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Graduation Gifts for a Successful Future

It’s incredible how fast the year goes by; it’s already June.  Kids all over the country are graduating and starting new chapters in their lives.  Traditional gifts like an envelope of money or a Hawaiian lei are the norm, but it wouldn’t hurt to consider a few non-conventional gifts that might be equally as meaningful.    

In America, Land of the Free, higher education is anything but free.  In fact, the U.S. actually leads in having the highest average annual tuition fees, worldwide[i].  However, with education being the pathway to future career opportunities, many are willing to take on debt they would not normally consider.  Today, 70%[ii] of college graduates are leaving school with debt.  That means roughly one in four American adults are paying education loans, which amounts to approximately $1.5 trillion in student debt.  Studies have shown that young adults have delayed buying homes, starting families and other major life decisions until they are more financially stable, due in part to the burden of debt. 

With that in mind, it may not hurt to consider the traditional graduation gifts in combination with a few practical ones as well.  Here are a few ideas:

Gift Card to Purchase Books

Text books and course materials can be shockingly expensive.  For high school grads heading to college, a little help with books could go a long way.  Many colleges still sell books in the campus bookstores, but often schools also use the services of education material suppliers. These suppliers provide students print and digital content that can be ordered online and picked up at school or downloaded.  If you know where the student is going to college, you can buy a campus bookstore gift card.  Other textbook gift card options could include Amazon or Follett.  

A Professional Suit

Whether graduating from high school or college, having a quality suit in your closet is essential.   

I remember being invited to a networking event with possible future employers by the Dean of the accounting school.  As a Sophomore in college, my wardrobe consisted mostly of jeans and hooded sweatshirts.  In need of a presentable suit, I went to a local department store and came home with an economical suit, to which my roommate commented, “I’ve never seen a suit made from this material before.”  

Economical suits may work out in the short term, but an affordable quality suit might be an ideal gift that keeps on giving.  

Introduction to a Financial Planner

Schedule your graduate’s first meeting with a financial planner.  While they might not know what questions to ask now, the more powerful tool is that they’ll know who to ask when they have a question – in addition to their sounding boards: mom and dad.  A financial planner can give them advice on how to receive financial assistance for education expenses in the most tax efficient manner or how to effectively put savings away when they get their first real job.  Once employed, a financial planner can help customize an investment allocation for their work sponsored retirement plan and advise on a budget for paying down student loans.  The earlier people start saving for retirement, the more financially sound they’ll be the rest of their adult lives.  An introductory meeting with a financial planner can run in the range of $300-$500, which can be prohibitive for a young adult on a budget.  Some financial planners will offer a complimentary introductory meeting if they’re already working with members of the family.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are one of the most powerful ways for a young person to invest.  That is because young adults have the power of time on their side.  If you look at the history of the stock market, including the Great Depression or the more recent Great Recession, there is no 10-year investment window where you would have lost money if you stayed invested the whole time.  In other words, as long as you implemented a buy-and-hold strategy for an investment period of 10 years or longer utilizing a globally-diversified portfolio, you would not have lost money[iii], even if that 10-year window included a dramatic market decrease like the Great Recession.  The stock market is resilient.  Some of the best market surges in history were immediately following a dramatic stock market downturn.  If you are invested in a Roth IRA, not only will you benefit from market growth, all the gains in your investment account are tax-free.  There are many rules about investing in Roth IRAs such maximum annual contributions, participation limits based on your total income, etc.  Consult your Financial Planner or CPA if you feel the Roth IRA might be the right savings vehicle for your graduate. 

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For advice on any of the above strategies, gifting appreciated assets, or investing in preparation for college through the use of a College Savings 529, reach out to your Certified Financial Planner™ or CPA.

Congratulations to your graduate and best wishes to their future! 



[i] http://www.oecd.org/education/education-at-a-glance-19991487.htm

[ii] https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/15/heres-how-much-the-average-student-loan-borrower-owes-when-they-graduate.html

[iii] https://loringward.com/blog/its-about-time/

This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  or performance returns of any Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

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Stock Buybacks and the American Dream

President Trump, trumpeting the new tax law that took effect this year, promised that the massive corporate tax cut from 35% down to 21%, on top of the "tax holiday" on approximately $2.1 trillion of corporate profits held tax-free overseas would result in increased investment in factories, workers and wages, and would invigorate the American economy.

The numbers are now in -- only 4% of workers are getting salary increases or bonuses. 80% of the tax windfall is going toward stock buybacks, in which corporations use the cash on hand to buy back their own stock.¹ Because this removes stock from the open market, it creates a scarcity value and drives up the share price.

This is good for the senior executives of these corporations, who tend to be big owners of their companies' stock. It also benefits the 10% wealthiest Americans who own 84% of all stocks.² However, the bottom 40% of Americans (125 million people) own nearly nothing in stocks, and continue to balance the rent, the grocery bill, and the rising cost of gas and electricity.

Until the early 1980s, stock buybacks were considered illegal because they were an artificial way to manipulate share prices.³ They were an easy way to create phantom profits, compared to hiring workers, spending on research and development, and building new plants.

Corporations tend to put share value first, ahead of customers, employees, the community or public interest, but wield control over the American economy and politics. In order to understand how corporations got this powerful, we have to go back to the end of the Civil War. The 14th Amendment was passed to protect fundamental human rights. It granted emancipated slaves full citizenship, and protection of life, liberty, property, and due process of law. However, using lies and a twisted interpretation of the Amendment, railroad barons pushed Congress to grant corporations the status of "persons." Corporations used the shelter of the 14th Amendment to overturn economic regulations, child-labor laws, zoning laws, and fair wage laws. 

150 years later, "corporate personhood" has snowballed into an overturn of the democratic system. In the last 4 years, the Supreme Court dramatically expanded corporate rights, and in 2010 ruled that corporations have full rights to spend money as they wish in candidate elections -- federal, state and local. It unleased a flood of campaign cash and corporate influence over elections, the budget and public policy. Corporations play it both ways -- they reap the benefits of "personhood," but unlike real people they can keep and grow their assets in perpetuity, and are not subject to the laws of inheritance.

Much of what Americans perceive to be wrong with America has roots in this ideology -- rising income and asset inequality, swings from boom to bust, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and unaffordable education.

Corporate stock buybacks are just one manifestation of this ethic. When corporations' primary role is to boost short-term shareholder value at the expense of everything else, what's lost is a long-term investment in the future. To get the largest "return on investment," corporations want the biggest return from the smallest investment. Costly new factories are a no-no. Investing in education for the surrounding community is irrelevant. Hiring expensive workers who receive health and retirement benefits is counter-intuitive. Corporations as "job creators" is a myth -- creating shareholder value and creating good jobs is incompatible. Stock buybacks, though, are a no-brainer -- they create profits out of thin air.

What does this mean for the American Dream? Wages are stuck. College degrees are out of reach. Medical costs are skyrocketing. A recent study by a team of the nation's leading economists at Stanford, Harvard and the University of California Berkeley reported that for the first time, it's extremely unlikely that this generation of American children will earn more than their parents, after adjusting for inflation. Much of the anger fueling last year's presidential election stemmed directly from the concerns of Americans who feel they are losing ground economically. Corporations pumped over $2 billion into the 2017 elections⁵, and found scapegoats to target -- immigrants, people of color, unions, international trade agreements, and workers in other countries.

One positive aspect to the current administration is that many Americans have received an education about the political system. They didn't receive the tax cuts that they expected. Jobs that were promised did not materialize. The vulnerability of the electoral process to social manipulation became exposed. The swamp overflowed. The coming mid-term elections may be an opportunity for an energized electorate to take back the democratic system, and roll back a fake prosperity that only benefits a few at the top.

 

¹ Americans for Tax Fairness, 4/9/2018

² CNN Money, 2/16/2018

³ New York Times, 2/26/2018

⁴ Washington Post, 12/8/2016

⁵ Fortune, 3/8/2017

This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  or performance returns of any Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

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Social Security Options Remain

In November 2015, President Obama signed into law the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  One significant byproduct of the legislation is the elimination or curbing of two Social Security filing strategies that married couples may have been planning to use to optimize their lifetime Social Security benefits.  The two programs include the “File and Suspend” and “Restricted Application” for spousal benefits filings. 

Training about the new legislation was meager at its onset and just weeks before the new rules became effective, many Social Security benefits coordinators were still uninformed.  In January 2017, the Social Security manual was updated to guide benefits coordinators to better service the public and allow those born before 1954 to take advantage of the Restricted Application benefit that remains.[i] 

 

Expired Benefits

File and SuspendThis was when an individual, who was at least at Full Retirement Age (age 66 for most claimants), filed for his or her own retirement benefit and then immediately suspended receipt of those benefits with the Social Security office.  This allowed a spouse or dependent to collect benefit payments based upon the original filer’s record, without affecting their own benefits. 

Under the Bipartisan Budget Act, as of May 1, 2016, no future claimants were allowed to access this benefit.  Those already using the strategy were grandfathered under the old rules.
 

Limited Benefit Remaining

Restricted Application – When an individual is at least Full Retirement Age (FRA), has not filed for any previous benefits, and has a spouse who is collecting Social Security benefits, they may file a Restricted Application (RA) to receive ONLY the spousal benefit based upon the spouse’s record.  Collection of Social Security benefits under the Restricted Application does not affect the individuals’ own pool of benefits. 

This strategy allows a person to collect spousal benefits and concurrently delay their own future retirement benefit so it may grow 8% per year.  Upon reaching age 70, the Restricted Application filer would switch from the spousal benefit income to their own Social Security benefit. This strategy increases the filers benefit to be 32% greater than if they had simply collected their own benefit at age 66.  For example, say you were eligible to collect $1,360/mo. of benefits at age 66.  By employing the RA strategy and deferring collection to age 70, your monthly benefit would increase to $1,795/mo., or an additional $5,220/yr. of income.  For those dependent upon Social Security in retirement, the benefit increase can make a big difference. 

Restricted Application on Ex-Spouses – It may be possible to file a Restricted Application to claim Social Security benefits on an ex-spouse if you were married for 10 years or more and have not remarried.  Your ex-spouse does not have to file for their own Social Security benefits in order for you to file your Restricted Application, but they do have to qualify for Social Security benefits.  The maximum benefit you could receive on an ex-spouse is limited to 50% of their Social Security benefit at Full Retirement Age, regardless of when they actually claim their benefit.  Filing for RA benefit on an ex-spouse in no way affects their own pool of benefits.

 

Under the Bipartisan Budget Act, the Restricted Application filing is no longer available to anyone born Jan. 2, 1954, or later. However, it is still available for those born Jan. 1, 1954, or earlier who have not yet collected their Social Security benefits.  In the next two years, the last of those eligible for the Restricted Application benefit will reach Full Retirement Age and hopefully take advantage of this remaining benefit. 

Many who went to the Social Security office to claim on this benefit were initially, and incorrectly, told the Restricted Application benefit was eliminated when the File and Suspend benefit expired in May 2016.  That is not true. 

New literature and training has been conducted within the organization to help Social Security recipients claim benefits they rightfully deserve.  However, if after speaking with a Social Security representative, they give you an answer that is different than your understanding of your benefits, ask for a Tier 2 representative who might be better trained. 
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Determining when and how to claim Social Security benefits has always been a challenging task. A Financial Planner can help you determine how to best align yourself and take advantage of the benefits you’ve earned.  If you are age 66 now, or will turn 66 within the next couple of years, speak with your Certified Financial Planner™ or CPA about taking advantage of these claiming strategies before you lose the option to do so.

Source/Disclaimer:

Financial Ducks in a Row, “File & Suspend and Restricted Application are NOT Equal”

Market Watch, "Millions of Americans just lost a key Social Security strategy"

Market Watch, “New Social Security Rules Change Claiming Strategies”

U.S. News & World Report, "How the Budget Deal Changes Social Security"

Wall Street Journal “A Strategy to Maximize Social Security Benefits”

This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  or performance returns of any Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.


[i] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kotlikoff/2017/05/29/ask-larry-%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8B%E2%80%8Bcan-i-still-file-a-restricted-application-for-spousal-benefits-only-at-fra/#4904207226bc

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The First Quarter & The Market Outlook

Is the bull market over? In the first quarter of this year, the U.S. investment markets have experienced the first correction (a decline of 10% or more) in three years. The VIX index (known as Wall Street's "fear index") had its biggest quarterly jump since 2011, rising 81%.

The downturn hit most parts of the market, both domestically and globally --

  • The Wilshire Total Market Index finished the quarter down 0.76%.¹
  • The Russell 1000 Large-Cap Index fell 0.69%.²
  • The Russell Midcap Index dropped 0.46%.²
  • The Wilshire U.S. Small-Cap Index lost 0.73%¹
  • The EAFE (Europe/Australasia/Far East) Index went down 2.37%.³
  • The Wilshire U.S. REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) Index fell 7.42%¹

The reasons are varied. Some are due to Trump's self-inflicted wounds --

  • The White House is in chaos. Thirty-seven staff have been fired by President Trump, or have left on their own since the inauguration, eleven just since January.
  • Trump is at risk for impeachment for one or more violations -- collusion with Russia, obstruction of justice, and/or illegal campaign financing.
  • Trade tariffs on steel and aluminum and on Chinese products announced by Trump have created uncertainty. Even if these tariffs are quietly walked back and amount to little in the end, they have caused a temporary roiling of the markets.

Some of the volatility has resulted from a strong economy --

  • The unemployment rate is near record lows.
  • Salaries have risen 3%, and 18 states have increased their minimum wages.
  • Companies in the Standard and Poors 500 index of the largest U.S. firms are enjoying a 7.1% boost in earnings in the first quarter of this year, the quickest rise since 1996.⁴

Because of the robust economy, Jerome Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, has announced that he will likely increase interest rates at a faster pace than he did in 2017. This is a reasonable and prudent move. The Fed would like to see controlled growth, as opposed to runaway growth that could spark inflation. However, his announcement was one of the causes of the current volatility.

One of the keys to understanding the current market is not to panic, and to view current events from a long-term perspective --

  • The VIX "fear index" although higher than last year, is now near its historical average. In other words, the current volatility is "normal" compared to the steady, uninterrupted growth we had last year.
  • A big concern last year was that stocks were overvalued. That is, the Price Over Earnings (P/E) ratio was inflated at 18.6. That means that the price of one share of stock was 18.6 times projected annual earnings. After the correction in the last quarter, the P/E ratio is at a more reasonable 16.1. Because of this, we might be able to avoid a more severe bear market later on.⁵
  • Corporations profited from a huge tax cut, from 35% down to 21% in the new Tax Law. The benefits of the tax cut are going to be felt later in the year. Consequently, the strong earnings by corporations in the first quarter can only get better.

Most investors are trying to accomplish long-term goals, intending for the growth of their investments to fund college for their children, a home purchase, or retirement. Because of a better diet, more exercise, and improved medical care, many couples spend 25 to 30 years in retirement. Over a long period of time, the ups and downs of the market even themselves out, and the potential for a good return becomes more predictable.

The increased volatility in the first quarter is just a reminder that the market never goes up in straight line. The bull market that we had last year was only temporary. If we enter a bear market, when stocks go down, that will end too. In the context of long-term goals, the performance of the market during a quarter or even a year shouldn't scare you from sticking to your plans.

¹ Wilshire index data: http://www.wilshire.com/Indexes/calculator/

² Russell index data: http://www.ftse.com/products/indices/russell-us

³ International indices: https://www.msci.com/end-of-day-data-search

⁴ S&P index data: http://www.standardandpoors.com/indices/sp-500/en/us/?indexId=spusa-500-usduf–p-us-l–

http://money.cnn.com/2018/04/01/investing/stocks-week-ahead-valuation/index.html

This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  or performance returns of any Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

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Trade Tariffs and Your Investments

Earlier this month, President Trump roiled the stock market by announcing that he would impose a 25% trade tariff on steel imports coming into the U.S. from foreign countries, and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock market index immediately dropped 2%.

Then last week, Trump proclaimed additional tariffs on $60 billion of imported goods from China, sending the market tumbling further.

The worst-case scenario would have been a global trade war, in which countries engage in a tit-for-tat retaliation against each other. The European Union, for example, would impose tariffs on U.S. motorcycles, bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice.

Trump used national security as a justification for imposing these tariffs. He would have had difficulty getting approval from the World Trade Organization. Many of the countries he targeted, like Canada, Japan and the European Union, already have mutual defense treaties with the U.S. A tariff on aluminum would have no impact on national security. The manufacturing process for aluminum requires bauxite, and the last U.S. bauxite plant closed 30 years ago.¹

Even from the point of view of protecting jobs in the U.S., the tariffs make no sense. Steel tariffs, for example, might have benefited 140,000 American steel workers, but it would have endangered the jobs of 6 1/2 million workers in construction, auto manufacturing, oil and gas pipelines, beer cans, agriculture and food processing.²

Already, Trump has granted exemptions to the foreign metal tariffs to Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea. These exempted countries account for more than half of the $29 billion in steel sold to the U.S. in 2017. He also left the door open to other allies, like Japan, that did not get an initial exemption. Instead of tariffs, Trump is now talking about quotas. Quotas, compared to tariffs, might be welcomed by foreign exporters, since they would benefit from higher prices. With tariffs, the U.S. government collects the higher duties.³

It may be that Trump had no intention of actually imposing broad tariffs, but wanted to use the threat of tariffs as a bargaining chip to wrest concessions from other countries. The U.S., Canada and Mexico are in the midst of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). South Korea is also renegotiating its own free-trade agreement with the U.S.

One of Trump's main beefs with China was its requirement for U.S. companies manufacturing or trading in China to have a Chinese corporate partner, who would own 51% of the joint venture, and would have access to the American company's trade secrets and intellectual property. Even before the tariffs were announced, the Chinese government had agreed to lift the majority stake rule for U.S. securities firms and insurance companies. After three years, all caps would be removed. It will be the largest liberalization of China's financial services industry in eleven years.⁴

Global currency markets are very sensitive to trade flow because currency pricing is dependent on the stability or disruption of trade. However, the South Korean won, the Taiwanese dollar and Singapore dollar are all trading near their strongest levels in three years. World trade overall is expanding at the fastest rate in six years. China has responded with their own tariffs against U.S. products, but in a very muted way -- $3 billion in tariffs against U.S. products, versus $60 billion in tariffs against Chinese products.⁵ 

Since the initial panic, investor sentiment has warmed, and the market has already made back half of its initial losses. It seems as though the President is pursuing his common pattern of tapping out a dramatic tweet, followed by quietly walking back from his initial pronouncements. In the end, the "tariff turmoil" may turn out to be much ado about nothing.

¹ Wall Street Journal 3/9/2018

² Marketwatch 3/5/2018

³ New York Times 3/22/2018

⁴ South China Morning Post 11/10/2017

⁵ www.bobveres.com 3/1/2018

 

This commentary on this website reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  or performance returns of any Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc.  Investments client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing on this website constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

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YOUR 2019 INVESTMENT STRATEGY

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