Did you know January 28 was National Will Preparation Day?
Many people avoid putting an estate plan in place for years because they don’t want to think about death; it’s too sad. But while death is inevitable, the heartache your family has to go through when you haven’t put a plan in place is not inevitable.
It’s been said that everyone has an estate plan, the only question is if it’s the one you wanted. Each of the 50 states has a plan for people who die “intestate,” or “without a will.” It is a standardized plan for distributing assets and assigning guardianship of minor children.
People often delay estate planning because they are having trouble choosing a guardian for their children. While this decision can certainly be difficult, remember that having “a” plan is better than no plan. Know too, if you haven’t made a decision, that decision will be left up to a judge should the unthinkable happen. And while the perfect solution may not have presented itself yet, it’s fairly certain that a stopgap solution designed by you will be better than leaving your children’s fate up to a judge who has never met you (or your children).
Regardless, a quality estate planning attorney should be able to skillfully guide you through this process, difficult as it may be. And your financial planner can provide guidance and encouragement along the way, as well. I would encourage anyone without an estate plan to make 2014 the year you finally put one in place!
The Prior Month
Investors saw something they hadn’t seen in awhile in January– red arrows. Indeed, stocks fell 3.5% for the month. Negative data points from slowing economies in emerging markets like China gave investors an excuse to sell. Much of the selling may also have been due to the oversized gains investors had from 2013. Unwilling to “pay the taxman” in April 2014, by waiting until January of 2014 to make their sales, they delayed their tax bill until April 2015.
Meanwhile, 4th quarter and year-end earnings reports streamed in from just over 1/2 of the S&P 500’s component companies. Thus far, eight of ten sectors have shown earnings growth, with Internet Software and Services (led by Facebook) being the the strongest. As of January 31, 74% of companies have “beat” analyst expectations for their quarterly earnings with 67% beating analyst revenue expectations.
February will see the end of earnings reports and then a bit of a lull to market action. This February, most eyes will be on new Fed boss Janet Yellen as she takes the helm. The second week of February, Ms. Yellen will give her annual Humphrey Hawkins testimony before congress- first in the house, and two days later in the senate. We expect Ms. Yellen to initially talk tough on inflation. However, we believe her history of “doveishness” (that is to say, taking an easy or relaxed view towards inflation” will personify her time at the helm of the Federal Reserve.
What concerns us more going forward are some of the disconcerting things we’ve seen developing in the financial markets since late last year. Among them:
a) Small caps are starting to lag in performance
b) Each of the last few moves to new highs in the major averages has been accomplished on declining “energy”
c) The percentage of stocks above their 50 day moving averages has been steadily declining since last fall
d) Emerging markets have been trending downward for months
e) Sentiment has been extremely bullish for months
f) January saw a number of “distribution days,” or large point range, high volume down days
For these reasons we have gotten somewhat cautious on the equity markets. As always, we want to protect our clients hard-earned capital. And while we don’t think this is 2008 all over again, a somewhat substantial pullback could be in the offing.
Stock Market Lesson
You may have heard about the so-called “January Barometer,” whereby if stocks go down in January (or some even say the first week of January) it portends a bad year for the markets. While this indicator did seem to have some historical predictive power in the 1950-1984 time period, since 1985 that power has been lost.
The over 233 million roses that are grown for Valentine’s Day each year could go around the earth 3.8 times when laid end-to-end!
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Calendar of Events
Just a reminder I am jumping into ice cold Ferril Lake on Saturday, February 22 as part of the Colorado Special Olympics “Polar Plunge.” While I’ve already reached my fundraising goal, please don’t let that stop you from donating to a great cause. Please visit the Polar Plunge Donation Website to support this wonderful organization.
And if you can’t make a donation, please do send some warm thoughts my way!
Have a great February,
Steve Zakelj, CFP®