Category: Interest

Rising Rates: The Fed Takes Next Step Toward Normal

On December 14, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) voted unanimously to raise the federal funds rate by 0.25% — to a range of 0.50% to 0.75%. This was the second increase since December 2008, when the benchmark rate was lowered to a near-zero level (0% to 0.25%) during the Great Recession.1

The rate hike was widely anticipated by investors, and the only element of surprise was a change in the forecast for the federal funds rate. The median projection for the end of 2017 is 1.4%, up from 1.1% in September, which suggests that Fed officials now expect three additional rate increases in 2017 instead of two.2

As the financial markets priced in the prospect of an extra rate hike, the yield on two-year Treasuries surged to its highest level since August 2009. The 10-year Treasury yield climbed to 2.523%, the highest level in more than two years and a full percentage point higher than the record low in early July 2016.3(Bond yields typically rise as prices fall.) The S&P 500 index declined 0.8% on the day of the Fed’s decision, but recovered quickly and rose 0.4% the following day.4-5

The December rate hike reflects the committee’s growing confidence in the health of the U.S. economy, but it’s also likely to push up borrowing costs for households and businesses.

Central Bank Influence

The Federal Reserve and the FOMC operate under a dual mandate to conduct monetary policies that foster maximum employment and price stability. The federal funds rate is the interest rate at which banks lend funds to each other overnight within the Federal Reserve system. It serves as a benchmark for many short-term rates set by banks.

Adjusting the federal funds rate is one way the central bank can influence short-term interest rates, economic growth, and inflation. The Fed has been tasked with loosening monetary policy early enough to keep inflation from flaring up, but not so quickly as to reverse economic progress or upset financial markets.

Second Time Around

A lot has happened since December 2015, when the stock market cheered the Fed’s first rate increase since the financial crisis. At the time, the Fed projected four rate hikes by the end of 2016, but tightening was put on hold when GDP growth and inflation were slow to materialize. A number of outside risks, including a weak global economy and uncertainty surrounding the June Brexit vote, threatened to dampen U.S. GDP growth in the first half of 2016.6

The Fed’s most recent statement acknowledged that “the labor market has continued to strengthen and that economic activity has been expanding at a moderate pace since midyear.”7 Unemployment fell to 4.6% in November, a nine-year low, and GDP growth improved to 3.2% in the third quarter.8-9

Inflation is still below the Fed’s 2% target but has started to firm in recent months. According to the Fed’s preferred measure, personal consumption expenditures (PCE), prices rose at a 1.4% annual rate through October, and core PCE (which excludes volatile food and energy prices) rose at a 1.7% rate.10

What About Investments?

When interest rates rise, the value of outstanding bonds typically falls. Longer-term bonds tend to fluctuate more than those with shorter maturities, because investors may be reluctant to tie up their money if they anticipate higher yields in the future. Bonds redeemed prior to maturity may be worth more or less than their original value, but if a bond is held to maturity, the owner suffers no loss of principal unless the issuer defaults.

Equities may also be affected by rising rates, though not as directly as bonds. Stock prices are closely tied to earnings growth, so many corporations stand to benefit from a more robust economy. On the other hand, companies that rely heavily on borrowing will likely face higher costs, which could affect their profits.

Considerations for Consumers

The prime rate, which commercial banks charge their best customers, is typically tied to the federal funds rate. Though actual rates can vary widely, small-business loans, adjustable rate mortgages, home equity lines of credit, auto loans, credit cards, and other forms of consumer credit are often linked to the prime rate, so the rates on these types of loans may increase with the federal funds rate. Fed rate hikes may also put some upward pressure on interest rates for new fixed rate home mortgages.

Although rising interest rates make it more expensive for consumers and businesses to borrow, retirees and others who seek income could eventually benefit from higher yields.

The FOMC expects economic conditions to “warrant only gradual increases,” but future Fed policies will depend on global financial developments, economic data, and growth projections. If inflation rises more or less than expected, rate adjustments will likely follow suit.

The financial markets could continue to react to Fed policies, but that doesn’t mean you should do the same. As always, it’s important to maintain a long-term perspective and make sound investment decisions based on your own financial goals, time horizon, and risk tolerance.

The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with market conditions. Shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.

1-2, 7) Federal Reserve, 2016
3-6) The Wall Street Journal, December 14-15, 2016
8) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016
9-10) U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, 2016


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Five Keys to Investing For Retirement

Five Keys to Investing For Retirement

Making decisions about your retirement account can seem overwhelming, especially if you feel unsure about your knowledge of investments. However, the following basic rules can help you make smarter choices regardless of whether you have some investing experience or are just getting started.

Don’t lose ground to inflation

It’s easy to see how inflation affects gas prices, electric bills, and the cost of food; over time, your money buys less and less. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your investments are earning only 1% at best. And that’s not counting any other costs; even in a tax-deferred retirement account such as a 401(k), you’ll eventually owe taxes on that money. Unless your retirement portfolio at least keeps pace with inflation, you could actually be losing money without even realizing it.

What does that mean for your retirement strategy? First, you’ll probably need to contribute more to your retirement plan than you think. What seems like a healthy sum now will seem smaller and smaller over time; at a 3% annual inflation rate, something that costs $100 today would cost $181 in 20 years. That means you’ll probably need a bigger retirement nest egg than you anticipated. And don’t forget that people are living much longer now than they used to. You might need your retirement savings to last a lot longer than you expect, and inflation is likely to continue increasing prices over that time. Consider increasing your 401(k) contribution each year by at least enough to overcome the effects of inflation, at least until you hit your plan’s contribution limits.

Second, you need to consider investing at least a portion of your retirement plan in investments that can help keep inflation from silently eating away at the purchasing power of your savings. Cash alternatives such as money market accounts may be relatively safe, but they are the most likely to lose purchasing power to inflation over time. Even if you consider yourself a conservative investor, remember that stocks historically have provided higher long-term total returns than cash alternatives or bonds, even though they also involve greater risk of volatility and potential loss.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Money market funds are neither insured nor guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in such a fund.

Invest based on your time horizon

Your time horizon is investment-speak for the amount of time you have left until you plan to use the money you’re investing. Why is your time horizon important? Because it can affect how well your portfolio can handle the ups and downs of the financial markets. Someone who was planning to retire in 2008 and was heavily invested in the stock market faced different challenges from the financial crisis than someone who was investing for a retirement that was many years away, because the person nearing retirement had fewer years left to let their portfolio recover from the downturn.

If you have a long time horizon, you may be able to invest a greater percentage of your money in something that could experience more dramatic price changes but that might also have greater potential for long-term growth. Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, the long-term direction of the stock market has historically been up despite its frequent and sometimes massive fluctuations.

Think long-term for goals that are many years away and invest accordingly. The longer you stay with a diversified portfolio of investments, the more likely you are to be able to ride out market downturns and improve your opportunities for gain.

Consider your risk tolerance

Another key factor in your retirement investing decisions is your risk tolerance–basically, how well you can handle a possible investment loss. There are two aspects to risk tolerance. The first is your financial ability to survive a loss. If you expect to need your money soon–for example, if you plan to begin using your retirement savings in the next year or so–those needs reduce your ability to withstand even a small loss. However, if you’re investing for the long term, don’t expect to need the money immediately, or have other assets to rely on in an emergency, your risk tolerance may be higher.

The second aspect of risk tolerance is your emotional ability to withstand the possibility of loss. If you’re invested in a way that doesn’t let you sleep at night, you may need to consider reducing the amount of risk in your portfolio. Many people think they’re comfortable with risk, only to find out when the market takes a turn for the worse that they’re actually a lot less risk-tolerant than they thought. Often that means they wind up selling in a panic when prices are lowest. Try to be honest about how you might react to a market downturn, and plan accordingly.

Remember that there are many ways to manage risk. For example, understanding the potential risks and rewards of each of your investments and its role in your portfolio may help you gauge your emotional risk tolerance more accurately. Also, having money deducted from your paycheck and put into your retirement plan helps spread your risk over time. By investing regularly, you reduce the chance of investing a large sum just before the market takes a downturn.

Integrate retirement with your other financial goals

Make sure you have an emergency fund; it can help you avoid needing to tap your retirement savings before you had planned to. Generally, if you withdraw money from a traditional retirement plan before you turn 59½, you’ll owe not only the amount of federal and state income tax on that money, but also a 10% federal penalty (and possibly a state penalty as well). There are exceptions to the penalty for premature distributions from a 401(k) (for example, having a qualifying disability or withdrawing money after leaving your employer after you turn 55). However, having a separate emergency fund can help you avoid an early distribution and allow your retirement money to stay invested.

If you have outstanding debt, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of saving for retirement versus paying off that debt as soon as possible. If the interest rate you’re paying is high, you might benefit from paying off at least part of your debt first. If you’re contemplating borrowing from or making a withdrawal from your workplace savings account, make sure you investigate using other financing options first, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. If your employer matches your contributions, don’t forget to factor into your calculations the loss of that matching money if you choose to focus on paying off debt. You’ll be giving up what is essentially free money if you don’t at least contribute enough to get the employer match.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

Diversifying your retirement savings across many different types of investments can help you manage the ups and downs of your portfolio. Different types of investments may face different types of risk. For example, when most people think of risk, they think of market risk–the possibility that an investment will lose value because of a general decline in financial markets. However, there are many other types of risk. Bonds face default or credit risk (the risk that a bond issuer will not be able to pay the interest owed on its bonds, or repay the principal borrowed). Bonds also face interest rate risk, because bond prices generally fall when interest rates rise. International investors may face currency risk if exchange rates between U.S. and foreign currencies affect the value of a foreign investment. Political risk is created by legislative actions (or the lack of them).

These are only a few of the various types of risk. However, one investment may respond to the same set of circumstances very differently than another, and thus involve different risks. Putting your money into many different securities, as a mutual fund does, is one way to spread your risk. Another is to invest in several different types of investments–for example, stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives. Spreading your portfolio over several different types of investments can help you manage the types and level of risk you face.

Participating in your retirement plan is probably more important than any individual investing decision you’ll make. Keep it simple, stick with it, and time can be a strong ally.

Inflation means that you’ll probably need to contribute more to your retirement plan than you think. What seems like a healthy amount now is likely to feel smaller and smaller over time.

All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful. And diversification alone can’t guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of loss.
The dollar cost averaging you do when you make automatic contributions to the investments in your retirement plan account involves continuous investment in a security regardless of changes in its price. You should consider your financial and emotional ability to continue making purchases during times when prices are low. Dollar cost averaging does not guarantee a profit or protect against a loss.

Mutual funds are sold by prospectus. Please consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses carefully before investing. The prospectus, which contains this and other information about the investment company, can be obtained from your financial professional. Be sure to read the prospectus carefully before deciding whether to invest.

How Interest Rate Hikes Affect Retirees

business-money-pink-coins-largeIn December, the Fed increased interest rates for the first time since mid-2006. We know that the realities of the 2008 financial crisis led the banking system to lower the rate to zero during its height, and remain there for nearly seven years as America’s economy recovered. During that time, however, savers have been on the short end of the stick. Retirees, especially, saw much lower returns and higher risks than imagined, causing discontent even with news of recovery and a thriving economy in the backdrop.

Now, as the Fed is expected to gradually increase rates in the coming months, claims of recovery appear more realistic than ever. First, one must understand that the Fed’s decision to hike up interest serve as a balance to consumer spending and aid in curbing inflation. By doing so, the bank increases the cost of capital, making it more expensive to get things like loans and purchase cars and similarly large items. As a result, the rate at which most people do so decreases, which may seem like the antithesis of how the economy should work, but it is effective.

Naturally, many have questions about just how effective it could be, and how higher interest directly affects their personal lifestyles. The answer is, it depends. As with most situations pertaining to finances, there are no absolutes; however, there are a few things retirees can expect as a result of this move which are promising.

  1. Better Returns for Savers:
    Saving makes more sense (and more cents) as interest rates climb. Investing in CDs over savings accounts typically generates more income at a fixed rate, depending on the terms. This wouldn’t be as significant in a near-zero interest situation, but with recent hikes, this is a smart financial decision with low-risk and more money for the future.  Shop around for the best deals or consult with your financial advisor for assistance.
  2. Increased Portfolio Options:
    Many have chosen to fill portfolios with stocks because of a greater chance for return. But in higher interest situations, bonds can be a great asset, and are less prone to risk than stocks. Now, that doesn’t mean that current bonds won’t be affected. Longer-dated bonds will lose value as yields and interest move in opposite directions. However, buying shorter maturities is a great defense, and a trend more people are moving toward.

    By that same measure, stocks can be beneficial for those who are more conservative. As I mentioned previously, the Fed’s actions are a sign that the economy is progressing in the right direction. Kira Brecht at U.S. News suggests that
    sectors like banking, energy, and technology are the best options in this type of situation. It’s worth consideration.

  3. More Money From Annuities:
    Annuities have been steadily declining due to low interest rates. According to the Secure Retirement Institute, sales fell 5% in the first half of 2015, in comparison to the year prior. To put that in perspective, sales rose more than 10% in 2006 but only a paltry 3.8% in 2014. However, that could change. Fixed rate annuities could provide a steady source of income and security in the event that rates drop again. Purchasing from different companies at different times provides an extra cushion in that all of your eggs won’t be in a basket that could be shattered should a company collapse or fall victim to bankruptcy.

Despite these benefits, one could experience adverse effects of hikes in other areas. Credit card users and those considering refinancing their homes may not have much reason to smile. However, gradual shifts provide a time to plan and strategize in ways that make the most sense for your future. If you haven’t already, you should start thinking about how to take advantage of the benefits of this once in a decade moment.