EagleStone Tax & Wealth Newsletter – September 2015

Correlation and Portfolio Performance

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Different types of investments are subject to different types of risk. On days when you notice that stock prices have fallen, for example, it would not be unusual to see a rally in the bond market.

Asset allocation refers to how an investor’s portfolio is divided among asset classes, which tend to perform differently under different market conditions. An appropriate mix of investments typically depends on the investor’s age, risk tolerance, and financial goals.

The concept of correlation often plays a role in constructing a well-diversified portfolio that strikes a balance between risk and return.

Math that matters

In the financial world, correlation is a statistical measure of how two securities perform relative to each other. Securities that are positively correlated will have prices that tend to move in the same direction. Securities that are negatively correlated will have prices that move in the opposite direction.

A correlation coefficient, which is calculated using historical returns, measures the degree of correlation between two investments. A correlation of +1 represents a perfectly positive correlation, which means the investments always move together, in the same direction, and at a consistent scale. A correlation of -1 means they have a perfectly negative correlation and will always move opposite one another. A correlation of zero means that the two investments are not correlated; the relationship between them is random.

In reality, perfectly positive correlation is rare, because distinct investments can be affected differently by the same conditions, even if they are similar securities in the same sector.

Correlations can change

While some types of securities exhibit general trends of correlation over time, it’s not uncommon for correlations to vary over shorter periods. In times of market volatility, for example, asset prices were more likely to be driven by common market shocks than by their respective underlying fundamentals.

During the flight to quality sparked by the financial crisis of 2008, riskier assets across a number of different classes exhibited unusually high correlation. As a result, correlations among some major asset classes have been more elevated than they were before the crisis. There has also been a rise in correlation between different financial markets in the global economy.1 For example, the correlation coefficient for U.S. stocks (represented by the S&P Composite Total Return index) and foreign stocks (represented by the MSCI EAFE GTR index) increased from 0.75 over the last 25 years to 0.89 over the last 10 years.2

Over the long run, a combination of investments that are loosely correlated may provide greater diversification, help manage portfolio risk, and smooth out investment returns. Tighter relationships among asset classes over the last decade may be a good reason for some investors to reassess their portfolio allocations. However, it’s important to keep in mind that correlations may continue to fluctuate over time because of changing economic and market environments.

The performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any particular investment. Individuals cannot invest directly in an index. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Asset allocation and diversification strategies do not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss; they are methods used to help manage investment risk.

Investing internationally carries additional risks such as differences in financial reporting, currency exchange risk, as well as economic and political risk unique to the specific country. This may result in greater share price volatility. When sold, investments may be worth more or less than their original cost.

1International Monetary Fund, 2015
2Thomson Reuters, 2015, for the period 12/31/1989 to 12/31/2014

Three Tax Planning Concepts

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There are many ways to potentially reduce your tax burden. Here are three tax planning concepts that you should be familiar with.

Tax deferral

When you defer taxes to later years, any earnings compound without being reduced by income taxes. As a result, your investment may grow at a faster rate than if earnings were subject to income tax each year. In some cases, such as with a qualified plan or a traditional IRA, tax deferral may be combined with an initial tax deduction or exclusion from income for contributions.

Tax deferral can be provided by tax-advantaged accounts that generally defer any taxation until distributions are made. Examples include qualified plans and IRAs, annuities, health savings accounts (HSAs), Coverdell education savings accounts (ESAs), and 529 plans. Taxation of capital gains is generally deferred until property is sold. Tax deferral may also be available through the use of strategies such as installment sales and like-kind exchanges.

Tax deferral can be the most beneficial when you defer tax until a time when your tax rate will be lower, or at least when it will be no higher. If your tax rate will be higher later, there may still be an advantage to tax deferral, but you’ll need to run the numbers to determine whether the benefits of tax deferral might overcome the higher tax rate.

Example: You make a nondeductible contribution of $5,000 to a traditional IRA. Assume you will be subject to a 28% income tax rate, both now and in the future. If you earn a 5% annual rate of return for 20 years, the $5,000 will grow to $13,266, with an after-tax value of $10,952. (If you made a deductible contribution of $5,000 to a traditional IRA and placed any tax savings from the deduction in a side fund, the after-tax value of the IRA plus the side fund after 20 years would generally be even greater.) If instead you simply saved $5,000 in an account that is taxable each year, the $5,000 would grow at a 3.6% after-tax rate to $10,095 in 20 years. This is $857 less than with the tax-deferral advantage of making a nondeductible contribution to a traditional IRA.*

Tax-free income

Interest income from municipal bonds can generally be received free of federal income tax. Qualified distributions from Roth IRAs, Roth 401(k)s, HSAs, ESAs, and 529 plans can also be received free of federal income tax. In some cases, such as with a Roth IRA, tax deferral may be combined with tax-free income.

Example: You make a nondeductible contribution of $5,000 to a Roth IRA. If you earn a 5% annual rate of return for 20 years, the $5,000 will grow to $13,266, with no federal income tax on qualified distributions.*

Special tax rates

The tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends is generally 0% for taxpayers in the 10% and 15% tax brackets, 15% for taxpayers in the 25% to 35% tax brackets, and 20% for taxpayers in the 39.6% tax bracket. In some cases, such as with stock, special tax rates may be combined with tax deferral.

Example: You purchase stock that pays no dividends for $5,000. Assume you will be subject to a 15% capital gain tax rate, both now and in the future. If the stock increases 5% in value each year and you hold on to the stock for 20 years, the $5,000 will grow to $13,266, with an after-tax value of $12,027.*

Example: You purchase a dividend-paying investment for $5,000. Assume you will be subject to a 15% capital gain tax rate, both now and in the future. If you earn a 5% annual rate of return consisting of qualified dividends and long-term capital gains that are taxable each year, the $5,000 will grow at a 4.25% after-tax rate to $11,460 in 20 years.*

Note: To the extent that distributions from tax-advantaged accounts such as qualified plans and IRAs, annuities, HSAs, ESAs, and 529 plans are subject to tax, ordinary income tax rates apply; they generally do not qualify for special capital gain tax rates.

*These hypothetical examples are for illustrative purposes only, and the results are not representative of any specific investment or mix of investments. Actual results will vary. Investment fees and expenses have not been deducted. If they had been, the results would have been lower. You should consider your personal investment time horizon and income tax brackets, both current and anticipated, when making an investment decision, because they may further impact the results of the comparison. These illustrations assume a fixed annual rate of return; the rate of return on your actual investment portfolio will be different, and will vary over time, according to actual market performance, and could include losses. This is particularly true for long-term investments. It is important to note that investments offering the potential for higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk to principal.

Five Ways to Manage Risk in Your Retirement Savings Plan

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Your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan is a convenient way to help you accumulate money for retirement. Using payroll deductions, you invest for the future automatically, following that oft-noted advice to “pay yourself first.” But choosing to participate is just one important step. Another key to making it work for you is managing risk in your portfolio. Following are five ways to tackle this important task.

1. Know your personal risk tolerance

Gauging your personal risk tolerance–or your ability to endure losses in your account due to swings in the market–is an important first step. All investments come with some level of risk, so it’s important to be aware of how much volatility you can comfortably withstand before choosing investments.

One way to do this is to reflect on a series of questions, such as:

  • How well would you sleep at night knowing your retirement portfolio dropped 5%? 10%? 20%?
  • How much time do you have until you will need the money? Typically, the longer your time horizon, the more you may be able to hold steady during short-term downturns in pursuit of longer-term goals.
  • Do you have savings and investments outside of your plan, including an emergency savings account?

Your plan’s educational materials may offer worksheets and other tools to help you gauge your own risk tolerance. Such materials typically ask a series of questions similar to those above, and then generate a score based on your answers that may help you choose appropriate investments.

2. Develop a target asset allocation

Once you understand your risk tolerance, the next step is to develop an asset allocation mix that is suitable for your savings goal while taking your risk tolerance into consideration. Asset allocation is the process of dividing your investment dollars among the various asset categories offered in your plan, generally stocks, bonds, and cash/stable value investments. If you’re a young investor with a hardy tolerance for risk, you might choose an allocation composed heavily of stocks. On the other hand, if retirement is less than 10 years away and you fear losing money, your allocation might lean more toward bonds and cash investments.

3. Be sure to diversify

Even the most aggressive investor can potentially benefit from diversification, which generally means not putting all your eggs in one basket. Let’s take one example from above: Although that young investor may choose to put a large chunk of her retirement account in stocks, she should still consider putting some of the money into bonds and possibly cash to help balance any losses that may occur in the stock portion. Even within the stock allocation, she may want to diversify among different types of stocks, such as domestic, international, growth, and value stocks.

4. Understand dollar cost averaging

Your plan also helps you manage risk automatically through a process called dollar cost averaging (DCA). When you contribute to your plan, chances are you contribute an equal dollar amount each pay period, which then purchases shares of the investments you have selected. This process–investing a fixed dollar amount at regular intervals–is DCA. As the prices of the investments you purchase rise and fall over time, you take advantage of the swings by buying fewer shares when prices are high and more shares when prices are low–in essence, following the old investing adage to “buy low.” After a period of time, the average cost you pay for the shares you accumulate may be lower than if you had purchased all the shares with one lump sum.

Remember that DCA involves continuous investment in securities regardless of their price. As you think about the potential benefits of DCA, you should also consider your ability to make purchases through extended periods of low or falling prices.

5. Perform regular maintenance

Although it’s generally not necessary to review your retirement portfolio too frequently (e.g., every day or even every week), it is advisable to monitor it at least once per year and as major events occur in your life. During these reviews, you’ll want to determine if your risk tolerance has changed and check your asset allocation to determine whether it’s still on track. You may want to rebalance–shifting some money from one investment to another–to bring your allocation back in line with your target. Or you may want to make other changes in your portfolio to keep it in line with your changing circumstances. Such regular maintenance is critical to help manage risk in your portfolio.

How can I protect my Social Security number from identity theft?

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Your Social Security number is one of your most important personal identifiers. If identity thieves obtain your Social Security number, they can access your bank account, file false tax returns, and wreak havoc on your credit report. Here are some steps you can take to help safeguard your number.

Never carry your card with you. You should never carry your Social Security card with you unless it’s absolutely necessary. The same goes for other forms of identification that may display your Social Security number (e.g., Medicare card)

Do not give out your number over the phone or via email/Internet. Oftentimes, identity thieves will pose as legitimate government organizations or financial institutions and contact you to request personal information, including your Social Security number. Avoid giving out your Social Security number to anyone over the phone or via email/Internet unless you initiate the contact with an organization or institution that you trust.

Be careful about sharing your number. Just because someone asks for your Social Security number doesn’t mean you have to share it. Always ask why it is needed, how it will be used, and what the consequences will be if you refuse to provide it.

If you think someone has misused your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) immediately to report the problem. The SSA can review your earnings record with you to make sure their records are correct. You can also visit the SSA website at www.ssa.gov to check your earnings record online.

Unfortunately, the SSA cannot directly resolve any identity theft problems created by the misuse of your Social Security number. If you discover that someone is illegally using your number, be sure to contact the appropriate law-enforcement authorities. In addition, consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and submitting IRS Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit, with the Internal Revenue Service. Visitwww.ftc.gov and www.irs.gov for more information.

What return are you really earning on your money?

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If you’re like most people, you probably want to know what return you might expect before you invest. But to translate a given rate of return into actual income or growth potential, you’ll need to understand the difference between nominal return and real return, and how that difference can affect your ability to target financial goals.

Let’s say you have a certificate of deposit (CD) that’s about to expire. The yield on the new three-year CD you’re considering is 1.5%.

But that 1.5% is the CD’s nominal rate of return; it doesn’t account for inflation or taxes. If you’re taxed at the 28% federal income tax rate, roughly 0.42% of that 1.5% will be gobbled up by federal taxes on the interest. Okay, you say, that still leaves an interest rate of 1.08%; at least you’re earning something.

However, you also need to consider the purchasing power of the interest that the CD pays. Even though inflation is relatively low today, it can still affect your purchasing power, especially over time. Let’s say that consumer prices have gone up by 1% over the past year and you adjust your 1.08% after-tax return for inflation. Suddenly, you’re barely breaking even on your investment.

What’s left after the impact of inflation and taxes is your real return, because that’s what you’re really earning in actual purchasing power. If the nominal return on an investment is low enough, the real return can actually be negative, depending on your tax bracket and the inflation rate over time. Though this hypothetical example doesn’t represent the performance of any actual investment, it illustrates the importance of understanding what you’re really earning.

Knowing the difference between nominal and real return may help you make better decisions when it comes to investing your money. You’ll want to choose investments that match your financial goals and tolerance for risk. In some cases, the security an investment offers may be important enough that you’re willing to accept a low real return; in other cases, you may choose an investment that has the potential for a higher real return but carries a higher degree of risk.

 

IRS Circular 230 disclosure: To ensure compliance with requirements imposed by the IRS, we inform you that any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) was not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding tax-related penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any matter addressed herein.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2015

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