Client Note August 28 2019

August has been a volatile month.  Since August 2, the SP500 has seen 5 moves of 3-4% in both directions for a net, -3%, through today.

Gold, gold miners and long treasuries (TLT) continue to do well putting portfolios into the green for August.  For August, gold +9%; miners +15%, TLT +11%.  Prior to this almost 12 month run in these areas, it was commonly known that ‘gold is languishing”; and “rates will go up”.  Now, its “gold hits 5-year highs”, and “rates seen to continue to fall”.  Often by the time the media reports it widely, the trend is nearing completion.

As we approach Labor Day and the seasonally worst time of the year (Sept/Oct) I am watching for the SP500 to at least stay over 2850, and if we can get over 2940 it opens the door to climb further-but until then markets are under pressure.   Small cap, international stocks are still well below their highs.

Recently it appears the when the US Dollar weakens, US stocks fall while ex-US are more stable.   If the Fed continues to acknowledge further Fed funds rate cuts are likely, this can weigh on the Dollar—unless Europe et al jump ahead and push rates lower via more bond purchases.   So, we may see relative outperformance from ex-US stocks.

Of the individual names purchased recently, one has bee sold out.  IPHI was falling as the sector and general market was climbing, falling below a recent low in July.  The loss was less than 5%.  Cannabis remains under pressure.  Curaleaf reported 200%+ gain in year over year revenue and today saw a drop of 9% at the open, followed by a 23% climb!  This may mark a turn for the sector, but a reversal of these gains will see us abandon this sector in the near term.

The yield curve inversion has been big news.  The 10-yr treasury yield crossed below the 2-yr yield on 8/13 and again on 8/27.  While many other curve inversions have been occurring, this pair, coinciding with a 700 point down day on the Dow has gotten much attention.  The past 3 recessions have occurred as this curve normalizes, that is un-inverts and re-steepens.  I first pointed this out in my quarterly Observation piece January 2019.

 

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Client Note July 2019

August 1, 2019

 Portfolios saw modest gains in July, approximately 1-1.75%, while the SP500 saw similar gains.  Small cap stocks moved up less than one-half percentage point.   International equities dropped more than 2.5% with emerging markets trailing.

The long Treasury etf (TLT) was down most of the month, until the last day when it managed to finish flat for the month.  Corporate bonds fared slightly worse with high yield underperforming corporates and treasury bonds.  Lower interest rates most directly impact Treasuries as there is no risk of default, whereas on corporates and high yield, a change in the perception of the quality of the debt can push prices despite change in interest rates.

Gold was flat, giving up a percent on July 2, climbing into mid-month then giving it back to end flat for the month.   Gold miners also dropped out of the gate, then climbed almost 11% before dropping yesterday and ending the month up almost 4%.

We are seeing some very constructive moves in the cannabis sector, after significant declines Curaleaf gained 10% in July and Charlottes Web almost 20%.  The etf, MJ was sold out as its heavy weight in Canadian issues continues to wither.

All told, the general equity and bond markets were flat, international did poorly, precious metals were positive and other commodities (base metals, agriculture and oil) fared poorly.

Fed Announcement

Yesterday’s announcement by the Fed to reduce the overnight rate it lends to banks from 2.5% to 2.25% was expected.  Prior to the announcement markets had priced in an 80% likelihood of a .25% cut and only a 20% change of a .5% cut.  Over the past 12 months, growth in auto production, housing, durable goods orders have all been in a gradual decline.  I and others have stated that the Fed had tightened far more quickly than in other periods.  Some combination of slowing growth and recognition that the Fed tightened too much too quickly are what likely brought about today’s action.  June’s economic numbers in some areas have shown an uptick.  It may be a change in trend or just a pause in a continued decline, only time will tell.

Yesterday’s and today’s violent market reactions to ‘not promising more rate reductions’, and a very modest increase in tariffs on Chinese goods bely the fragile psyche of the market.   Very poor economic numbers in the Eurozone and China (which together are about 25% greater than US GDP) are pulling the global economy down and parts of the US economy are beginning to feel it.  After the sugar-high of corporate tax cuts, earnings in 2019 are looking to be about 2% lower than last year.

End-of-trade-war hopes, expectations of better earnings, the gift of cheaper money have been the drivers of stock prices this year.  These ideas are getting denied or delayed and without some re-ignited positive expectations we may see the general stock market vacillate until there is more clarity.   Or, these two days may just be a temper tantrum, showing the markets waning tolerance of slower global trade and dramatic difference between US interest rates and Europe.  And after another day or two we may be off to the races again with the expectation that these issues will be resolved soon.

Adam Waszkowski, CFA

Happy Fathers Day!

Wishing a Happy Father’s Day to the extraordinary dads who provide support, sacrifice and love every day for their families. 

We’re thankful for these incredible men who truly make a house a home, filling our spaces with fond memories and laughter day in and day out. We celebrate dads everywhere today from all of us at NAMCOA. 

Happy Thanksgiving !

Please note our office will be closed on Thursday, November 22 and Friday, November 23, 2018 in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.  Normal operating hours will resume on Monday, November 26, 2018.

Feel free to contact me should you have any questions or if you have specific needs that require special attention.  You can reach me at 239-287-3789 or via email at pmcintyre@namcoa.com.

Have a safe and happy holiday!

 

Why the growth in Cash Balance Plans?

The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA) is long and hard to read, but it played a crucial role in establishing cash balance plans as a viable and legally recognized retirement savings option. Before 2006, cash balance plans faced frequent legal challenges. Those bringing the suits argued that cash balance plans violated established rules for benefit accrual and discriminated against older workers. The rulings on these cases were inconsistent, and many business owners were reluctant to risk establishing a plan that just didn’t have firm legal footing.

The Pension Protection Act ended this uncertainty about the legality of cash balance plans. The legislation set specific requirements for cash balance plans, including:

  • A vesting requirement: Any employee who has worked for their company for at least three years must be 100% vested in their accrued benefits from employer contributions.
  • A change in the calculation of lump sum payments: Participants in a cash balance plan can usually choose to receive a lump sum upon retirement or upon the termination of employment instead of receiving their money as a lifetime annuity. Before 2006, some plans used one interest rate to calculate out the anticipated account balance upon retirement, but, when participants opted to receive an earlier lump sum, the plan called for using a different interest rate to discount the anticipated retirement balance back to the date of the lump sum payment. This could lead to discrepancies between the hypothetical balance of the account (as determined by employer contributions and accumulated interest credits) and the actual lump sum payout, an effect known as “whipsaw”. The PPA eliminated the whipsaw effect by allowing the lump sum payout to simply equal the hypothetical account balance.
  • Clarification on age discrimination claims: A cash balance plan does not violate age discrimination legislation if the account balance of an older employee is compared with that of a similarly situated younger employee (i.e. with the same length of employment, pay, job title, date of hire, and work history), and the older employee’s balance is equal to or greater than the younger employee’s.

There are, of course, many other points included in this lengthy piece of legislation, but the takeaway is this: the Pension Protection Act of 2006 removed the legal uncertainty surrounding cash balance plans and made them a much more appealing option for small business owners.

The number of cash balance plans in America more than tripled after the implementation of the PPA. Additional regulations in 2010 and 2014 made these hybrid plans an even better option, and we anticipate that their popularity will continue to grow. There are thousands of high-earning business owners out there who can reap huge, tax-crushing benefits from implementing cash balance plan – they just have to know about them first.

 

Problem ahead for bond investors?

Bloomberg Barclays US Aggregate has a duration of over 6 (orange line) and a yield of just 2.5% (white line). If we see more corporate refinancing on the longer end (while rates are still low) and at some point a 50 or 100 year US treasury makes its way into the index (https://lnkd.in/gFvUF5g), this could be very problematic. 

 

Add to that a higher duration of Agency MBS if rates increase and prepayments slow (extension risk). 

 

This all looks like a huge amount of interest rate risk for investors with very little upside. The solution: Talk to your Portfolio Manager! 

Tom Cooper Sponsors Ocala Home Garden & Lifestyle Expo

Tom Cooper and his wife Pat, participating at the Ocala Home Garden and Lifestyle Expo on April 22, 2017.

The Home Garden and Expo was hosted by the CEP Ocala / Marion County (“ChambNo automatic alt text available.er and Economic Partnership”).

Tom Cooper supports the mission of CEP which is to be the catalyst for a prosperous Ocala / Marion County, leading to a vibrant community with a stable, diversified economy.  The event was held at the The Harvey R. Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida.  

You can reach Tom Cooper by email: tcooper@namcoa.com or by phone: 352.857.7273

Preventable IRA Disaster

IRAs are great financial tools that carry valuable tax advantages, and are an important part of many clients’ portfolios. When IRAs are part of an estate, however, they are subject to rules that are highly inflexible. When survivors receive advice that does not address these rules adequately, there can be disastrous financial consequences.

A ruling handed down in U.S. Tax Court in December provides one such tax horror story, and it could easily have been avoided. It is worth recounting in detail to uncover lessons that could help advisers in creating estate plans that include IRAs.

The case involved the estate of a Florida man, Thomas W. Ozimkoski Sr., who died in August 2006. Just seven months before his death, Ozimkoski executed a will that left the bulk of his property to his wife, Suzanne D. Oster Ozimkoski, and named her as personal representative of his estate. At the time of his death, Ozimkoski had a traditional IRA at Wachovia and a 1967 Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

He also had a son, Thomas Jr., who was unhappy about the will. The son went to probate court and faced off against Suzanne, his stepmother. The IRA custodian, Wachovia Securities, froze the funds in the IRA pending the outcome of the litigation.

When the dust settled, a settlement had been reached. Suzanne would pay Junior the sum of $110,000 and transfer title of Senior’s motorcycle to him. The settlement provided that the payment would be made within 30 days of the date on which Senior’s IRA was unfrozen by Wachovia. The settlement also said that “all payments shall be net payments free of any tax.”

CARRYING OUT THE SETTLEMENT

The motorcycle transfer seems to have gone smoothly, but the same was not true of the payment of the IRA funds.

On July 2, 2008, Wachovia transferred $235,495 from the deceased’s IRA to an IRA set up in Suzanne’s name. Suzanne took a distribution from her IRA and wrote a personal check for $110,000 to Junior to make the payment required under the settlement agreement. She also took other distributions from her IRA in 2008 for a total of $174,597.

Wachovia issued a 2008 Form 1099-R showing taxable distributions of $174,597 to Suzanne in 2008. The distributions were coded as early distributions because Suzanne took them from her own IRA and she was under age 59 ½.

Suzanne filed her 2008 federal income tax return late and reported only her wage income from the Boys and Girls Club, just under $15,000. She did not report any of the IRA distributions as income.

The IRS subsequently issued a notice of deficiency to Suzanne for 2008. The IRS said she owed $62,185 in taxes and a 10% penalty on the IRA distributions. It also hit her with an accuracy-related penalty of $12,437. Suzanne disagreed and brought her case to the Tax Court, representing herself.

The Tax Court held that Suzanne owed income taxes, the 10% early distribution penalty and part of the accuracy penalty. The court did not buy Suzanne’s argument that the IRA distributions should not be included in her income because Junior was entitled to $110,000 of the IRA under the settlement agreement. Instead, the court agreed with the IRS that the distributions were taxable to Suzanne because they were from her own IRA.

WHO IS THE BENEFICIARY?

The Tax Court began its decision by tackling the important issue of exactly who was the beneficiary of Senior’s IRA. Generally, the beneficiary of an IRA is whoever is named on the IRA beneficiary designation form. However, there was a problem. Wells Fargo, the successor to Wachovia, did not have Senior’s IRA beneficiary designation form. It is unclear whether the form had never been filled out or somehow went missing.

In the absence of the form, the estate became the beneficiary by default. Because Suzanne inherited through the estate, the IRA became a probate asset, which can be subject to a will contest. If the beneficiary is named on IRA beneficiary form, however, the account bypasses probate and goes directly to her.

Because the estate, not Suzanne, was the beneficiary of the IRA, Wachovia “incorrectly” rolled it over to her IRA, according to the court. What Wachovia should have done, the court said, was distribute the IRA assets to Senior’s estate rather than to Suzanne’s IRA. The court said it had no jurisdiction to fix that mistake.

The court expressed sympathy for Suzanne, noting that her attorney during the probate litigation clearly failed to counsel her on the tax ramifications of paying Junior from her own IRA. However, the court said it could not change the fact that the distributions she received were from her own IRA and, therefore, taxable income.

The court also said Suzanne owed the 10% early distribution penalty on the funds taken from her IRA. There is such a thing as an exception to the penalty for distributions due to death, but that did not apply to her. This is because a spouse beneficiary may no longer claim the exception if she rolls over the funds from her deceased spouse’s IRA into her own IRA and then withdraws the funds from her IRA.

The court gave Suzanne a break on the accuracy penalty. The court said that in light of all the circumstances, including her limited experience, knowledge and education, she had acted in good faith with respect to the portion of her underpayment attributable to her failure to include in her taxable income the $110,000 she paid to Junior. However, she was still liable for the penalty on the other IRA distributions she took.

LESSONS LEARNED

This case offers several lessons for advisers and their clients:

The importance of beneficiary forms. It’s easy to imagine another, much happier, outcome in this case. When Thomas Ozimkoski Sr. updated his will to leave everything to his wife, he should also have updated his IRA beneficiary designation form. If he had, the IRA would have passed directly to her and never became part of the disputed probate estate.

A competent adviser would have realized that any payment coming from an IRA will be taxable. If one party is not paying the tax, then someone else is.

The need for competent advisers. One thing that Suzanne Ozimkoski lacked in this case was advisers who understood the IRA rules. She needed a knowledgeable attorney who could have advised her better on the outcome of her settlement agreement.

A competent adviser would have realized that any payment coming from an IRA will be taxable. If Junior is not paying the tax, then someone else is. A competent adviser would have realized Wachovia’s error and had the custodian reverse the transaction and retitle the inherited IRA properly.

Naming a spouse on the beneficiary designation form allows her to roll over the funds to her own IRA. This avoids the result in this case, where the estate was the beneficiary and the rollover was “incorrect.”

Avoid “incorrect” rollovers. Naming a spouse on the beneficiary designation form allows her to roll over the funds to her own IRA. This avoids the result in this case, where the estate was the beneficiary and the rollover was “incorrect.”

With proper advice, the spouse could have elected to remain a beneficiary rather than do a spousal rollover. By remaining a beneficiary here, the spouse could have taken distributions she needed and avoided the 10% early distribution penalty.

A positive outcome in one court may be irrelevant for tax purposes. The settlement agreement said that all payments to Junior shall be net payments, free of any tax, and the widow was under the impression that she owed no taxes. But tax rules did not allow this outcome. During the settlement process, someone should have advised her that there was no way to avoid the tax on the IRA distribution.

After the mistaken rollover, the Tax Court could not unwind that transaction and instead had to decide the widow’s tax liability based on the erroneous transfer of the IRA assets to her own account and her subsequent distributions.

How the death exception to the 10% penalty actually works?

This exception to the penalty is for beneficiaries, but does not apply when the spouse rolls the retirement funds over to his or her own IRA. Once a spousal rollover occurs, the spouse is then the IRA owner and not a beneficiary.

If you sound confused, let me help you!

Tom Cooper, CFP.

tcooper@namcoa.com