Individual Income Tax Provisions of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act – Updated w/ Senate Plan

The Senate has now released its version of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.  I thought it would be helpful to re-post the House plan points from my last blog post and update with how the Senate plan would treat each item.  Again, all of this is subject to change before a final bill is put together and voted upon.  Each chamber needs to pass its version of the bill (after votes on various amendments).  Then the two bills will be reconciled in Committee to produce a final bill.  Then both chambers need to pass that bill.  Then the President needs to sign it.  Long path ahead with many changes likely.

  • Income tax rates fall for everyone. The current 7 tax brackets would be compressed into 5: 0%, 12%, 25%, 35% and 39.6% (the 0% rate applies due to deductions and exemptions which subtract from income causing the first $x of income to be subject to no tax).. For singles, the 12% rate would run to $45,000, the 25% rate would top out at $200,000, the 35% one would end at $500,000, and the 39.6% rate would kick in for taxable incomes that exceed $500,000. For marrieds, 12% rate up to $90,000, 25% would max out at $260,000, 35% would end at $1 million, and the 39.6% rate would apply above $1 million. The 12% on the first $45k or 90k of income wouldn’t apply for those in the top tax bracket. Note that this schema reduces the marriage penalty that exists in the current tax brackets since the married brackets (with the exception of the 25% bracket) are double the single brackets.

Senate Plan: 8 brackets, like today, but with different rates and caps.  Those rates are 0%, 10%, 12%, 22.5%, 25%, 32.5%, 35%, and 38.6%, with the top bracket at $500k single, $1M married, like the House plan.  Would also change the “kiddie tax” such that a child’s investment income is taxed with trust and estates rates (higher), vs. being taxed at the parent rate after a threshold.

  • No change in tax rates for dividends and long-term capital gains. 0% applies if income puts you in the old 0%, 10%, or 15% tax bracket, 15% applies if in the prior 25%, 33%, or 35% bracket, and 20% applies if in the old 39.6% bracket.

Senate Plan is the same and specifically calls out that only the FIFO (first in first out) method of tax lot reporting will be allowed for the determination of gain (or average cost in the case of funds).

  • AMT is completely repealed.

Senate Plan is the same.

  • The standard deduction is increased for everyone, but the personal exemption no longer applies. The standard deduction would be $24k for married filers (vs $13k now) and $12k for singles (vs. $6500 now). The $4150 per person personal exemption (which was phased out for upper incomers and treated differently for those in AMT) is eliminated.

Senate Plan is the same, thought the house plan eliminated the extra standard deduction for those age 65 and over and those who are blind while the Senate retains those additional standard deduction amounts.

  • The child tax credit is increased. It would be $1600 per dependent age 16 and under (vs $1000 today). The income phaseouts are increased as well ($75k single / $115k married now to $115k single / $230k married).

Senate Plan would increase the credit to $1650 per dependent, raise the age to age 17 and under, and raise the income phaseouts to $500k single, $1M married.

  • A new, temporary $300 tax credit for each adult taxpayer and each dependent over age 16. This applies for 5 years only and essentially offsets part of the loss of the personal exemption. It also phases out at higher incomes.

Senate Plan does not include this new temporary credit.

  • Several credits go away. These include:
    • Adoption Credit
    • Credit for purchase of Plug-In Vehicles
    • Hope Scholarship Credit & Lifetime Learning Credit, though the larger American Opportunity Credit remains.

Senate Plan retains these credits

  • Several itemized deductions go away or are reduced. Keep in mind though that with the higher standard deductions, fewer people will need to itemize so loss of some of the below isn’t as bad as it seems.  These include:
    • State and local tax deduction eliminated.  Senate Plan is the same.
    • Property tax deduction limited to $10k per year and only applies to real estate (no more auto registration deduction).  Senate Plan completely eliminates the property tax deduction.
    • Mortgage interest deduction would only be allowed on up to $500k of new mortgage debt (vs. $1M today), only for primary residences (vs. first and second homes today), and there would be no more $100k of HELOC debt interest deduction allowed. Existing mortgages (closing prior to 11/2/2017 or with a binding contract prior to that date) would be grandfathered in the old rules.  Senate Plan retains the $1M cap, but still eliminates the $100k of HELOC debt interest deduction.
    • Casualty loss deduction eliminated (unless specifically authorized by special disaster relief).  Senate Plan is the same.
    • Medical expenses > 10% of AGI deduction eliminated.  Senate plan retains this deduction.
    • Tax prep fees, and unreimbursed employee expenses (including mileage) would be eliminated.  Senate plan also eliminates these deductions, but goes a step further by eliminating all Misc. Itemized Deductions that are subject to the 2% of AGI floor (see IRS Publication 529 for a list of these deductions)
  • Other deductions / exclusions go away or are reduced.  These include:
    • Moving expenses deduction eliminated.  Senate Plan is the same.
    • Alimony deduction eliminated and alimony would no longer be taxable to the receiver.  Senate plan does not modify alimony rules.
    • The student loan interest deduction is eliminated.  Senate plan retains this deduction.
    • The tuition and fees deduction is eliminated.  Senate plan retains this deduction.
    • Sec 121 exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence is significantly changed. Instead of the exclusion applying regardless of income as long as the seller owned and lived in the residence for 2 of the last 5 years, the exemption would now be phased out for upper incomers (starts at $250k individual and $500k married) and the own/live requirement would be 5 of the last 8 years.  Senate Plan also includes the 5 of the last 8 condition, but excludes the income caps.
  • Retirement accounts are unchanged (401ks, Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEPS, SIMPLES, etc. Note that there are strong rumors that the Senate plan will change this, removing or reducing the ability to save pre-tax for retirement.

Senate Plan makes some changes to 457, 403b, and 401k plans so that they all use the limits of today’s 401k plans (no additional catch-up for 403b and governmental 457 plans going forward).  It also clarifies that the aggregate contribution rules apply across all retirement plans, not just retirement plans of the same type.  Finally, it eliminates “catch-up” contributions for individuals whose wages exceeded $500k in the prior year.

  • 529 College Savings Plans would be enhanced. Specifically:
    • $10,000/year of tax-free distributions would be allowed from 529 college savings plans for (private) elementary and high school expenses
    • 529s could be created for unborn children

Senate Plan does not include these changes.

  • The estate tax would be reduced and then eliminated. The exemption would be doubled for 2018 and eliminated completely in 2024. The gift tax system would be kept in place to prevent gaming the income tax system by shifting assets to those in lower tax brackets.

Senate Plan doubles current exemptions, but keeps the estate tax in place.

  • ACA (“Obamacare”) provisions remain unchanged. The Individual Mandate (requiring health insurance or paying a penalty) remains, as do the other ACA-imposed Medicare surtaxes on wages and investment income.

Senate Plan also leaves the ACA unchanged.  

  • Some employee benefits changes. These include:
    • No more dependent care FSAs
    • No more adoption benefits
    • No more tuition reimbursement plans and no more reduced / free tuition for employees of educational institutions.
    • No more moving expense reimbursements.
    • No more pre-tax transportation plans (parking / commuting).
    • No more free gym memberships or similar amenities without including their value in taxable income.
    • 401k hardship withdrawals would still be subject to tax and penalties, but could now include employer contributions and employees would no longer be prevented from making new contributions to the plan for 6 months.
    • 401k plan loan repayments get a little easier in the case of a termination. Rather than needing to repay the loan within 90 days of termination or treating the loan as a distribution, borrowers would have the ability to repay the loan to a new retirement plan or IRA by the due date of that year’s tax return (including extensions).

Senate Plan does not contain this language except for the moving expense reimbursements.  Those would not be allowed in the Senate plan either.  There would also no longer be deductions to the employer for (1) an activity generally considered to be entertainment, amusement or recreation, (2) membership dues with respect to any club organized for business, pleasure, recreation or other social purposes, or (3) a facility or portion thereof used in connection with any of the above items.

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Individual Income Tax Provisions of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act

The House of Representatives recently released the first draft of the long-anticipated tax overhaul bill, now called the “Tax Cuts & Jobs Act”. The bill itself is 429 pages of text, addressing both Corporate and Individual tax laws. I’m 100% confident that the final bill, after reconciliation with the Senate’s still-unreleased-version, will look remarkably different than this first version. As such, we don’t recommend any action at this time. But, I still thought it would be helpful for you to understand what’s being proposed. Some quick highlights on the Individual side of the bill are below:

  • Income tax rates fall for everyone. The current 7 tax brackets would be compressed into 5: 0%, 12%, 25%, 35% and 39.6% (the 0% rate applies due to deductions and exemptions which subtract from income causing the first $x of income to be subject to no tax).. For singles, the 12% rate would run to $45,000, the 25% rate would top out at $200,000, the 35% one would end at $500,000, and the 39.6% rate would kick in for taxable incomes that exceed $500,000. For marrieds, 12% rate up to $90,000, 25% would max out at $260,000, 35% would end at $1 million, and the 39.6% rate would apply above $1 million. The 12% on the first $45k or 90k of income wouldn’t apply for those in the top tax bracket. Note that this schema reduces the marriage penalty that exists in the current tax brackets since the married brackets (with the exception of the 25% bracket) are double the single brackets.
  • No change in tax rates for dividends and long-term capital gains. 0% applies if income puts you in the old 0%, 10%, or 15% tax bracket, 15% applies if in the prior 25%, 33%, or 35% bracket, and 20% applies if in the old 39.6% bracket.
  • AMT is completely repealed.
  • The standard deduction is increased for everyone, but the personal exemption no longer applies. The standard deduction would be $24k for married filers (vs $13k now) and $12k for singles (vs. $6500 now). The $4150 per person personal exemption (which was phased out for upper incomers and treated differently for those in AMT) is eliminated.
  • The child tax credit is increased. It would be $1600 per dependent age 16 and under (vs $1000 today). The income phaseouts are increased as well ($75k single / $115k married now to $115k single / $230k married).
  • A new, temporary $300 tax credit for each adult taxpayer and each dependent over age 16. This applies for 5 years only and essentially offsets part of the loss of the personal exemption. It also phases out at higher incomes.
  • Several credits go away. These include:
    • Adoption Credit
    • Credit for purchase of Plug-In Vehicles
    • Hope Scholarship Credit & Lifetime Learning Credit, though the larger American Opportunity Credit remains.
  • Several itemized deductions go away or are reduced. Keep in mind though that with the higher standard deductions, fewer people will need to itemize so loss of some of the below isn’t as bad as it seems.  These include:
    • State and local tax deduction eliminated
    • Property tax deduction limited to $10k per year and only applies to real estate (no more auto registration deduction).
    • Mortgage interest deduction would only be allowed on up to $500k of new mortgage debt (vs. $1M today), only for primary residences (vs. first and second homes today), and there would be no more $100k of HELOC debt interest deduction allowed. Existing mortgages (closing prior to 11/2/2017 or with a binding contract prior to that date) would be grandfathered in the old rules.
    • Casualty loss deduction eliminated (unless specifically authorized by special disaster relief).
    • Medical expenses > 10% of AGI deduction eliminated.
    • Tax prep fees, and unreimbursed employee expenses (including mileage) would be eliminated.
  • Other deductions / exclusions go away or are reduced.  These include:
    • Moving expenses deduction eliminated.
    • Alimony deduction eliminated and alimony would no longer be taxable to the receiver.
    • The student loan interest deduction is eliminated.
    • The tuition and fees deduction is eliminated.
    • Sec 121 exclusion of gain on the sale of a principal residence is significantly changed. Instead of the exclusion applying regardless of income as long as the seller owned and lived in the residence for 2 of the last 5 years, the exemption would now be phased out for upper incomers (starts at $250k individual and $500k married) and the own/live requirement would be 5 of the last 8 years.
  • Retirement accounts are unchanged (401ks, Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEPS, SIMPLES, etc. Note that there are strong rumors that the Senate plan will change this, removing or reducing the ability to save pre-tax for retirement.
  • 529 College Savings Plans would be enhanced. Specifically:
    • $10,000/year of tax-free distributions would be allowed from 529 college savings plans for (private) elementary and high school expenses
    • 529s could be created for unborn children
  • The estate tax would be reduced and then eliminated. The exemption would be doubled for 2018 and eliminated completely in 2024. The gift tax system would be kept in place to prevent gaming the income tax system by shifting assets to those in lower tax brackets.
  • ACA (“Obamacare”) provisions remain unchanged. The Individual Mandate (requiring health insurance or paying a penalty) remains, as do the other ACA-imposed Medicare surtaxes on wages and investment income.
  • Some employee benefits changes. These include:
    • No more dependent care FSAs
    • No more adoption benefits
    • No more tuition reimbursement plans and no more reduced / free tuition for employees of educational institutions.
    • No more moving expense reimbursements
    • No more pre-tax transportation plans (parking / commuting).
    • No more free gym memberships or similar amenities without including their value in taxable income.
    • 401k hardship withdrawals would still be subject to tax and penalties, but could now include employer contributions and employees would no longer be prevented from making new contributions to the plan for 6 months.
    • 401k plan loan repayments get a little easier in the case of a termination. Rather than needing to repay the loan within 90 days of termination or treating the loan as a distribution, borrowers would have the ability to repay the loan to a new retirement plan or IRA by the due date of that year’s tax return (including extensions).

There are many other (and mostly more complicated) changes on the corporate and small business side of things. I suspect even more of those proposed changes will be substantially modified before the final bill. In an effort to keep the length of this post manageable, I’ll refrain from getting into the Corporate changes at this time.

The effective date for most of the changes, on both the Individual and Corporate side, would be the start of 2018, though that could also change. Current prediction markets (via PredictIt) imply an 86% chance of the House voting on the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act in 2017, an 81% chance of passing it (including any changes between now and the final bill) in 2017, a 47% chance of a Senate vote on their version of the bill in 2017 and a 27% chance of the Senate passing their version in 2017. There is also a market on a Corporate tax cut by 3/31/2018, giving a 65% chance of success. If those are correct, it would mean progress by end of year, but likely not passage until sometime in early 2018 (if at all).

Updated 2018 Tax Numbers

The IRS has released the key tax numbers that are updated annually for inflation, including tax rates, phaseouts, standard deduction, exemption amount, and contribution limits. Since inflation was relatively low in 2017, only small changes have been made in most cases. Note that all of this is subject to change if new tax legislation is passed in 2017 (doubtful) or in 2018, retroactive to 1/1/2018 (I’d give this a 50% chance). Some notable callouts for those who don’t want to read all the way through the update:

· Social Security payments will increase by 2.0% in 2018. The Social Security Wage Base (the max amount of income subject to the 6.2% Social Security Tax) increases from $127,200 to $128,700.

· Max contributions to 401k, 403b, and 457 retirement accounts increases by $500 to $18,500 (+$6000 catch-up if you’re at least age 50).

· Max contribution to a SIMPLE retirement account remains unchanged at $12,500 (+$3000 catch-up if you’re at least age 50).

· Max total contribution to most employer retirement plans (employee + employer contributions) increases from $54,000 to $55,000.

· Max contribution to an IRA remains unchanged at $5,500 (+$1,000 catch-up if you’re at least age 50).

· The phase out for being able to make a Roth IRA contribution is $199k (married) and $135k (single). Phase out begins at $189k (married) and $120k (single).

· The standard deduction increases by $300 to $13,000 (married) and by $150 to $6,550 (single) +$1,300 if you’re at least age 65.

· The personal exemption increases by $100 to $4,150 per family member. Remember that exemption amounts begin to be phased out if your income exceeds $320,000 (married) or $266,700 (single). The exemption is reduced by 2% for every $2500 of AGI over threshold until reduced to $0.

· Itemized deductions are reduced by 3% of the amount AGI is over $320,000 (married) or $266,700 (single).

· The annual gift tax exemption increases by $1,000 to $15,000 per giver per receiver.

· The maximum contribution to a Health Savings Account (HSA) increases to $6,900 (married) and $3,450 (single).

· Standard mileage rates have not been updated yet for 2018.

2018 Key Tax Numbers

Note: The key tax numbers linked above are always updated at http://www.perpetualwealthadvisors.com/Resources/Tax2018.htm

 

 

Q3 2017 Returns By Asset Class

For the last few quarters, I’ve posted returns by asset class (by representative ETF), as well as year-to-date, last twelve months, and last five years. While there is still no predictive power in this data, I updated those charts as of the end of Q3 2017 for those of you that are interested (see below).

2017Q3 Asset Class Performance

A few callouts from the data:

· All major asset classes finished Q3 positive, with the standout being Emerging Market Stocks at +8%. Foreign Developed Stocks were up ~5.5% with US Large Cap and Small Cap stocks up ~4.5% each. Emerging Market Bonds were up ~3%, Commodities (led by a bounce back in oil) up ~2.5%, High Yield Bonds up ~1.5%, and Real Estate Investment Trusts, US Aggregate Bonds, and US Short-Term Bonds all up 0.5-1%.

· While everything other than Commodities has been up year-to-date, Foreign Developed and Foreign Emerging markets are the strong winners, up 20% and 23% respectively. Both continue to play catch-up vs. the US stock market after under-performing significantly since the financial crisis (and even over the past 5 years, see the 5-year chart for more detail).

· Bonds (short & medium term) continue to perform, despite being in the midst of a Federal Reserve rate hike cycle. As I indicated last quarter, higher interest rates generally mean lower prices for bonds, but this is offset somewhat by the interest (which increases with higher rates) that those bonds pay. As long as rates don’t spike quickly, and as long as we stay away from long-term bonds (we do), bonds will continue to do fine and will continue to add a cushion to overall portfolios.

· After stagnating from 2014 thru late 2016, global stocks have been on a tear over the last 12 months. US and Foreign, Small and Large are all up 17-19% with virtually no corrections along the way. This will not continue forever. I promise that stocks will fall again in the future. They will of course rise again too, but prepare yourself for lower or negative returns at some point. It’s my nature to remind clients of the bad times during the good times and vice versa. Times have been very good recently.

· Repeating from last quarter as I know not all of you have the time to read this each quarter… On the five-year chart, you can clearly see the marked underperformance of foreign stocks (developed and emerging markets), emerging market bonds, and most notably, commodities (everyone remembers the massive declines in energy prices back in 2015). While commodities have bounced back slightly after bottoming in early 2016, they have a long way to go to regain their highs, and that is a very good thing for worldwide consumers (though not so good for oil-producing / oil-exporting countries). The underperformance of international markets can be viewed in one of three ways: 1) international stocks are now dirt cheap as compared to US stocks, OR 2) international economies are doing much more poorly than the US economy and therefore, due to limited future growth, their stock markets have fairly performed much more poorly than US stocks OR 3) some combination of the two. There is no way to know the answer, so we will remain diversified and will continue to include foreign stocks at a ratio of about 1:2 vs. US stocks in most portfolios. Note that this has really paid off over the last 9 months as indicated in the 2nd bullet point above. Foreign markets will sometimes outperform their US counterparts and US markets will sometimes outperform their foreign counterparts. We just can’t know when it will happen and so instead of trying to pick winners or losers, we believe it makes more sense to invest globally and be confident that population growth + productivity growth + inflation will result in nominal growth on average across all geographies and that in turn will result in long-term growth for a globally diversified portfolio of stocks.

Equifax Data Breach – Follow-UP

As a quick follow-up to my post about the data breach on Friday…  there are numerous questions about the website that Equifax is using (www.equifaxsecurity2017.com) to tell people if they were impacted by the breach and to lead them to the year of free credit monitoring.  First, the terms and conditions of using the website and enrolling in Trusted ID, the credit monitoring service, seem to indicate that you’re giving up your rights to participate in any class action lawsuits against Equifax by using them.  Next, people have reported that the check to see if you are impacted was giving random results.  For example, entering “Test” as the last name and “123456” as the SSN was telling people they were impacted.  Similarly, using two different browsers with a real last name and SSN was giving two different responses.  Those issues are supposedly now corrected.  Equifax’s site indicates that:

“1) You Can Determine Your Status Immediately
Some consumers who visited the website soon after its launch failed to receive confirmation clarifying whether or not they were potentially impacted. That issue is now resolved, and we encourage those consumers to revisit the site to receive a response that clarifies their status.

2) No Waiver Of Rights For This Cyber Security Incident
In response to consumer inquiries, we have made it clear that the arbitration clause and class action waiver included in the Equifax and TrustedID Premier terms of use does not apply to this cybersecurity incident.”

I have no idea whether the issues above are truly corrected.  While it seems unlikely that our government would allow consumers to give up their rights by enrolling in credit monitoring due to a breach like this, I can’t guarantee it.  I highly doubt that Equifax was trying to pull a fast one, knowing there’s no way they’d get away with it.  Most likely, there was a technical issue with a site that was created on a rushed basis, and the terms and conditions people were referencing were never intended to apply to this data breach.  But, if you decide to enroll in Trusted ID, I wanted you to be aware of what has transpired over the last few days and make your decision with this knowledge.

Equifax Data Breach

Yesterday, Equifax announced a data breach that potentially impacts 143 million people. While we’ve all become somewhat desensitized to these types of breaches due to the sheer number of them over the last few years, this is probably the worst one I’ve seen. It sounds like the usual data from virtually everyone was obtained (name, address, SSN, DOB, etc.), but for a smaller group, also credit card numbers, driver’s license numbers, and other personally identifiable information from dispute documents that were accessed. The breach was discovered on July 29th, but the unauthorized data access occurred as far back as mid-May. My sense is that if bad things were going to happen to you as a result of this breach, they probably would have already happened, though it’s possible there will be a surge now that the public is aware in an attempt to get fraudulent activity in prior to credit card account numbers being changed and other preventative action taken.

The good news is that credit fraud almost never results in financial loss to the victim. It creates a nightmare of forms to fill out, phonecalls to make, and customer service reps to deal with, but generally, you’re not responsible for anything that’s fraudulent. The person claiming fraud is virtually always given the benefit of the doubt as well. The thieves are stealing from the credit card companies, the banks, and the retailers (or the IRS / states if it’s fraudulent tax returns that get filed), not from you. Where it could impact you is if you’re applying for credit like a mortgage in the middle of fraudulent activity that has lowered your credit score and put derogatory marks on your credit report.

Equifax is supposedly contacting affected consumers (those whose credit card numbers or certain other information was accessed) by mail in the next few days. If your credit card info was taken, you should get those cards replaced. If your driver’s license number was taken, you should contact your DMV. If other data was taken, my guess is that it’s no worse than the other hundreds of recent hacks. Your name, address, DOB, SSN, and even medical information has likely already been accessed from the health insurance hacks and various other financial and retail hacks. If you’re concerned, the best advice I can give is to freeze your credit with the credit agencies (https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0497-credit-freeze-faqs) which will prevent new accounts from being opened, and to monitor your credit score / credit report / account statements regularly to detect any unauthorized use of existing accounts. You could go so far as to hire a service like https://www.lifelock.com/ (I have no personal experience with them and can’t recommend them on that basis) if you’re really concerned. Equifax is also offering a free year of credit monitoring as a result of the breach (see below for more info).

In general, I think freezing your credit is a good idea if you’re not planning to need a credit check in the near future, but it can be a real nuisance if you forget that you did it and you’re urgently trying to get something done (like getting a new cell phone, establishing utilities, applying for financial aid, or a host of other things that will be disrupted if your credit is frozen when you do it). I think it’s just a matter of whether you consider freezing / unfreezing to be more inconvenient than dealing with ID theft / credit fraud if it happens (adjusted for the probability of it happening). There are some easy things that I think we should all do to mitigate the risk of credit fraud / id theft. Those are:

· checking your credit report regularly (almost all credit cards provide access now and there are also free services like www.creditkarma.com (though be aware that they are collecting, storing, and potentially selling your data as well) and annualcreditreport.com).

· setting alerts on your existing accounts so you’re notified by text or email when charges are incurred or money transfers are attempted.

· using a different password for each website that you use.

· not keeping a lot of money in checking accounts or other accounts which can be accessed via fraudulent checks or debit cards.

More information on this data breach is available directly from Equifax at: https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/. At that site, you can also register for the one year of free credit monitoring that they are providing. I can’t think of any downside to registering for that service other than potentially having to field a request to join a paid service at the end of the year. Whether or not you feel it’s worth your time/energy is obviously up to you.

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, go to www.identitytheft.gov and follow their instructions. This will involve reporting the fraud to the credit agencies, filing a police report, and contacting the companies that have opened fraudulent accounts. The website does a fantastic job of walking you through the process.

Q2 2017 Returns By Asset Class

For the last few quarters, I’ve posted returns by asset class (by representative ETF), as well as year-to-date, last twelve months, and last five years. While there is still no predictive power in this data, I updated those charts as of the end of Q2 2017 for those of you that are interested (see below).

Q2 2017 Asset Class Returns

A few callouts from the data:

· Most asset classes finished Q2 between +1.5% and +3.5%. The standout to the positive side was Foreign Developed markets (+6.4%) and the standout to the negative side was Commodities (-3.7% even after a fairly strong comeback in the last week and a half of the quarter) due mostly to falling energy prices. If there’s ever an asset class about which we should be ok with falling prices, it’s commodities. Lower gas prices, lower heating costs in the winter, and lower raw material costs for manufacturers combined with lower transportation costs, tends to keep consumer prices overall from rising too quickly.

· Year-to-date, Foreign Developed and Foreign Emerging markets are the strong winners, both up ~15%. Emerging market bonds have done really well too, up nearly 10%. These are also three of the asset classes that under-performed for much of the last 5 years and are finally starting to catch up to the US stock market.

· Despite the Federal reserve hike in short-term rates in June, the third hike since December, aggregate bonds and short-term bonds had (slightly) positive Q2 and year-to-date. Higher rates generally mean lower prices for bonds, but this is offset somewhat by the interest (which increases with higher rates) that those bonds pay. As long as rates don’t spike quickly, and as long as we stay away from long-term bonds (we do), bonds will continue to do fine and will continue to add a cushion to overall portfolios.

· The chart of the last 12 months really shows how diverse return have been across asset classes. Commodities have lagged badly, Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) have been slightly negative, US bonds have been about flat, Emerging markets bonds decently positive, High Yield bonds even better, and US Large, US Small, Foreign Developed, and Foreign Emerging markets doing well (thought the US outperformed in 2016 and it’s Foreign markets that have been getting it done so far this year). A portfolio that mixes all these asset classes together, all of which have positive expected returns for the long-term future, but none of which perform in lock step with each other, will have a positive long-term expected return as well, but with a much smoother ride than any individual asset class. This is the power of diversification.

· Repeating from last quarter as I know not all of you have the time to read this each quarter… On the five-year chart, you can clearly see the marked underperformance of foreign stocks (developed and emerging markets), emerging market bonds, and most notably, commodities (everyone remembers the massive declines in energy prices back in 2015). While commodities have bounced back after bottoming in early 2016, they have a long way to go to regain their highs, and that is a very good thing for worldwide consumers (though not so good for oil-producing / oil-exporting countries). The underperformance of international markets can be viewed in one of three ways: 1) international stocks are now dirt cheap as compared to US stocks, OR 2) international economies are doing much more poorly than the US economy and therefore, due to limited future growth, their stock markets have fairly performed much more poorly than US stocks OR 3) some combination of the two. There is no way to know the answer, so we will remain diversified and will continue to include foreign stocks at a ratio of about 1:2 vs. US stocks in most portfolios. I’m confident the tide will turn eventually and foreign markets will outperform their US counterparts. We just can’t know when it will happen and so instead of trying to pick winners or losers, we believe it makes more sense to invest globally and be confident that population growth + productivity growth + inflation will result in nominal growth on average across all geographies and that in turn will result in long-term growth for a globally diversified portfolio of stocks.