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Brexit: What’s the Big Deal and What You Should Know About it?

June 27th, 2016

As you may or may not know, The United Kingdom (”UK”) has voted to leave the European Union (“EU”). For decades, the UK has argued left and right whether or not their relationship with the EU is worthwhile. Think of this as an old couple who have been constantly bickering at each other and all of a sudden one of them throws water at the other person telling them to take a hike but then asks them if they can still be friends. In other words, the UK will no longer be a part of the EU but still needs them as a crucial trading partner.

In the midst of this, global markets have experienced some wacky volatility. As of June 27th 12 P.M EST, the British Pound was trading nearly 16% less than it did on the previous Friday morning. The S&P 500 has also experienced a 4% decline as of June 27th 12 P.M EST compared to the previous Friday morning, not to mention that the next jobs report is expected to be dismal, causing further volatility. On the other hand, Gold has shot up and Treasury yields dropped as investors flee to safety, this is usually expected when currencies drop drastically like this.

So what does this all mean to us as investors? Is this the beginning of a global recession? The answer is that we cannot make these assumptions just yet. However, it is crucial to remind ourselves that we should invest for the long term and keep in mind our retirement goals. It is also important to keep in mind that this will be a great opportunity for those who Dollar-Cost Average to take advantage of the lower prices as we should expect a rebound to happen eventually. And always remember the famous quote from the British Government during WW2, “Keep Calm and Carry on!”

© 2016 Castle Rock Investment Company. All Rights Reserved. Please share your insights and comments with us at info@castlerockinvesting.com or call us at 303-719-7523.


Water Cooler Wisdom: Fourth Quarter 2015

January 11th, 2016

“What, if anything, can the rest of the world do to mitigate the volatile China impact?” – Anonymous client

Great question…and unfortunately, I don’t know the answer. Free trade is a basic American principle than underpins our capitalist system (my editor removed “mostly capitalist”). Of course, we all know that free trade isn’t truly “free” and America still operates from an unfair position with China. This is not new in 2015 but what’s changed over time is how quickly information is disseminated to “investors,” (human or not) and the speed at which our intermediaries can transfer funds.

Watching China move from a manufacturing to a service economy is like watching an awkward teen move into adulthood. You can’t hasten the pace, or make them mature overnight, since some things just take time. China implemented market circuit breakers on the first day of trading in 2016 that were tested that same day. Trading was suspended for 15 minutes when the market (CSI300 Index) dropped 5% and halted the rest of the day after the market dropped 7%. The circuit breaker was deactivated later that week after halting trading twice and exacerbating the market sell-offs it was designed to limit.

Back at home, the U.S. economic numbers generally look sound but there’s nothing to get excited about. We are missing that one glaring opportunity to spur inflation and, in turn, wage growth. Long-term GDP growth of 1.5% is a yawner, labor force participation is down to 62.5%, and we know the graduating class of 2015 is the most indebted class ever.  In other words, they’ve already consumed a larger part of their future income than previous graduates. Talk about a drag…on the economy.

It is ironic but a drop in the value of the U.S. dollar, an increase in interest rates, and a drop in the supply of oil actually sounds good right now (see “Oil Markets”). It makes me long for the days of 13% interest rates and long lines at the gas pump when you could only fill up on odd or even days (depending on the last number on your license plate).

But then again…stagflation is depressing. I’d take today’s economy over the 1970’s any day. Economists disagree on whether there will be three or four Federal Reserve rate hikes in 2016 (see “The Fed and Interest Rates”) and in spite of a 0% return in money markets, we have almost $12 Trillion in cash (notice the capital “T,” see “Cash Accounts”).

Conclusion
As usual, we recommend a balanced portfolio with a risk profile suitable for each investor’s tolerance and goals. 2015 seemed to play out the new normal of volatility, but we should continue to invest wisely, steadily and with discipline. Volatility is here to stay.


White House Memo: A Moment of Opportunity for Fiduciaries to Retirement Plans

February 5th, 2015
Famous showdown between "Fast Eddie" Felson and “Minnesota Fats” in the iconic American film, The Hustler

Showdown between “Fast Eddie” Felson and “Minnesota Fats” in the iconic American film, The Hustler

If you think we’re letting go of the “fumbling children” reference made by FSI chairman Adam Antoniades, you have another thing coming. He reminds me of the proud “Minnesota Fats” character in the classic film The Hustler— he doesn’t want to recognize the truth and talent of the situation he’s faced with by “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman), because it means that his reign as best player has ended.

Mr Antoniades goes so far to call the leaked White House Memo from January 13 simplistic, though it refers to more PhD studies than his fumbling response could even spell, so he’ll have to try and respond again.

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Declaration of Independence

February 3rd, 2015

“Can you be more specific?”

Embarrassing, but true: the retirement industry is asking that of the US government.

The definition of a Fiduciary needs to be more specific because of cases where Plan Sponsors are legally charged unreasonable fees for a long time, but the Department of Labor’s interpretation is undesirable to Wall Street. Of course, Wall Street is on the receiving end of these unreasonable fees.

As an investment advisory firm who identifies in writing as a fiduciary to our clients, we uphold the interests of our client above those of any other interest, because we have no other interested parties. The unfortunate reason that other investment advisors will not agree to sign a fiduciary agreement with a client is because they are “promised” to a large company, who profits from a retirement plan through hidden fees.

While the Plan Sponsor is unaware of this other agreement, and often the Investment Advisor is not entirely upfront about this agreement with the Plan Sponsor’s representatives, it comes out in the end through hidden fees and a whole mess of ugly policies.

The sort of game run here should be illegal. Not because the Plan Sponsors are not careful, instead they often are smart and diligent, but because they are simply not protected by the law. Up to this point, the law is unclear. The Independent Advisor they supposedly hire is not, after all, independent according to a stricter definition now proposed by the Department of Labor, led by Phyllis Borzi.

Insist upon a clear definition of an independent advisor so that you know your advice comes for the interest of your retirement plan, and not for the interest of someone else’s quasi-legal activity. Sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/414/401/760/tell-washington-to-stand-up-to-wall-street/

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Not that Complicated

February 2nd, 2015
FSI Chairman Adam Antoniades, from Think Advisor

FSI Chairman Adam Antoniades, from ThinkAdvisor

In any fight, there are two sides waving their arms around.

The Financial Services Institute, or FSI, states in response to a recent White House memo that changing the way the delicate fiduciary system is run will ruin everything. The Financial Services Institute, or FSI, is in opposition to redefining the Fiduciary Standard as it is proposed because of various reasons, some more partisan than others. In general, the FSI puts investor advisors first, and the DOL puts workers and clients first.

How could increased or maintained responsibility of advisors lead to greater abuse of power? Among the first things said by the FSI is the atypical “hrrumph, well people outside the industry just don’t understand the complexities of how we deal with these things.” When in reality, it’s not that complicated: you protect the interest of your clients retirement if you are forced to put their interests first under the law, so why not stop dancing around this and just execute the priority anyway?

Demand protection for your retirement you deserve. Sign the petition to here at SaveOurRetirement.org: http://saveourretirement.com/take-action.html

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Risk Management: Employee Retirement Plans

January 23rd, 2015

Risk ManagementCastle Rock jumps through hoops to be among the best investment advisors. Not every investment advisor goes through the same rigorous training because these hoops are not legally required. We do not think that making best practices a legal requirement will diminish our status as one of the best firms around, but we do think that selecting an investment advisor should be less risky for Plan Sponsors.

You are supposed to be careful of sales pitches that avoid using the term “fiduciary” but stress “education” instead, because those are not interchangeable services. The difference between these services would be like exchanging accounting for bookkeeping services, or medicine with surgery, or heads with tails in a coin toss. Providing education does not negate a need for a fiduciary; rather, a fiduciary investment advisor should be around for cases where education does not meet the plan’s needs, and an expert opinion is necessary.

How confident are we that Castle Rock is the place to turn? We are the best retirement investment advisor around. You can check our About Us section to be sure, or better yet Contact Us.

Our qualifications exceed all of these expectations, but you may want to check to see if your own advisor is able to eliminate some of the risks to you as a plan sponsor[1]:

  1. At least 50% of assets under management in qualified retirement plans (ours are 99%);
  2. Has an Accredited Investment Fiduciary™ or similar designation;
  3. SEC Registered Investment Advisor (RIA);
  4. Make sure your advisor has been working in the industry for at least a decade;
  5. Get a fee agreement that clearly states how the fees will be charged; and
  6. Make sure that fiduciary status is in writing.

To show your support for conflict-free advice in all retirement plans, please sign the petition here at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/414/401/760/tell-washington-to-stand-up-to-wall-street/

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


What’s Going On?

January 22nd, 2015
Source: Bloomberg

Source: Bloomberg

A fiduciary duty, the obligation to uphold the clients’ interest above all else, is Phyllis Borzi’s long sought and tunneled for goal that we at Castle Rock uphold and agree whole-heartedly with. Together, our standards are the highest in the retirement industry. She says that, like in the movie Groundhog Day, bad policies keep being relived over and over. We want to stop the origin of the problem: the poor incentive structure.

Her aim is to make incentives to advisors as straightforward as possible in retirement plans so that the resulting fees will not surprise retirees and leave them with less than they planned.

When investment advisors do not sign up to be fiduciaries to the plans they advise, it leads to corruption and changes the fee structures of these plans so that the retirees no longer have the same security after 65 (typical retirement age). Liability to the Plan Sponsor also changes, and the integrity of the investment advisor themselves is challenged as well.

One example of how the Plan Sponsors are hung out to dry is the John Hancock case, where unreasonable fees were not seen as criminal because of this legal loophole.

Sign your support for reform here at SaveOurRetirement.com!

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Are you In or Out?

January 21st, 2015

What sense does it make to pay for investment advice that comes from someone who is putting his or her interests before yours?

The Department of Labor, through Phyllis Borzi, is fighting to make sure that a loophole allowing conflicted advice to retirement plans is closed. As of last week, an online petition was started by consumer groups and retirement industry giants, including AARP, at http://saveourretirement.com/. The petition is to tell Washington to stand up to Wall Street and close the loophole.

We at Castle Rock are proud to endorse this petition.

The low returns that people often find in their 401(k) or IRA accounts are due to fees that are either hidden or “bundled” so that you need hire a detective to figure out who is getting paid and how much. Please do your homework when you look for an advisor for your retirement plan. In America, today, folks can pay for advice that is in conflict with their best interests and there is no law against it.

We are proud to put our clients’ interest first and maintain our independence from compromised business practices. If you support our work and want conflict-free investment advice to be the law of the land, please sign the petition at http://saveourretirement.com/take-action.html.

Are you in or out? Will you join the fight for qualified retirement investment advice?

 

Michele L. Suriano, Accredited Investment Fiduciary™, is president of Castle Rock Investment Company, a woman-owned SEC registered investment advisory firm serving qualified retirement plans. www.CastleRockInvesting.com


Water Cooler Wisdom: Fourth Quarter 2014

January 7th, 2015

Water Cooler WisdomMajor events at the close of 2014, specifically the fourth quarter of 2014, included: the abnormally low prices of oil; the unique position of the Federal Reserve and the US dollar; US Treasury Rates poised (still) to rise; and American manufacturing ramped up to march on ahead of other world leaders, while an embroiled Europe awaits the coming year.

Returns and Valuations by Style

Significantly improved from the previous quarter, overall market growth was strong in the final quarter of 2014; though the annual return was less than half of the growth from 2013’s phenomenal success.

Energy Price Impacts

By a landslide, the most compelling story of the closing chapter of 2014 was the low oil prices brought upon by OPEC with ferocious Saudi leadership striving to re-establish control of global oil markets. Oil production outpaced consumption, therefore supply outpaced demand, and led to a build in inventories. The supply is not uniformly distributed, though, and the United States is responsible for the fastest supply growth since 2013; however, consumption in the US did not grow nearly as much, and China continues to contribute to the most global demand growth. Notably, Europe and Japan’s consumption declined.

The population most effected by gasoline prices, of course, is the lowest quintile of the population. If oil production declines, and global demand growth picks up, then oil prices could move higher, but if the demand trends persist, and supply growth remains robust with neither the US nor OPEC yielding any production, then oil prices could move further down. Economists overall are split either way, but most agree that the current low prices are abnormal. The Federal Reserve expects that any resulting deflationary pressure from current low oil market prices will be transitory, rather than permanent, and that the economy will achieve the 2% target inflation over time.

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In-plan Roth Rollovers: the latest topic

December 3rd, 2014

Get out your red pen, folks: serious revisions to the rollover options for your plan. Today we’re looking at how you will need to revise your Plan Document in order to offer in-plan Roth rollovers and a few highlights.

In-plan Roth rollovers of otherwise non-distributable amounts are treated as eligible rollovers, meaning that no withholding applies. Since this amount is not distributable, no part of the rollover may be withheld for voluntary withholding. An employee making an in-plan Roth rollover may need to increase his or her withholding or make estimated tax payments to avoid an underpayment penalty. Concerning the rollover process, here is a critical section to know from IRS Notice 2014-74:

 

If you do a rollover to a designated Roth account in the Plan

You cannot roll over a distribution to a designated Roth account in another employer’s plan. However, you can roll the distribution over into a designated Roth account in the distributing Plan. If you roll over a payment from the Plan to a designated Roth account in the Plan, the amount of the payment rolled over (reduced by any after-tax amounts directly rolled over) will be taxed. However, the 10% additional tax on early distributions will not apply (unless you take the amount rolled over out of the designated Roth account within the 5-year period that begins on January 1 of the year of the rollover).

If you roll over the payment to a designated Roth account in the Plan, later payments from the designated Roth account that are qualified distributions will not be taxed (including earnings after the rollover)…

Remember, if you’re making revisions to your Plan Document, then Best Practices direct you to get an ERISA attorney, and make sure you’re fulfilling your fiduciary responsibility.

 

Katherine Brown is a Research Associate at Castle Rock Investment Company with a Master’s degree in Global Finance, Trade, and Economic Integration from the University of Denver. She can be reached at Katherine@castlerockinvesting.com.