The first quarter was a welcomed turnaround for the financial markets following the fourth quarter setback. The major stock indices had a great start to the year with U.S. stocks outpacing international stocks. The bull market in U.S. stocks turned ten years old this March, a new historical milestone. The NASDAQ Composite, S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had sizable gains of 16.8%, 13.7% and 11.8% respectively for the first quarter.
The Federal Reserve played a key role in the market reversal as they pivoted to a dovish position on monetary policy. The year began with the market expecting the Fed to continue to raise the fed funds rate with regularity, but Chairman Powell proclaimed patience was the new path forward. His statement was interpreted to mean zero interest rate hikes in 2019 and the market rallied immediately. The U.S. is firmly in late cycle but with low near-term risk of recession.
Fourth quarter earnings season was deemed a success with corporate earnings growing 13.4% making it the fifth consecutive quarter of double digit growth. Future earnings growth will likely settle into single digit territory. Employment data was exceptionally strong in December and January, but was offset by a disappointing 20,000 jobs created in February. March new jobs data showed a return to solid growth with 196,000. The current 3.8% unemployment rate and growing wages still suggest a strong labor market. The end of the government shutdown was another bullish catalyst.
Evidence of slower economic growth in international economies did not deter stock appreciation in those markets. The MSCI EAFE and emerging markets indices still produced gains of 10.0% and 9.9% in the quarter. Uncertainties about trade, tariffs and Brexit are pressuring growth and business confidence in Europe and the U.K. Investors remained hopeful for a U.S-China trade deal that could deliver near-term relief from tariff escalation.
The financial markets are adept at stirring investor emotions through unexpected price volatility and price momentum. The past three quarters provided a roller coaster ride from market highs to a double digit correction and back to market highs again. Hopefully, you let your portfolio ride along while keeping your emotions on the sidelines. The best approach to long-term investing is to stay invested at a portfolio risk tolerance that reflects both your financial goals and personality.
BIPARTISAN BUDGET ACT OF 2018 (H.R. 1892) – EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2019
Several provisions in H.R. 1892 that affect the retirement industry include:
Removal of six-month prohibition on contributions to retirement plans after a hardship withdrawal.
Allow all employer profit-sharing plan contributions to be included in a hardship withdrawal.
Remove the requirement to take a loan before taking a hardship withdrawal.
SETTING EVERY COMMUNITY UP FOR RETIREMENT ENHANCEMENT ACT (SECURE ACT)
The House Ways & Means Committee passed the Secure Act on April 2 in a bid to help workers save for retirement. The Act would encourage employees to increase their retirement savings annually through automatic increases in contributions to 401(k) plans, require employers to provide estimates of how much an employee’s account would provide during retirement if it were invested in an annuity, make it easier for small businesses to band together to offer retirement plans to their employees, provide legal protections for employers to include annuities in their plans and increase the age for minimum required distributions from 70 ½ to 72.
The Act also has a provision to force the distribution of a retirement account within 10 years for most non-spouse beneficiaries, thereby doing away with the Stretch IRA.
This bill is one of the few proposals with a significant chance of becoming law amid a bitterly divided Congress.
SMALL FIRMS LESS LIKELY TO AID SAVERS
Research shows that small-to-medium sized businesses – those with 5 to 250 employees – are least likely to offer retirement savings plans. The survey found that business owners are afraid of the high costs and the organizational resources needed to start a plan. Why, then, do some businesses offer plans? Employers said they want to help workers save, and also attract and retain talent. Pension Parameters Financial Services Inc. specializes in providing retirement plan services to the small-to medium sized business marketplace. Our costs are very competitive and you do not need extensive organizational resources to start a plan. We would be happy to provide you with more information on how easy it is to help secure your financial future.
Phone: (212) 675-9360 or (732) 583-1313