Three Weeks

December 9, 2018

CNBC is usually playing in the background on a TV in my office.  In addition to hard news, financial and otherwise, they have and endless stream of talking heads and commentators, both their own and outside guests, throwing opinion and predictions at the audience.

Last week the equity markets were particularly volatile, so I was paying a bit more attention.  At one point on a sharply down day, they put on a guest who told us that he was predicting the S&P 500 Index would finish the year higher than where it was as he was speaking.  He seemed very sure of himself.  Read the rest of this entry »

In The Blink Of An Eye

October 29, 2018

This month marks 30 years ago that I started my own firm.  At the time, I was working at a local Financial Planning firm that was actually pretty progressive for that era.

When I had started there some two years earlier, one of my colleagues, Jacquie, took me under her wing and taught me much about employee benefits.  That became an important career skill for me.  Jacquie had left the firm in the spring of 1988 for another endeavor.  Like many breakups I guess there were bad feelings between her and the firm’s ownership.   She was very involved in a local business association and they sponsored a running race that September to benefit a charity.  I was a runner (I still am) and I ran in the race.  I saw Jacquie at the race and spent some time catching up with her. Read the rest of this entry »

A Sad Day

November 29, 2016

I read Newsday and some other newspapers on my phone every day.  It’s a Long Island, NY paper if you’re not familiar.  Yesterday I opened the app to the headline page.  One of them  said “Tree cutter dies after fall”.  It’s not the kind of story I will usually open or read but for some reason I did.  I glanced at the story and a name jumped off the page, Erik Halvorsen.

In my 20’s and 30’s I was an avid basketball player and often played at a park with great competition some 15 miles from my home.  During that time I also coached HS basketball so I would find a spot on my team for a younger kid if he played hard.  Erik was one of those kids.  As a bonus he was also the nicest most polite kid.

I hadn’t seen Erik in a good 25 years, but somewhere along the line I had heard he started a tree service business and was doing pretty well.  Yesterday something went wrong and despite proper safety gear a tree he was in snapped and he fell.

Erik was 45 years old.  I have no idea if he was married, had kids, or had done any comprehensive financial planning for himself or his business.  I hope he did.  It hit home to me why I do what I do.  We can’t plan for everything in life but we can for the big things – the ones that matter.

For those of you who haven’t planned or revisited your financial plan, today is the day.  Stop putting it off.  Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow.

The Bottom Line:  Godspeed Erik Halvorsen.

–Michael Ross, CFP®

Brexit Or Bubble?

June 28, 2016

Once a month I play poker with some friends.  One of the things a poker player always looks for is a “Tell” in the other players.  A Tell if you don’t know is a change in behavior by another player that gives clues in their assessment of their own cards.  If I have a good idea of the strength of your hand I can bet accordingly and hopefully improve my odds and results.

You may ask how this relates to your investment portfolio or financial plan especially if you don’t play poker.  Let me explain… Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Important To Choose The Right Trustee

March 17, 2016

When you create a trust, selection of the Trustee should be as important as the language contained in the trust.  While some Founders select corporate Trustees, especially with large complex trusts, most select a family member.  Selecting the wrong person can create chaos at best and harm the beneficiary’s interests at worst.  There are three attributes you should be seeking.

The Trustee needs to be Honest and Trustworthy and able to execute a Fiduciary Duty to the beneficiary.  Is the candidate able to put others interests above their own? Read the rest of this entry »

Will Someone Arbitrage The Powerball Lottery?

January 13, 2016

The estimated value of tonight’s Powerball Lottery currently stands at $1.5 Billion if the winner takes a 20 year payout.  A lump sum would generate an estimated $930 Million.  That exceeds the cost of buying every single ticket.

There are 295 million combinations and each game costs $2.   Therefore, if someone wanted to guarantee they would be a winner, the cost would be $590 Million.  That means if such a person was the sole winner, their profit would be $340 Million, a gross return of 58%. Read the rest of this entry »

Bah Humbug From Uncle Sam

December 11, 2015

It’s traditional to give gifts in this holiday season.  Uncle Sam however just took a few away.

A few weeks ago, Congress passed and President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.  As usual it is complete with riders that have nothing to do with the Federal Budget.  This year there were two major changes to the Social Security Program that may affect you.

The first change is the elimination of Restricted Applications for anyone born after 1/1/54, or essentially who won’t be Age 62 by this New Year’s Day.   Restricted Applications are commonly known as “Spousal Only”, where the applicant claims Spousal Benefits at age 66 and then switches to their own benefit at age 70, which has increased by 8% per year for 4 years.

The second change is the elimination of File and Suspend effective 5/1/16.  Essentially you can still File and Suspend if you were born on or before 5/1/50 if you act by April 30th.  Those who have previously filed in this manner are grandfathered.  File and Suspend allowed a taxpayer to continue to accrue higher benefits by delaying payments from Age 66 to Age 70 and allowing Spousal and Minor/Disabled Child payments to be made during this period.

Social Security can be very complex and decisions are also effected by many outside factors such as whether the taxpayer is still working.  The elimination of these benefits can cost some of you Tens of Thousands of Dollars.  This is both an opportunity for some of you to take advantage of these disappearing benefits while you still can, and a reason to revisit the Social Security portion of your retirement planning if these are being taken from you.

If you have any questions about this, we encourage you to contact our office.

The Bottom Line:  Now is the time to review your Social Security Strategy and possibly act before May 1st.

–Michael Ross, CFP®

Don’t Do It

August 13, 2015

An elderly relative of mine died recently.  Her death certificate says she died from complications of an existing chronic health problem.  However, I would argue that the real cause of death was entering into a late in life 2ndmarriage.   Let me explain… Read the rest of this entry »

Competition Is Good

July 9, 2015

Yesterday the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) experienced a technical “glitch”, and all trading was halted for a few hours.  Yet to the average investor, this was a non-event.  Had this happened a decade or more ago, this would have been a major disruption, as it would have brought a large part of the US financial system to a complete stop.  But in the last decade, stocks and other instruments that once traded on only one exchange now trade on multiple exchanges.  Stocks traded all day as if nothing had happened.  That the NYSE has lost its monopoly on trading shares listed there clearly benefited the overwhelming majority of us.  Yes, competing exchanges have created some issues that are anti- consumer, such as order flow payments, but on the whole, competition is a good thing.  The shutdown cost the NYSE money and prestige.  They will now have even more incentive to make sure their systems work properly.

The Bottom Line:  Competition improves the breed.

–Michael Ross, CFP®

Just Like The Airlines

July 6, 2015

Last week, the Department of Justice opened an investigation of the airline industry to determine if the major carriers are colluding to keep fares high.  I have no idea if they have colluded, but one thing is for sure, there is far less competition due to decades of carrier mergers.  These mergers were sold to the public as ways to cut costs and deliver better service.  Does anyone believe that has happened?

Now merger mania is hitting the medical carriers.  The number of insurers has already dwindled over the past two decades.  In many markets, mergers have left consumers and businesses with only a handful of competitors to choose from.  Now, Anthem wants to buy Cigna, Aetna wants to buy Humana, and Assurant just wants out.  This will mean fewer competitors and even less choice, and will only lead to higher costs and premiums along with take it or leave it service (kind of like cable TV).

It’s being sold to us as their chance to bargain with hospitals, doctors, and big pharma with more clout, cutting medical expenses.  But with reduced competition and large market shares assured, they will have no incentive to cut those costs – in fact they would benefit from higher medical costs.  Obamacare limits their gross profit to 15-20% of premiums.  So the higher the medical expenses (a minimum of 80-85%+ of premiums), the higher our premiums are, and the higher their cut and profit is.  Think of them like waiters – the higher the cost of the entree, the more they make.

Fasten Your Seatbelt!

The Bottom Line:  Higher premiums in healthcare are likely due to reduced insurer competition.

–Michael Ross, CFP®