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C.H. Robinson

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Market Volatility Rises Again

Written by Matt Wright on .

Most global stock markets had been on a rather astonishing run of low volatility since February 2016. Gains from stocks during this period were not unusually high for a bull market, they were just unusually steady and price dips were infrequent, small, and brief.

We advised in our year-end commentary just a few weeks back: "Please don't count on a repeat this year." Lo and behold, volatility among stock and bond markets around the world have spiked higher in the past 10 days. Our cautionary comments were not intended to be clairvoyant – we did not have any specific prediction of what the financial markets would do. We just know from history that calm markets can break without advance notice and for reasons that may not be obvious.

So what do we know about the recent action in the markets? The primary issue appears to be what is often called a "growth scare." As opposed to a recession, a growth scare is a concern that investors have when there is potential for the economy to become overheated, resulting in higher inflation. This causes interest rates to rise and bond prices fall, which then feeds into competing investments such as stocks, causing them to fall as well.

While the overall growth rate of the U.S. economy remains historically below average, the proximate cause of the growth scare is the very low level of U.S. unemployment. The job market has tightened considerably in recent years but is just now pointing towards the possibility of rapidly accelerating wages. While your first thought might be that rising wages sounds like a good thing, it certainly can raise the risk of inflation, which is a potential problem in the long run.

What is SWA doing about this market volatility? We're not actually doing anything different than we were before. Our primary stance is to make sure our clients were invested in a risk-appropriate strategy beforehand since we know that markets can't be timed. In addition, we use portfolio monitoring software that allows us to review client allocations on a daily basis and rebalance them when they have drifted far from their target weightings. In recent months, we trimmed stock exposure in many of our client accounts due to the healthy gains we'd seen up until the end of January. Maintaining the target allocation on an ongoing basis helps to reduce downside when the risk inevitably shows up.

And speaking of risk, our view is much more focused on avoiding permanent losses than intermittent ones than can be recovered. Because of that, our investment choices could be accused of being too boring at times. We aim for what we consider to be reliable long-term growth vehicles and stay away from unproven and/or speculative opportunities that may be highly rewarding but come with excessive risk. For example, a hot strategy in recent years of buying "short volatility" products has cratered in the past week. One product that had phenomenal returns as recently as last month had a breathtaking drop of over 95% in a single day. Investors (gamblers) who had made "easy" money in the past learned that it was a little harder than they thought. SWA does not believe a little extra upside is a good trade for a whole bunch of downside.


Congratulations to Minnesota!

Written by Jon Govin on .

According to Kiplinger's magazine, Minnesota is ranked FIRST...as the least tax friendly state for retirees. Unfortunately, first is not a good thing in this case! To be clear, when we are talking tax, we aren't limiting this to income tax. Retiree tax friendly considerations include: Income tax, sales tax, inheritance tax and property tax.

As those who live here know, taxes can be quite steep, even prior to retirement. Individual state income taxes start at 5.35% and rather quickly move up to 9.85%. Average state and local sales taxes are 7.27% (although, food, clothing, and prescription and nonprescription drugs are exempt from state sales tax). Social Security income is currently taxed in Minnesota—one of 13 states who tax this. Recent state tax legislation exempts a portion of Social Security income (Kiplinger's did not pick this up).

Other income that Minnesota taxes, that many states don't, includes: Pensions, distributions from individual retirement accounts and 401(k) plans. And, topping it off, Minnesota is one of 14 states with an estate tax (6 states have inheritance taxes). Property taxes are high but compared to our neighbors to the east (Wisconsin), not too bad, especially when considering state property tax refunds based on income.

Just for the record, rounding out the top 10 least tax friendly states for retirees on Kiplinger list: Connecticut, Kansas, Vermont, Nebraska, New Mexico, Utah, Maryland, Indiana, and drumroll please..., Wisconsin. So, if you are looking to make a short move east across the border to ease the tax burden, think again.

But wait, before you reserve your U-Haul trailer to push off to a more friendly tax state, consider a few things. Don't let the "tax tail wag the dog." The choice to live in one state versus another, especially in retirement years, has a lot to do with other factors. Factors beyond tax that rank pretty high include: Healthcare availability, cost of living, climate, social interaction and basic quality of life. Again, remember that the rankings are in regard to taxation for retirees, specifically tax factors for retirement income (pensions, Social Security, retirement account distributions, etc.) And folks who just look at income taxes may be surprised when they see a very steep property tax bill or find that food and day-to-day spending jumps due to high sales taxes (see below for a sample list of "taxes").

As many of you look toward retirement, you may be looking at places you may want to snowbird to or permanently move. In a future blog, we will look at states that may be a bit more appealing, from a tax standpoint. The top choice may surprise you.

We are curious to hear your thoughts on what you think is appealing when considering relocating, snowbirding, or just getting away for an extended stay.

Taxes that are state (or local jurisdiction) specific may include:
Income Tax
Property Tax
Auto Tabs
Gas Tax
Sales Tax
Local Add-On Sales Tax
Luxury Tax (interesting note - MN taxes more for champagne than other fermented "wines")
Sin Tax (liquor and cigarettes)
Mansion tax (NY only, for homes in excess of $1 million)
Travel Tax (e.g. hotel / resort / airline ticket)
Estate Tax


A Quick Update on Estate Taxes

Written by Bruce Primeau on .

Here are some important items to note for estate taxes as we move forward into 2018:

  • For 2018, the federal estate tax exemption is rising to $5.6 million per person while the top federal estate tax rate remains at 40%. The estate exemption portability remains in place meaning (at least for now) that if the deceased spouse does not use his / her $5.6 million exemption, the unused portion transfers to the surviving spouse.
  • The annual exclusion amount for gifts made in 2018 is increasing to $15,000 per person or, for married persons, they could give up to $30,000 per person without having to file a gift tax return.
  • For Minnesota residents, the MN estate tax exemption is scheduled to increase to $2.4 million per person in 2018. Note however that the MN estate exemption is not portable like the federal exemption is.

If you have any questions about how the above estate tax changes will impact you, please contact us to discuss.


A 529 Tax Incentive for Minnesota

Written by Jon Govin on .

Minnesota recently introduced a 529 benefit this year that will help just about everyone who contributes to a 529 plan and not just the Minnesota 529 Plan. However, this benefit applies only to Minnesota taxpayers.

Minnesota taxpayers contributing to a 529 plan have the option of claiming either a tax credit or deduction for contributions to any state's 529 plan, depending on your adjusted gross income. Minnesotans can only claim one of the two benefits in any given tax year, and the benefit phases out as taxpayer income increases.

Minnesota taxpayers may:

  • Take a deduction: Up to $3,000 for a married couple filing jointly or $1,500 for all other filers for contributions made to a qualified 529 account, or
  • Take a credit: A credit can be claimed on half of contributions up to $500, subject to phase-out starting at a federal adjusted gross income of $75,000. The credit is reduced by any withdrawals made by that taxpayer during the taxable year.

The tax deduction is pretty straightforward, and works much the same as other deductions. The trouble comes in interpreting whether a taxpayer will benefit more from the deduction or credit when they fall in between the income brackets, because the language of the legislation is confusing, at best.

The wording reminds you of those dreaded "word" problems in your elementary math class. Thankfully, if you have adjusted gross income below $75,000 it is pretty simple, take the credit. Beyond adjusted gross income of $75,000 the math (and rules) gets a bit more complicated. You will need to rely on your tax preparer to calculate the most beneficial outcome for your circumstances. Of course, we will pay particular attention for the deduction or credit in our review of tax projection and tax returns of our clients that we know are contributing to 529 plans.

The bottom line is that it is advantageous for Minnesota taxpayers to contribute to a 529 plan this year. If you are unsure what to do, talk to your tax preparer or financial advisor who should be well versed in tax laws.


A Little Help Can Be Worse Than No Help At All

Written by Matt Wright on .

My wife recently received a "Retirement Evaluation" in the mail, related to her 401(k) account. You may receive something like this from time to time, too. It is either intended as a free, helpful service from your company retirement plan or it is intended to alert you to potential problems with your plan that a third party can assist you with, for a fee.

This particular evaluation alerted her that she might be investing too conservatively, could benefit from saving more each paycheck (couldn't we all?) and her account value may be insufficient to produce the income she'll need in retirement. To remedy the situation, she could sign up for a program that will manage her account and provide advice for a monthly fee.

Of course, SWA is also in the business of managing investment accounts and providing advice, so we obviously think there is value in doing so. The difference is that SWA provides this advice on a comprehensive basis by incorporating all of your family's assets, incomes, expenses, tax rates, insurance coverage, etc. The "Retirement Evaluation," on the other hand, is looking at just one piece of the puzzle.

For example, here are a few of the many things not considered in my wife's "Retirement Evaluation:"

  • Is her 401(k) invested conservatively because it is just one part of our combined family asset allocation and we are optimizing the mix of investments across all of our accounts?
  • Is her savings rate to the 401(k) not particularly high because she is also saving to a Health Savings Account, which can potentially result in much more favorable tax benefits than a 401(k)?
  • Does her account value seem too low to fund her retirement because it is less than 10% of our family's combined assets?

When you think about all the external variables, it becomes clear that the 401(k) management program has limited value in addressing the spectrum of financial decisions we each face. It will likely provide you with a set of cookie-cutter recommendations that might have you increasing your 401(k) savings even if, for example, the most critical need in your family right now is to get some term life insurance coverage in place. In a situation like this, it could certainly result in a little help causing more harm than good.

Only by looking at the whole picture can SWA work with our clients to prioritize their most important needs and help them to meet their goals through a variety of strategies. We are always hesitant to offer advice on a limited scope as just one missing piece of information can impact a recommendation.

North Metro: 763.355.5873
227 East River Parkway
Champlin, MN 55316-5873

South Metro: 612.987.9112
5871 Crossandra Street SE
Prior Lake, MN 55372-3337

West Metro: 763.639.3425
322 Greenhill Lane
Long Lake, MN 55356

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