The Buffett Indicator

The Buffett Indicator

November 10, 2020 – Please, please, please, PLEASE understand the stock market is not without risk.

The stock market has had a phenomenal run over the course of the past decade. Fortunes have been made, lost for a bit, then made again.

If you’re among those who have benefited from this prolonged bull run, CONGRATULATIONS! You beat the house in Vegas.

Alas, human nature is such that prolonged stock market success often lulls investors into a false sense of security. They remain solidly invested even when certain indicators suggest it may be wise to pull back.

And just like the gambler who can’t walk away from the table when they’re ahead, bad times may lie ahead.

Now is one of those times. It’s actually been here for the better part of a year.

The Buffett Indicator

Warren Buffett has few peers when it comes to investing success. Using a combination of skill, common sense, patience, and a shrewdness which belies his folksy nature, Buffett has amassed a personal fortune and personifies wealth building acumen.

Because his words carry so much weight, the Buffett Indicator, which has historically pinpointed when stocks may be overvalued and could come crashing down, is something everyone with market exposure should pay close attention to and can be simplified as follows:

Market Capitalization/Quarterly GDP

The higher the Buffett Indicator number, the greater the risk.

Comparing Historical Buffett Indicators

According to this graph from DQYDJ.com, the Buffett Indicator hit 2.227 during Q2 2020. That’s really high! Throw in a global pandemic and stimulus spending over the past ten months and the market would seem even more precarious.

For the same reason athletic teams review film of games already played, sometimes backward glances can help shed light on how to prepare for the future. For perspective and to see what may lie ahead, let’s pick a few select periods starting when the nonagenarian Buffett was a spry 30-something year old investor:

Quarter Year – Buffett Indicator – DJIA – Years until DJIA returned

Q4 1968 – 1.022 – 6,529 – 25 years

Q1 2000 – 1.886 – 15,526 – 6.9 years

Q2 2007 – 1.524 – 16,747 – 6 years

Q1 2020 – 2.160 – 29,276 – ???

IF the market does tank, are you comfortable waiting six, seven, or even twenty-five years until the markets return to their pre-crash levels? That’s a lot of cash you’ll be burning.

Remember the Roaring Twenties? Of course, you don’t. Unless you’re 105 or older! That decade was one of exponential economic growth and widespread prosperity. It was an amazing time for many. Until it wasn’t. Once the bubble popped, the Great Depression arrived sending stock values plummeting along with the economy which took more than twenty-five years to recover from!

Your Safest Bet

So, if you are in or near retirement and are still fully invested in the market, do yourself a huge favor and GET OUT NOW! At least partially. You don’t need to completely eliminate your market exposure, but converting some of your portfolio into a stream of safe, secure, tax-advantaged cash flows will go a long way toward preserving what you’ve earned and protecting yourself from potentially catastrophic loss.

If you are about to receive money from a personal injury settlement, here’s another little bit of Warren Buffett wisdom worth sharing. Structured settlements remain the safest, surest choice for anyone ready to settle their insurance claim. Some options even include stock market-driven upside potential without the downside risk.

Pension vs. Lump Sum

September 22, 2020 – Two related AARP Bulletin articles may have bearing on your retirement plans. In short, companies are temping retirees with offers to pay their retirement benefits as a single, commuted lump sum instead of honoring their monthly pension obligations.

If you or anyone you know works for an organization that even offers a pension anymore, it’s worth your time to thumb through two recent articles:  “Treasury Department OKs More Lump-Sum Pension Payments” and “Pension or Lump Sum?”

A few highlights from these articles:

According to a MetLife study, 20% of those who opted for the lump sum spent the entire sum within five and a half years.

Of those who weren’t broke by then, 35 percent worried they would run out of money.

Most economists warn that people can rarely, if ever, replicate the security of a pension.

Less ethical financial advisors may be biased against the pension since they can benefit from investing your money.

Lump sum buyouts tend to benefit the company offering them more than the individual receiving them.

(NOTE: The articles don’t even mention taxes which would also be a consideration)

COVID-19 likely hasn’t left its final impression on our economy yet. As such, businesses with pension obligations may find themselves forced to accelerate layoffs, early retirements, or staff reductions to remain financially viable. Wise retirees-to-be will want to be prepared.

Compare Before Deciding

There may be many non-financial reasons for choosing a lump sum over the pension payments, but if you are confronted with the choice, how do you determine whether the pension or lump sum buyout is the better deal?

After reflecting on the information contained in these articles, a sensible move is to ANALYZE VALUES by comparing if the pension payments you’re forfeiting can be replicated in the marketplace with the lump sum you’re being offered.

We can help you estimate the fair market value of your pension.

Call us before you commit.

No cost. No obligation.

For Example:

A 60-year-old female in Pennsylvania is offered early retirement by her company. Her employment contract requires the company to pay her a monthly retirement benefit of $1,000 for as long as she and/or her 60-year-old spouse live. (NOTE: Assumes an opposite sex couple in this example. Although different actuarial tables would be applied in most states when calculating values for same sex spouses, the same analysis is used).

Before completing her retirement paperwork, the company tells her she has the option of taking her retirement in a single lump sum instead of the monthly income and they offer her $225,000.00.

Is this a good deal?

Could they replace $1,000 a month for $225,000?

A quick survey of life companies rated A+ or better by A.M. Best reveals it would cost approximately $275,000 to replace the pension this couple would be giving up. As such, the short answer to this question is, no, the employer is not offering them market value for the pension.

On the other hand, let’s assume the company offered her $325,000 for the same $1,000 per month lifetime benefits. In that instance, these folks would be better off taking the lump sum because they could buy a traditional annuity that would pay lifetime income which EXCEEDS $1,000 per month for lump sum offered.

A decision on whether to accept a lump sum payout in exchange for your future pension benefits should not be based on pricing alone. But people always like knowing if they’re being treated fairly so assessing value is a good starting point. You might be surprised.

I have no problem confessing our firm’s bias: Generally speaking, sticking with the pension will be the better choice. We’re big fans of secure income you can never outlive. That said, these articles provide solid practical tips for deciding what your best option will be. Everyone’s situation is different.

Whatever you do, don’t end up with an empty nest egg. There may be valid reasons to choose the lump sum over the pension benefits. But our advice is to think long and hard before doing so.

Photo courtesy of Luke Brugger at Unsplash.com.

 

 

Roubini has a bad feeling on this one, all right?

March 3, 2020 – Remember the line in Platoon when Sgt. O’Neill (John C. McGinley) expresses his concerns about a pending military conflict with Staff Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger)?

“Bob, I got a bad feeling on this one, all right? I mean, I got a bad feeling. I don’t think I’m gonna make it outta here! D’ya understand what I’m sayin’ to you?”

Sgt. Red O’Neill

While the prospects of seeing one’s entire life savings evaporate due to fallout from a global pandemic pale in comparison to the psychological trauma experienced by the brave men and women who experience the harsh realities of war, this line came to mind when I read yesterday’s MarketWatch article quoting economist Nouriel Roubini who sees bad things ahead for the market.

“I expect global equities to tank by 30% to 40% this year.”

Nouriel Roubini

Investors may want to heed Roubini’s advice given he was one of the few economists to correctly predict the 2008 financial crisis. To avoid financial catastrophe, Dr. Roubini is urging people to seek safety NOW.

And he’s not the only one doing so. About a year and a half ago, we published a blog citing other experts suggesting clients may also wish to pare down their exposure to stocks in favor of safer options.

Where Can You Find Safety?

In addition to buying safe bonds, structured settlements and retirement annuities remain some of the safest choices for those who require certainty.

Even with interest rates at or near historic lows, structured settlements and retirement annuities remain attractive alternatives. Something about making some money (especially when there’s a decided tax advantage) is more attractive than losing a lot of money.

Consider all these available options clients are currently talking to us about:

Tax-free structured settlements for physical injuries.

Tax-deferred structured settlements for nonphysical injuries.

Tax-efficient structured installment sales to reduce or eliminate capital gains taxes when selling qualifying appreciated assets or businesses.

Fixed indexed annuities which allow participants to benefit from market ups but shield them from market downs.

Market indexed structured settlement options with downside protection.

A structured settlement option that accounts for future interest rate increases.

Multi-Year Guaranteed Annuities (MYGAs) for “better than CD” rates.

Even if you still have faith in the market for the long-term, almost everyone would be wise to consider converting at least some of their safety net to something that is actually safe.

And if Dr. Roubini ends up being right, there’s no time like the present to make a move before things get really bad.

Let us know if we can help save you from drowning.

Structured Settlement Market Strength

September 11, 2019 – As volatile markets continue to spook some investors while inspiring others, we take pleasure in being able to constantly reassure our clients they make wise decisions and are in good company when they choose structured settlements and retirement income annuities.

Safe. Steady. Secure. Strong. That’s what we’re all about.

In addition, according to LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, the guaranteed future income options we offer our clients are also quite popular!

Structured Settlements: Income Strong

With over 1,000 years of combined experience, the life markets offering structured settlements have unparalleled strength and staying power.

So how strong and popular are the structured settlement life markets we represent?

Four of them account for approximately 30% of the $93.6 BILLION worth of annuity purchases through the second quarter of 2019 and boast Top Ten rankings from the aforementioned LIMRA study referenced above.

AIG Companies – 1st ($10,221,715,000)

New York Life – 4th ($7,196,481,000)

Prudential – 7th ($5,367,321,000)

Pacific Life – 8th ($5,209,920,000)

That’s a high vote of confidence and speaks to the public’s appetite for safety, security and financial strength when it comes to preserving their money.

Congratulations to these excellent companies on their success. We are proud to represent you along with the other fine companies who comprise the structured settlement marketplace.

On a Somber Note: The infamy surrounding today’s date will never leave us.

It shouldn’t.

Even those of us without a direct personal connection to the tragic events of one of the worst horrors ever perpetrated on American soil felt its devastation and continue to live with its consequences.

Today, we honor those who died as a result of that unspeakable tragedy and offer thoughts of peace for their families.

The Illogic of Annuity Trashers

April 29, 2019 – Articles, commercials and opinions of those who trash annuities shouldn’t bother me as much they do.

But seeing the general public constantly bombarded with misleading information on the issue, I can’t help wondering how many people are swayed by them to their detriment.

And feeling angry about the disingenuous and self-serving prejudice.

People aren’t always conscious of it, but they often base their financial decisions on emotion rather than logic. Fearmongers who play to this behavioral science truism can sway the odds in their favor when it comes to issuing financial advice.

And the slant is very transparent when you take the time to logically dissect their rationale for advising against annuities.

For instance, allow me to pick apart some of the more obvious biases in “Why annuities are a bad idea for almost everyone” from the August 18 issue of MarketWatch (free subscription may be required):

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Fixed Indexed Annuities On Fire

September 24, 2018 – If you still believe that guy on the radio castigating you to hate annuities, it might be worth seeing what the top industry research association’s statistics reveal about 2018 YTD fixed indexed annuities (FIAs).

Hint: They’re HOT!

Through the first half of 2018, $32.1 billion worth of fixed indexed annuity purchases were made according to LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute. That’s up 14 percent from 2017 and its $17.6 for the quarter is an alltime high.

Compared to the $30 trillion market capitalization of the U.S. stock market, this is a drop in the bucket. But for an idea hatched just 23 years ago, fixed indexed annuities are making some important strides as people seek a reasonable blend of security and return for their money.

Besides, unlike the stock market, FIAs never lose money.

Fixed indexed annuities offer investors a simple proposition: In exchange for money today, you receive two promises:

You will never lose money; and,

You will receive guaranteed future income FOR LIFE, the value of which will be determined by the investment experience of the selected index and the timing of your withdrawal.

Admittedly, the nuances of the various life market offerings and index choices can be daunting. But millions of individuals have benefited from the peace of mind that comes with guaranteed lifetime income without fear of market downturns.

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The Sultan of Annuities

September 17, 2018 – The Los Angeles Angels have been officially eliminated from the 2018 postseason.

Drat!

The year started with such promise, too. Not only do we have a perennial MVP candidate in Mike Trout, but this year brought some new excitement when the Angels signed Japanese phenom Shohei Ohtani, a young player who is making comparisons to Babe Ruth for his ability to hit AND pitch at the highest possible level in professional baseball – a feat nobody has been able to successfully accomplish in over 100 years.

George Herman “Babe” Ruth – the Sultan of Swat – was a larger-than-life celebrity who, during his era, had no equal in terms of popularity. Idolized by kids and frustrating opposing teams, he lived life to the fullest known almost as much for his excess on the party circuit as he was for his prowess on the baseball diamond.

Despite this tendency toward extravagance, however, Babe was not a big risk taker when it came to money. Early in his career, he was introduced to the concept of annuities by a player on an opposing team and he was an immediate convert to the concept.

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Football Annuities

August 25, 2018 – With college football upon us and the NFL’s 2018 season right around the corner, this is the perfect time to discuss fixed indexed annuities.

Hunh?

OK, so maybe I’m stretching a bit but as this year’s first kick-off approaches, it occurs to me there’s a perfect parallel between something that happens on the gridiron and the popular retirement income option that people spent $32.1 billion on so far in 2018 alone.

Here’s hoping my analogy helps the unconvinced better appreciate the value of indexed annuities.

First: What Is a Fixed Indexed Annuity?

An oversimplified explanation goes something like this:

A fixed indexed annuity (FIA) is an insurance product whereby an individual trades a lump sum of money today (or periodic deposits over time) in exchange for the promise of tax-deferred, guaranteed lifetime income, certain income, or a lump sum at some point in the future.

The money earns interest credits based on the direction of one or more indexes selected (S&P 500 is a common one) from a variety of strategies available depending on the risk tolerance of the individual.

The design of the FIA is such that if the market index increases, so does your account balance up to the maximum permitted by the contract.

The trade-off for having a cap on your upside potential is the floor which prevents your account from ever losing money.

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Harvesting the Bull

August 23, 2018 – As the current stock market is busy toasting itself for the longest bull run in history, at least one chief investment officer is keeping his bubbly on ice while cautioning investors about a market he believes is on a “collision course with disaster.”

Guggenheim chief investment officer Scott Minerd sounded two dire warnings over the past four months:

April 4, 2018 – “Guggenheim investment chief sees a recession and a 40% plunge in stocks ahead.”

August 15, 2018 – “‘If there were ever a moment to harvest gains . . . it is August 2018,’ warns Guggenheim’s Minerd.”

Many of us not-so-fondly remember the last 40% drop in the stock market way back in 2009. Minerd wonders aloud if investors have become lulled into a false sense of complacency since then.

Recession? 40% plunge? Who’s got the stomach for that again?

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Dear Congress: This is Wrong!

August 6, 2018 – When the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as it’s known, went into effect earlier this year, many hailed the legislation for simplifying things and saving the average taxpayer money.

Others protested the legislation disproportionately benefits the ultra-wealthy who didn’t need and weren’t asking to have their taxes reduced.

Whichever side of the debate you happen to fall on, one category of taxpayers stands out as being most unfairly and adversely impacted by this legislation:

People who hire legal counsel for nonphysical injury claims.

That’s because, whether intentional or inadvertent, Congress failed to consider one disastrous consequence of the new law:

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Finn Financial Group