful way to promote your values — and lower your tax bill. So, make sure you receive the greatest benefit by capturing all of your charitable donations in 2016. Gather your records for all donations to qualified, tax-exempt organizations, including:

  • Cash
  • Tax-deductible event tickets
  • Clothing
  • Household goods
  • And more

*Remember:

When calculating your donations, use the fair-market value (what someone would pay for the item now) not your original purchase price.

5. Making typos

Tax returns are long and filled with data — especially if you have other forms or worksheets to complete along with your standard Form 1040. Each entry creates an opportunity to make a mistake. Before filing your return, comb through your answers and cross-reference to make sure you or your tax preparer has:

  • Spelled each name correctly
  • Input the right numbers from each form
  • Listed your bank account numbers correctly if you’re using direct deposit

6. Filing by mail

Completing hard copies of your tax documents and sending them by mail is still a valid option, but the IRS recommends you file electronically. The e-file system will often find common errors in your return and reject it for you to correct them — so you can fix any mistakes now rather than experiencing potential filing delays with a paper return.

Few people enjoy doing their taxes, but if you take the time to slow down and avoid these filing errors, you can help simplify your experience and keep Uncle Sam off your back.

If you have any questions about your financial life or would like advice on finding the right tax professional, give us a call at (419) 425-2400, or send us email. We are here to help!

The Dow’s New Record – Weekly Update for January 30, 2017

After a brief pause during inauguration week, stocks continued to climb last week. The S&P 500 added 1.03%, the NASDAQ was up 1.90%, and the MSCI EAFE increased by 1.29%. The Dow also grew, adding 1.34%, ending the week above while hitting 20,000 for the first time ever.

Consumer confidence matched this positive performance, as the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment measurement beat expectations in January and reached the highest levels since 2004. However, one piece of data we received last week gave a less rosy view of the economy: initial gross domestic product (GDP) reports.

What Happened: GDP Missed Projections

On Friday, we received the first report on real GDP for the fourth quarter of 2016. Growth declined significantly to come in at 1.9%—down from the third quarter’s reading of 3.5%.

Looking Deeper

Many aspects of our economy showed solid growth in the fourth quarter. Household purchases grew, business-equipment spending advanced for the first time in over a year, and inventory accumulation increased. Net exports, however, pulled growth down by 1.7%—the biggest drag since 2010—as we saw a jump in imports coupled with a decline in exports. Working to increase U.S. exports is important because it can help strengthen America’s economy, support additional jobs, and promote sustainable growth.

Without net exports pulling down economic expansion, fourth-quarter GDP could have been even higher than in the third quarter. Trade is integral to our economy, and changes in the balance between imports and exports measurably effect growth. The new administration’s potential plans to tax Mexican imports, change trade relationships with China, and restrict visitors from certain countries could affect our imports and exports—and thus our economy.

Between lagging GDP and the Dow reaching historic levels, this week showed us a range of perspectives on where the economy now stands. The markets will always have uncertainty and unanswered questions, and—as always—we must stay focused on the fundamentals that drive performance in the long term. For now, we will continue monitoring policy developments and the trade deficit to determine how they may impact economic growth in 2017 and beyond. We will also pay close attention to the economic data upon which we build our strategies for pursuing your goals.

ECONOMIC CALENDAR:

Monday: Personal Income and Outlays

Tuesday: Consumer Confidence

Wednesday: ADP Employment Report, ISM Manufacturing Index, FOMC Meeting Announcement

Thursday: Productivity and Costs

Friday: Employment Situation, Factory Orders, ISM Non-Manufacturing Index