The Emergence of Emerging Markets

Given their potential volatility, emerging markets aren’t for fainthearted investors, and many people avoid them. But emerging markets aren’t the vast unknown they used to be.

What are they? Emerging markets are countries that are still developing, usually by means of rapid industrialization. It may surprise you to hear that some economic powerhouses – such as China – fall into this category. Others, such as Thailand and Indonesia, are less surprising.

The primary reasons to consider emerging markets are diversification and growth potential. Emerging-market stocks may perform well when developed-market stocks are performing poorly. And in some cases, emerging markets offer unique growth opportunities. For example, China is transitioning from an industrial economy into a digitally led economy, with a high number of graduates in technology fields, significant venture-capital funding, and tax credits that support innovation.

Of course, emerging markets aren’t for everyone. The main risk is volatility. Any political- or currency-related crisis in an emerging market could devastate its stocks. Another concern is the potential impact of US interest-rate hikes, which can lead to a stronger US dollar. In such an environment, conventional wisdom holds: emerging markets underperform. Others point out that emerging markets have outperformed developed markets during most rate-tightening cycles since 1969, with exceptions occurring only when the rate increases came sooner than the market anticipated or were stronger than the market anticipated.

That said, a bout of volatility in the first quarter of 2018 stress-tested emerging markets, and they held up fairly well, as evidenced by flows. In other words, investors kept investing.

If you would like to discover the potential for portfolio diversification and growth through emerging markets, schedule a conversation with your financial professional. He or she can point you in the right direction based on your individual financial circumstances and goals.

Five Healthy Finance Habits to Fortify Your Future

Financial advice is often directed at the very young or very old: spend less than you earn every month, and don’t put too much of your retirement savings in stocks as your retirement progresses. But what about the rest of us – those of us in our working years who are approaching retirement? Here are five tips to keep us on track.

Track your income and expenses. Do it while you’re working. Do it in retirement. Knowing what you earn and what you spend is the key to financial freedom.

Save part of your income every month. In your working years, save for retirement. In your retirement, save for a rainy day. Take advantage of automatic paycheck deductions, if they’re available.

Take advantage of your employer’s tax-savings plans. If you have a 401(k) plan, a pretax transportation plan, or a health savings account, use them. Every little bit of tax savings helps.

Be diligent. Open bills when you get them. Review your bank and credit card statements for errors. Pay your bills on time (and online when possible; it can help keep you on track). Pay attention to interest rates on mortgages and other loans. Plan your dinner menus in advance, and shop accordingly. Read all contracts before signing.

Don’t overspend. Keep the money in your wallet to a minimum. Avoid buying on impulse by making a shopping list and sticking with it. Gifts are no exception. They may seem like they don’t count, but your generosity shouldn’t threaten your financial security.

Unraveling the Mystery of Dividend Stocks

As you approach retirement, you may hear more about dividend-paying stocks. That’s because they provide income, which many retirees seek. What are dividend-paying stocks, and what role can they play in your portfolio?

When a company earns profits, it can either invest those profits back in the business or pay those profits to its shareholders. When paid to shareholders, these profits are called dividends.

A dividend-paying stock is the stock of a company that generates consistent dividends. Such companies are usually well-established, mature, and stable, and their stock prices tend to be less volatile than those of fast-growing companies in new industries, such as technology. Those newer companies seldom pay dividends; instead, they invest their profits in ways that will allow for future growth. How much income can you realize from dividends? As of April 2018, the average dividend yield of the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index was around 1.90%. It has ranged from 1.11% (in August 2000) to 13.84% (in June 1932).

Dividend-paying stocks present a double benefit: Because many dividend-paying stocks are less volatile and generate income, they appeal to investors seeking to generate steady growth as well as investors who want to build a steady income flow during retirement. Additionally, even though they provide income, dividend-paying stocks do not necessarily provide low returns. Dividend-paying stocks are particularly appealing when purchased in tax-deferred accounts, such as 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). In a non-tax-deferred account, the dividends would be taxed as ordinary income. In a tax-deferred account, the dividends are not immediately taxed. They compound over time until they are taxed at withdrawal. According to a 2016 white paper from Hartford Funds, 81% of the total return of the S&P 500 Index going back to 1960 can be attributed to reinvested dividends and the power of compounding interest.

Consult with your financial adviser to determine how these stocks will work best in your portfolio.

How to Search for Quality Stocks

When stock markets are volatile, many investors turn to high-quality stocks. What are they, and how might they be used in your portfolio? High-quality stocks are stocks of companies with outstanding characteristics based on a set of clearly defined criteria, such as balance-sheet strength and good management.

Because finding a high-quality stock among the thousands that trade on exchanges can be a daunting undertaking, high-quality investors often focus on certain criteria. These criteria may include return on equity (ROE), return on assets (ROA), and return on capital employed (ROCE).

As complicated as these criteria sound, they essentially speak to a company’s ability to generate earnings from its investments. ROE indicates how much profit a company has earned relative to shareholder capital. ROA indicates how efficient a company’s management is at using assets to generate earnings. Finally, ROCE indicates how efficiently a company is using its capital investments, which include all long-term funds used by the company. An increase in these three measures suggests that a company is growing.

That said, these measures may not be the only indicators of a company’s prospects. Other criteria – such as growth of the industry in which a company operates – can also affect a stock’s performance, and thus merit close scrutiny.

How important is quality in a stock? Very. Benjamin Graham, who is often called the founding father of value investing, has said that the greatest investment losses result not from buying high-quality stocks at high prices, but from buying low-quality stocks at low prices.

Should You Look Overseas for Equities?

You can probably achieve your financial goals while sticking to US stocks, but exposure to international stocks might be desirable as well, depending on your individual financial circumstances. Here are three reasons why.

Diversification: First, academic research shows that investors have better outcomes over the long term when they spread their money around-among asset classes, market capitalizations, and even countries. Indeed, some academics believe you should have no more than half of your equity portfolio in stocks from any one country. That may not be right for everyone, but it’s a viewpoint worth considering.

Performance: In addition, the United States has a strong economy and stock market, but history tells many stories of strong stock markets that encountered problems. And there have been long periods in which international stocks have outperformed US stocks. From 2000 through 2009, for example, the S&P 500 Index lost 0.9%. International stocks generally performed much better, from 1.2% to 12.8%, according to MarketWatch.

Opportunity: Finally, more than half of the world’s market capitalization is outside the United States, and many international markets are growing rapidly. China and India are just two examples. There were 4.7 million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in China in 2016, and 2.6 million in India, according to McKinsey Global Institute. There were just 568,000 in the United States. And ample venture-capital funding is available to innovative Chinese companies. So there is good reason to believe that, over the long term, international stocks have significant potential.

Of course, international equities have risks that US stocks don’t, including lessened trading transparency and heightened volatility, so it is important to consider your risk tolerance when investing in them. Your financial advisor can help you decide if they are right for you, and, if so, what role they should play in your portfolio.

IRA Recharacterization Rules

In 2018, American investors said goodbye to a key retirement-saving strategy: the ability to “recharacterize” Roth IRA conversions.

That’s a mouthful, so let’s start with the basics by reviewing the two types of IRAs. Traditional IRA contributions are tax-deductible (in the year in which you make the contribution), but any withdrawals you make in retirement are taxed at your ordinary income-tax rate.

The Roth IRA, meanwhile, does not provide any tax breaks for contributions; however, earnings on the account and withdrawals are generally tax-free.

There are pros and cons for each type of IRA, and sometimes people change their minds about which is best. In the past, you’ve been able to convert funds in a pre-tax IRA to a post-tax Roth IRA simply by paying tax on the converted money. Your money then grows and is not taxed at withdrawal.

Sometimes, however, people change their minds about that conversion, and the old US tax law allowed them to undo that transaction anytime up until Oct. 15 of the year following the conversion. This is called a “recharacterization.” But under current tax rules, recharacterization is not allowed.

This may make Roth conversions less attractive for many individuals. If there’s no possibility of undoing a conversion, some people may hesitate to convert.

If you are thinking of converting a traditional IRA to a Roth IRA, you may want to speak with a financial professional to determine that the conversion is right for you (or come up with another plan if it is not).

Small Business Deductions and 2018 Tax Law

Reducing taxable income is an important part of running a small business, and there are two key ways to do it.

1. Open a Retirement Plan

First, you can open a retirement plan, such as a SEP-IRA, SEP 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, or SIMPLE 401(k). Qualified retirement plans such as these benefit employees and employers alike.

Although each plan works differently, any contributions you make as an employee are excluded from your taxable income. The money you put into a plan grows tax-deferred until you retire. Then, distributions and earnings will be included in your taxable income.

If you’re an employer, your contributions to qualified retirement plans are generally deducted from your business’s income.

2. Use the New Tax Law

Additionally, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which went into effect in January 2018, there’s another way to reduce your business’s taxable income.

The new law allows pass-through entities (business entities that are not taxed at the entity level) to take a deduction of 20% against their business income. This essentially reduces the effective top rate on pass-through entities’ income by roughly 10 percentage points over pre-2018 tax law.

Of course, nothing that involves taxes is ever easy. Claiming the new 20% deduction requires navigating a tangle of barely comprehensible requirements and limitations that make it far from accessible to small-business owners. For example, single filers who earn less than $157,500 and married filers who earn less than $315,000 may take the deduction regardless of their field of business. However, after taxable income passes those thresholds, individuals operating service businesses, such as doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors, may not be able to take the deduction.

A financial professional can help you determine which of these options is best for your business.

What You Need to Know about Capital Gains

No one likes to pay taxes, especially on an appreciated investment.

With careful planning, you could avoid or minimize capital-gains taxes. Here are three tips.

Hold investments for at least 366 days

How long you keep investments in your portfolio before selling them determines the taxes you pay on your gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income. Long-term capital gains are taxed at rates of 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your tax bracket.

Invest in a low-turnover fund

Mutual funds realize capital gains just as individual investors do. Any time your fund sells a security at a gain, that gain is taxable. Since the law requires mutual funds to pass most of their net gains on to investors, you realize a capital gain. This is either long-term or short-term, depending on how long the mutual fund held the securities. You can avoid these types of gains by investing in a low-turnover mutual fund.

Use capital losses to offset capital gains

Do you have a losing investment in your portfolio? You might want to sell it and use the loss to offset gains. For example, if you have $4,000 in capital gains, and you take a $4,000 capital loss, the two will negate each other, and your tax liability on the gains will be eliminated.

Plus, if your investment losses for the year exceed your gains, you can use the balance to offset your ordinary income, up to a $3,000 limit.

Small Business Deductions and 2018 Tax Law

Reducing taxable income is an important part of running a small business, and there are two key ways to do it.

1. Open a Retirement Plan

First, you can open a retirement plan, such as a SEP-IRA, SEP 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, or SIMPLE 401(k). Qualified retirement plans such as these benefit employees and employers alike.

Although each plan works differently, any contributions you make as an employee are excluded from your taxable income. The money you put into a plan grows tax-deferred until you retire. Then, distributions and earnings will be included in your taxable income.

If you’re an employer, your contributions to qualified retirement plans are generally deducted from your business’s income.

2. Use the New Tax Law

Additionally, thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which went into effect in January 2018, there’s another way to reduce your business’s taxable income.

The new law allows pass-through entities (business entities that are not taxed at the entity level) to take a deduction of 20% against their business income. This essentially reduces the effective top rate on pass-through entities’ income by roughly 10 percentage points over pre-2018 tax law.

Of course, nothing that involves taxes is ever easy. Claiming the new 20% deduction requires navigating a tangle of barely comprehensible requirements and limitations that make it far from accessible to small-business owners. For example, single filers who earn less than $157,500 and married filers who earn less than $315,000 may take the deduction regardless of their field of business. However, after taxable income passes those thresholds, individuals operating service businesses, such as doctors, lawyers, and financial advisors, may not be able to take the deduction.

A financial professional can help you determine which of these options is best for your business.

What You Need to Know about Capital Gains

No one likes to pay taxes, especially on an appreciated investment.

With careful planning, you could avoid or minimize capital-gains taxes. Here are three tips.

Hold investments for at least 366 days

How long you keep investments in your portfolio before selling them determines the taxes you pay on your gains. Short-term capital gains are taxed as ordinary income. Long-term capital gains are taxed at rates of 0%, 15%, or 20%, depending on your tax bracket.

Invest in a low-turnover fund

Mutual funds realize capital gains just as individual investors do. Any time your fund sells a security at a gain, that gain is taxable. Since the law requires mutual funds to pass most of their net gains on to investors, you realize a capital gain. This is either long-term or short-term, depending on how long the mutual fund held the securities. You can avoid these types of gains by investing in a low-turnover mutual fund.

Use capital losses to offset capital gains

Do you have a losing investment in your portfolio? You might want to sell it and use the loss to offset gains. For example, if you have $4,000 in capital gains, and you take a $4,000 capital loss, the two will negate each other, and your tax liability on the gains will be eliminated.

Plus, if your investment losses for the year exceed your gains, you can use the balance to offset your ordinary income, up to a $3,000 limit.