10 Interesting Market Stats Heading Toward Year-End

Three weeks left in the year and we are still awaiting a 4th-quarter rally. With the S&P 500 again negative year-to-date stocks acting pretty volatile, time is running out.

Some stats that might interest you:

  • If the year ended today, it would be the first time since 1990 that both stocks and bonds finished negative for the year (stocks as measured by the S&P 500 and bonds as measured by the 10-year Treasury bond). In 1990, the S&P lost -3.1% and the 10-year Treasury yield climbed climbed from 7.9% to 8.1%.

  • A down year for stocks would be the first since 2008, when the S&P 500 fell -37%.

  • Apple stock, which at one point was up nearly +40% on the year, is now only up +1% in 2018.

  • The biggest gainer in the S&P 500 this year? The clothing & accessory company Fossil, which is up roughly +115%.

  • The biggest loser in the S&P year-to-date? Auto part manufacturer Delphi Technologies, which is down roughly -70%.

  • Bitcoin, which many people had been asking me about this time one year ago, is down -76% in value in 2018 per the NYSE Bitcoin Index (NYXBT).

  • For what it is worth, the S&P went on to gain +30% that next year in 1991.

  • The yield curve is extremely close to inverting. More on this below.

  • General Electric is down -78% from its peak back in 2016.

  • 65% of stock prices among the S&P 500 are below their 200-day moving averages.

In The Market...

The S&P 500 fell -4.4% last week. Let's look under the hood:

(price data via stockcharts.com)

Stocks fell back to the lows from two weeks ago. The overall market continues to look weak. Nothing new there. The bond market was more eventful, as the yield curve gets closer to inverting.

A yield curve “inversion” is when shorter-term interest rates exceed longer-term rates. Specifically, we are looking at the 2-year Treasury bond yield potentially eclipsing the 10-year Treasury yield. Here is where they respectively enter the week:

10-year yield: 2.85%
2-year yield: 2.72%

So we are close. Inversion is totally ass-backward, in that it would mean you could earn a higher interest return lending your money for 2 years than you can lending your money for 10 years. That makes no sense and is not what anyone wants to see. Even if the yield curve does not invert, the fact that the spread between short-term and long-term rates is so slim is problematic enough.

So how does it happen that short-term rates could surpass long-term rates? I believe there are two reasons. First, the Federal Reserve has raised short-term rates aggressively, increasing the Federal Funds rate seven times in just the last two years. Second, long-term rates have sank lower due to renewed demand for long-term Treasury bonds over the past month (remember, higher bond demand means rising bond values, which means falling bond rates).

In an ideal world. the Fed would raise short-term rates as the stock market rises. Meanwhile, the demand for long-term Treasury bonds would weaken because investors prefer being in stocks over bonds. Weaker demand for long-term bonds means long-term rates go up as well.

But lately this has not been the case. Short-term rates have risen, but stock prices have fallen. Meanwhile, investors are migrating back into long-term bonds, which has pushed long-term rates lower. In my opinion, this is the worst trifecta of all: Rising short-term rates, falling long-term rates and stock market stagnation.

I’m not quite at the point of talking “recession”, but there are some signs out there that have me concerned. I’ll lay those out if it becomes appropriate to do so. An inverted yield curve is not required for a recession to occur. However, just know that there has never been a recession without one. It usually takes at least a year though for a recession to occur from the time when the yield curve first inverts, so there’s that.

We sold our Utilities fund position (FXU) last week for a modest gain, which consequently increased our cash position. We will continue to seek out new opportunities, however right now the market is so choppy that it is unlikely we will just yet.

In Our Portfolios...


What's New With Us?

It was a pretty rainy weekend, but despite that we went down to Green Lake on Saturday evening. The entire pathway around the lake was lit up, including a pair of giant hot air balloons that was pretty cool to see. It was a fun holiday outing.

Have a great week!

Brian E Betz, CFP®
Principal

Unintended Outcome Of The New Tax Laws

The number of corporate stock buybacks is reaching peak levels this year.

In the first quarter, S&P 500 companies bought back $189 billion of their own stock from investors. That was the most since 2007. Take a look:

(source: Yardeni Research, Inc.)

The estimate for Q2 is close to nearly $200 billion as well, though preliminary. 2018 is poised to be a banner year when it comes to share repurchases among large corporations.

What is a stock buyback? Simply put, it is when a publicly traded company uses cash to literally buy shares of itself that are owned by investors. It results in fewer shares outstanding, which helps concentrate share ownership and subsequently boost the share price.

Is this a good thing?

It is not good or bad. It just is.

What makes all this newsworthy is how it relates to the recent tax law changes that went into effect this year. The new laws give companies the ability to repatriate, meaning bring back, profits from overseas at a reduced tax rate compared to the previous 35% charge (which was reduced to 21% in the new bill as well). The new laws will only assess a 15% tax on repatriated liquid assets like cash and 8% on non-liquid assets like equipment.

The idea behind the Trump/GOP tax plan was that the reduced tax rate would entice big corporations to bring assets back to the U.S. and invest more domestically. Historically, large companies have been reluctant to bring home foreign profits due to the hefty 35% tax charge for doing so.

What does this have to do with stock buybacks?

Presumably, much of the cash being repatriated is being used for buybacks. I hesitate to say it is being used for buybacks “rather than investing in new U.S. operations” because it is way too early to make that distinction. But the clock is ticking.

President Trump has said that “trillions” (specifically $4 trillion as recently as August) in corporate funds would be brought back to the U.S. as the result of the tax law changes. According to the Wall Street Journal, only $143 billion has been repatriated so far in 2018. Those funds come from 108 publicly traded companies that comprise the bulk of the $2.7 trillion in overseas profits, although two companies — Cisco and Gilead Sciences — comprise a whopping two-thirds of the total amount. It is premature to draw too many conclusions because giants like Apple, which has pledged to bring back a large amount of capital, have yet to do so but very well could.

The elephant in the room is answering the question: Do companies have a responsibility for prioritizing investment over share buybacks with these repatriated funds? No, they do not. Of course there is so much lobbying that is done between powerful companies and powerful politicians that the idea of “owing” anyone anything is a bad rat hole to go down. So that aside, I would argue the companies are not under any obligation to use the funds in a particular way. If they choose to buy back shares of stock, so be it.

In The Market...

The S&P 500 gained +1.1% last week. Let's look under the hood:

(price data via stockcharts.com)

 A nice bounce-back week for the overall market. The S&P is back near its recent record high, while 9 of the 10 stock sectors finished higher on the week. Corporate bonds ticked higher as well, which is good to see.

It has been a pretty quiet couple of weeks with regards to portfolio moves. I feel pretty good about most of our current positions and those that I am becoming lukewarm on are not worthy of selling just yet.

In other news, I want to share an actual article that I saw this past week, courtesy of Bloomberg:

(source: bloomberg.com)

I am not providing the entire article because I myself did not even get past the second paragraph. Some things I just shake my head at in disbelief. This being one of them.

If you believe that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are a fad, these are the types of developments that will be looked back at as evidence in the future. The evidence being the sheer over-engineering that is going into finding ways to invest in an ultra-volatile asset class. I would use the word “bubble” but given how much the price has plunged in 2018 that is not really applicable (though for context, the price of Bitcoin is still higher over the past full 12 months).

Look, I have no idea what the future holds for cryptocurrency, and frankly, do not really care. My skepticism largely stems from the disconnect between what Bitcoin was created to do versus how it is actually being used. It was created as a means of completing e-commerce transactions. It is more widely used - or should I say held - as an investment. In my opinion this is problematic. But time will tell.

In Our Portfolios...


What's New With Us?

 I will be out of the office on Friday this week. If you need something urgent on Sept 21st, contact Josh Baird directly.

Have a great week!

Brian E Betz, CFP®
Principal

The End Of Neutrality And Weighing The Final GOP Tax Plan

In The News...

December is normally a slow news month, but for whatever reason a ton of stuff has transpired recently.

Net Neutrality no more: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 in favor of repealing the Net Neutrality laws that were enacted during the Obama administration to prevent internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T from giving preference to certain websites over others. Neutrality laws ensured that those providers allowed all internet traffic to flow equally and freely. This includes everything from a web page to an email service to Facebook, YouTube, etc.

As best I understand it, the argument in favor of eliminating Net Neutrality is that these internet broadband providers would be forced to improve their existing systems/services. The argument against it is that providers will increase their prices or provide preferential internet speeds to certain sites, such as those operated by sister-companies. For example, Comcast owns NBC and could allow NBC content to stream quicker than content from other, comparable news outlets. Internet providers could block certain content or charge more to access content. In short, higher prices to consumers. This graphic sums it up:

(photo created by Alphr.com)

Interest rates going up: The Federal Reserve raised its benchmark lending rate, the Federal Funds rate, from 1.00% to 1.25%. The last Fed Funds rate increase was in June 2017. Two of the nine Fed committee members opposed this latest rate increase, which is telling for future meetings. I would anticipate we do not see another rate hike for at least six months based on some level of dissent over this latest rate increase.

Bonds rallied off the news. On a related note, this was Fed Chair Janet Yellen's final press conference before Jerome Powell takes the helm in Feb. 2018. I would suspect there will be some choppiness in the bond market as that transition takes place. I recall that being the case when Yellen took over for former Chair Ben Bernanke, as she quickly learned that her words and tone carried great influence over interest rate expectations among investors.

Yellen responded to a question about Bitcoin, calling it a "highly speculative asset". She said the Fed has no plans to pursue regulatory measures given Bitcoin's currently insignificant role as a form of payment. Keep an eye on this because Bitcoin will invariably be pulled into the political discourse, whether regulatory steps can be taken or not.

Tax reform done? Republicans issued the final version of their tax reform plan. For my thoughts on this check out the OPINION section below.

    In The Market...

    The S&P 500 +0.9% this past week. Let's look under the hood:

    (price data via stockcharts.com)

    The S&P 500 rose for the 4th-straight week. With only two weeks left this is setting up to finish as the best market year for U.S. stocks since 2013. Momentum continues to favor this bull market on all three time frames we analyze: Monthly, Weekly and Daily trends.

    Technology rebounded nicely last week and is a position we added for most client accounts (XLK). We sold our Consumer Discretionary sector fund (XLY), which was mostly due to preferring other certain that we will look to purchase. Financials and Health Care are the primary targets we are looking to buy.

    Santa Rally coming? I would suspect that things will be a bit choppy right around year-end, as investors take capital gains tax planning into consideration. However, the seasonally bullish "Santa Rally" could help push stock prices even higher. This 7-day period, should it occur, would be the last five trading days of December, plus the first two days of January.

    In Our Opinion...

    Republicans unveiled their final tax reform plan, expected to be signed this week. Here are the highlights:

    • Income tax brackets are slightly lowered across the board, but seven different brackets remain (shown in the graphic below). Remember that income taxes are progressive, meaning that different segments of your income are taxed at different rates. For example, if you are married and have taxable income of $200,000, the first $19,050 is taxed 10%, the middle amounts are taxed 12% and 22%, and the final $35,000 is taxed 24%.
    • The standard deduction doubles from $6,350 to $12,000 for individual tax filers and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples.
    • Personal exemptions are eliminated. You can currently deduct $4,000 for you, your spouse and any dependents (e.g. kids) you can claim.
    • The limit on home mortgage interest is reduced. Currently, you can deduct interest tied to a maximum $1 million mortgage loan. Moving forward you can only deduct interest related to up to $750,000 of mortgage debt.
    • The mandate that everyone must purchase health insurance is eliminated.
    • Corporate tax rate for C-Corporations is reduced from 35% to 21%.
    • A one-time, lower repatriation tax rate is applied to U.S. companies with foreign operations who bring cash and other assets back to the U.S. Right now those companies are only taxed when they bring profits and assets back to the U.S. To encourage them to come home, companies will be taxed 15.5% on cash assets and 8% on non-cash assets.
    • Small businesses like S-Corporations and LLCs, where income passes through to the owner's individual income tax return, will get a 20% deduction on such income. Service-based businesses that earn more than $315,000 would not receive this deduction.
    • 529 college savings could be accessed, tax-free, for K-12 education expenses.

    Tax reforms I like: I like the reduction to corporate tax rates and the deduction for small, pass-through businesses. I really like that 529 college savings will be extended to pre-college education. I also like that, contrary to prior proposals, the student-loan interest deduction remains in tact.

    The aforementioned 20% deduction for pass-through businesses is one that will garner a lot of debate. It is an attempt by lawmakers to help small businesses amid reducing the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%. I am obviously bias, but I am all for giving a boost to small business owners.

    However, there is a concern that entities will be created simply to take advantage of this deduction, specifically because of wages. Instead of workers earning wages as employees this could compel them to "leave" their employer, set up a pass-through entity and then get rehired as a contractor by that same employer. This would allow the worker to have their previously paid wages now show up as consultancy fees (or some term other than wages/salary) and flow through the income statement of their business. Those earnings would flow to the bottom-line, and thus, be eligible for the 20% deduction.

    Tax reforms I dislike: I have less of an issue with what was done than I do with opportunities missed. The various income tax brackets were reduced, but not my much. I do not see it resulting in "the biggest tax cuts in history", but because the rates were reduced at all, the plan will be marketed as such.

    The promise of over-simplifying the tax code was a broken one. The tax plan does little to simplify anything. Simplifying the tax code would be to enact a flat income tax, or at the very least, cut the number of tax brackets down to three or four.

    The standard deduction is doubled, but personal exemptions are eliminated. That seems to be largely an offset, though big families who itemize their deductions will suffer most. They lose the personal/dependency exemptions (previously a deduction of $4,000 per-family member), yet won't benefit from the standard deduction increase because they itemize their deductions.

    I certainly do not like the fact that the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that this tax plan will add $1.5 trillion to the budget deficit over the next decade. But, I will leave it to others to debate the budgetary consequences.

    In Our Portfolios...

    Q&A/Financial Planning...

    'Tis the season to consider a Roth IRA conversion! If you own a tax-deferred IRA or 401(k), check out my latest blog post detailing how a Roth IRA conversion might benefit you in retirement. I describe what a Roth conversion is and some different circumstances that influence this decision. I encourage you to read it here.

    What's New With Us?

    I will be out of town for Christmas from Friday (Dec. 22nd) to the following Wednesday (Dec. 27th). Those two dates are specifically the days we are flying, so my availability will be limited. I will be working remotely while gone and should be available in between those dates. I likely will not write a blog this week, so if I do not talk to you -- Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

    Have a great week,

    Signature.png
     

    Brian E Betz, CFP
    Principal®

    When An Early Tax Refund Is More Like A Gimmick

    In The News...

    Only 3 weeks left until the new year. Before you know it, your W-2 and 1099 tax forms will start arriving in the mail.

    H&R Block, the nation's largest tax firm, announced it will provide customers an advance on their expected refund of up to $3,000. So instead of waiting what could be weeks to receive your tax refund after you file, H&R Block will provide quicker access through a zero-interest prepaid debit card that is loaded with your expected refund amount. H&R Block gains a happier customer and is eventually reimbursed by collecting your actual refund when it is issued.

    This aims to benefit those who need the money quickly to meet certain payments or as emergency savings. I have a better solution though than going through the hassle of applying for a prepaid debit card...

    Budget.

    Those who benefit from this type of offer probably have a budgeting problem, not a liquidity one (though maybe I'm detached from reality). If you save more throughout the year you should avoid having to rely on the timing of a tax refund.

    If that does not work, another solution is adjusting the number of exemptions you claim in your Form W-4, which is a payroll-related document you complete for HR every year. Perhaps you and your spouse are not claiming enough exemptions and dependents as you should. The taxes withheld from your paycheck decrease with each additional exemption you claim on your W-4. This means greater take-home pay throughout the year, while reducing the eventual tax refund you get in the Spring by the same amount.

    This advance refund offer by H&R Block feels more like a gimmick that is intended to up-sell clients into buying additional services. They likely want to compel customers who currently use their cheaper, do-it-yourself technology to instead make an appointment and hire a tax preparer. I am sure the advance refund feature will help some people, but it does not solve the customer's bigger problem of budgeting, and it certainly is not the exceptional service value H&R Block proclaims it to be.

    In The Market...

    The S&P 500 gained +0.4% this past week. Let's look under the hood:

    (price data via stockcharts.com)

    A rollercoaster week ended with the S&P 500 index closing at a new all-time high of 2,651. The gains were modest, but it was nonetheless the 3rd-straight weekly gain for U.S. stocks. New record highs are always bullish and this is no exception. Recent market activity plays well heading into the final 3 weeks of the year, which are often pretty bullish as the potential for a "Santa Rally" takes shape.

    We still hold a cash allocation in most accounts, relating to our sale of the Industrials sector fund from the week prior. There are a couple sectors I'm eyeing to potentially buy with that cash, namely Health Care (XLV), Financials or possibly Technology (XLK).

    The bond market has been pretty quiet in recent weeks, up slightly in this most recent one. The only area of interest right now to buy would be Preferred Stock (PFF), but we're not quite there yet. We continue to own High-Yield Bonds (ANGL) and Investment-Grade Bonds (LQD) in certain accounts.

    In Our Opinion...

    Perhaps you heard, but Bitcoin is on fire.

    As I get more and more inquiries about Bitcoin, I figure I should follow-up on my initial thoughts from a few weeks ago. The price of Bitcoin is rocketing higher, and that is not an exaggeration. So... should you buy it?

    My answer remains the same. I don't know. It depends on a number of things, starting with your appetite for risk. For what it is worth I personally do not own any Bitcoin -- neither the actual coins or funds that track its price. Your investment needs differ from mine or the next person, however I like to make sure that either my accounts (or family accounts) are invested in the same securities that we buy for clients, with few exceptions.

    I do not see us adding Bitcoin or a Bitcoin-related fund to our investment lineup at this time. Why? Bitcoin does not have the price history that our investment approach requires. We assess long-term trends and Bitcoin does not have enough history. This could change in the future but for now it does not fit within our investment process for this reason, among others.

    If you do want to buy Bitcoin there are a couple of ways to do so. You can use the popular site, Coinbase, or you could buy a fund that tracks it (like ticker symbol: GBTC). At this point I have two rules-of-thumb about investing in Bitcoin:

    1. If you do buy it, keep the investment size modest (no more than 10% of your liquid investments).
    2. Be comfortable with the potential of losing it all.

    I am not rejecting Bitcoin, but I'm just not endorsing it, either. I think many who blindly embrace it do so because of herd-mentality. Conversely, I think many who oppose Bitcoin do so because they want to justify why they don't own it. This includes financial advisers who may be quick to reject it in order to justify to their clients why they haven't recommended it yet.

    I simply don't know where Bitcoin goes from here. To say otherwise would be disingenuous. I do know there are lots of ways to make (and lose) money. I just have no idea where the price of Bitcoin goes from here, nor does anyone else.

    In Our Portfolios...

    Q&A/Financial Planning...

    Now is the time for tax-loss harvesting, particularly if you own other taxable investments outside of the account(s) we manage for you.

    What is tax-loss harvesting? Selling certain investments currently sitting at a loss to help offset other investment gains you have made throughout the year. When you sell an investment for a gain it is either taxed as a short-term gain or a long-term gain.

    Short-term gain: if you held it for less than 1 year, in which case you would owe ordinary income taxes based on your income tax bracket.

    Long-term gain: If you held the investment for at least one year, in which case you would owe long-term capital gains taxes. The long-term capital gains tax rate for most people is 15%, which is lower than whatever your income tax rate is for short-term gains. Long-term gains are preferable to short-term gains.

    This is where tax-loss harvesting comes in. Instead of just standing-pat from now until the new year, you would sell investments that have fallen in value. Those losses would offset prior gains, thus reducing your overall tax bill for the year. A few additional notes:

    • If you have multiple, taxable accounts you must pool together the gains and losses across all of them.
    • TD Ameritrade does a good job of showing your year-to-date gains/losses, both those that have been sold ("realized") and those that are still held ("unrealized"). The realized gains/losses will tell you where you stand tax-wise. The unrealized losses will show you what harvesting opportunities exist.
    • Think beyond just stocks and bonds. If you sold real estate or other assets in 2017 those gains would be included too.

    Let us know if you would like help estimating your 2017 capital gains and deciding whether there is an opportunity to tax-loss harvest before time runs out.

    What's New With Us?

    We are taking our daughter, Brooklyn, to see Santa for the first time this weekend! My wife and I are split on whether she cries. She says yes and I say she won't. Either way, it should be fun!

    Have a great weekend,

    Signature.png
     

    Brian E Betz, CFP
    Principal®

    "Black Monday" Turns 30 Years Old

    In The News...

    Thirty years ago, on Oct. 19th 1987, this happened:

    (chart created via stockcharts.com)

    Now known as "Black Monday", the S&P 500 fell -20% in one day. It remains the largest daily decline ever in the market - more than two times worse than any other day on record (for reference, the worst one-day decline during the 2008 recession was -9.0%). Following Black Monday it took roughly one year for stocks to recover those losses, also shown in the above chart.

    Earnings season is here again. So far 17% of S&P 500 firms have reported third-quarter financial results. Among those 100 or so companies that have reported, profits are up +1.7% (vs. +3.0% estimate) and sales are up +5.1% (vs. +4.9% est.), according to data provider FactSet. Earnings kick into high gear this week, with many of the big boys reporting in the coming days. Google, Amazon and Microsoft all release results after-market on Thursday Oct. 26th.

    Change at TD Ameritrade: Our custodian, TD Ameritrade, has revamped its commission-free ETF (fund) lineup. This brings good news, bad news and no news.

    The good news is that TD has expanded its list of transaction-cost-free funds from 100 to 296. This means more investments to choose from that will cost us/you nothing to buy and sell. For context, when we buy or sell a fund (ETF) for your account that is not on this list, it is $6.95 to do so. We try to use funds from this list because it means there are zero trade costs, provided we hold the investment for the required 30-day minimum (which we most often do).

    The bad news is that while TD has increased the overall number of funds to 296, it has removed certain funds from the list. This includes the S&P 500 index fund we use (IVV), along with most of the bond funds we use (AGG, LQD, JNK and TLT). We do not trade the bond funds nearly as often so in that sense it isn't a big deal. But it does mean I will need to research new, comparable commission-free bond funds and start using those instead when practical.

    This is no news if you have $100,000 or more of invested, billable funds with us because we already pay for all trade costs if that is the case.

    This is something I considered when deciding which custodian to choose upon leaving Scottrade. I had asked TD whether the list of commission-free funds could be reduced and the answer I got was a pretty vanilla corporate response. Honestly though, I could not expect much else. Changes happen and we roll with the punches. If this type of change were the deciding factor that kept me from choosing TD Ameritrade then our priorities were misguided when choosing a custodian. It's something we will adjust to and move forward.

    In The Market...

    The S&P 500 rose +0.9% this past week. Let's look under the hood:

    (price data via stockcharts.com)

    It was the 6th-straight weekly gain for the S&P 500 index, which has risen more than +4% over that time. The last time the S&P went seven-straight weeks? Dec. 2014. History suggests we should see a pullback here, though it may only be in the 2-3% loss range over the next few weeks. We'll most likely see the broad market flatten out over the next month or so. But seasonality still plays in the favor of the market rally continuing through December, as again, Q4 is typically the best three-month stretch of the year.

    Meanwhile, bonds sold off as stocks continued to rise. Long-term interest rates look like they might be on the cusp of spiking higher, but have had a tough time doing so when they have reached this point (to be specific, whenever the 10-year Treasury bond yield has hit 2.4%). This is a tad concerning for our bond positions, but we will continue to monitor bond values with patience over the coming days and weeks before making any changes.

    In Our Opinion...

    Should you invest in Bitcoin?

    A number of people have asked me this in recent weeks. The short answer is, I don't know. The longer answer requires researching and learning more about Bitcoin before feeling comfortable recommending it to anyone.

    What is Bitcoin? Bitcoin is a digital currency, designed as an alternative form of payment to U.S. dollars or other foreign currencies. In effect, it provides a uniform currency across economies and eliminates the need for exchange rates. Bitcoin makes international buying/selling easier, but it is unregulated.

    What is one Bitcoin worth? This is where it gets tricky, given its recent value surge. According to the NYSE Bitcoin Index, one year ago Bitcoin was worth roughly $600, six months ago it was worth $1,000, three months ago it was worth $4,000 and today it is worth $5,700. That is a +450% gain in just one year!

    Bitcoin's rise may be the problem. Not because Bitcoin isn't "worth" $4,000 or $5,700 or whatever amount on a given market day. An investment is worth whatever buyers and sellers are willing to buy and sell for provided they have access to the same information. Bitcoin's value is a problem because it is supposed to be used as a currency and currencies should be somewhat stable. The extreme day-to-day price volatility makes it difficult to use in the exchange of goods and services, at least I would assume...

    So... is it an asset or a currency? Given the increasing demand and rapid value growth, the result is that consumers buy Bitcoin as an investment and not for its original, intended use. This makes Bitcoin more of an asset and less of an actual currency, kind of like gold or other precious metals. This isn't to say that it won't become a mainstream currency, but for now it looks and smells a lot more like an investment/asset.

    My biggest Bitcoin fear: When people start buying it for no other reason than they think they will get rich quick that makes it ripe for turning into a bubble. I suspect this is the case based on some of the inquiries I have gotten.

    We could say the same thing about any given stock, but there is one key difference. For many investors, it is calming to be able to see the company they invest in and read things about what the company is doing. It emotionally helps validate the investment decision. Bitcoin, in comparison, is a bit of a black hole. Even if that is not truly the case, I know a few people who have blindly thrown money into Bitcoin without knowing anything about it. My fear is that the moment its value falls, investors will be quick to bail. Unlike stocks, which have lived more than a century and have a track record of rebounding from massive price declines, Bitcoin has yet to weather any real storms.

    The Verdict: I need to dig a bit deeper on Bitcoin. For now I would refrain from buying it, but if you are interested let me know and we can discuss.

    In Our Portfolios...

    Q&A/Financial Planning...

    Is it open enrollment time for benefits at your company?

    If so, don't simply go through the motions with regards to your health care options and other available benefits, such as flexible spending accounts. Take the time to assess the differences between health care plan options, particularly if you anticipate any major medical expenses coming in 2018. Evaluate whether the tax-savings of the Health Savings Account (HSA) make it a worthier choice than the PPO, HMO or whatever other options are provided. We are happy to help if you have questions regarding your plan options.

    What's New With Us?

    I spent the weekend battling a stomach virus that I picked up from our daughter (who got it at day care), but I am all better now and ready for a great week.

    Enjoy the week ahead,

    Betz Signature 250px.png
     

    Brian E Betz, CFP®
    Principal