The end of the year is in sight, and soon countless investors will start selling losing stocks in order to gain tax writeoffs. The practice, known as tax-loss harvesting or tax-loss selling, is extremely popular because it's essentially free money: Stocks (or bonds in some cases) are sold at a loss in order to offset the capital-gains tax bill created when winners are sold. The result is that your tax bill is slashed and you keep more of your money in your pocket.

For years, I've recommended and executed tax-loss selling for my clients, just as the vast majority of financial advisors have. But I plan to be more selective this year and won't sell positions that I like purely for the tax benefit. I'll harvest tax losses where it makes sense; for example with positions that I've lost confidence in. But I think the long-term potential for stocks I believe in outweighs the attractiveness of short-term tax savings.

A big reason I'm less enamored of tax-loss selling has to do with changes in market behavior. Traditionally, the massive year-end selling to harvest tax losses has led to lower security prices. Once the new year begins, the names that sold off in December—and are now cheap—have become buying targets. If investors purchase them soon enough, the continuing buying demand pushes up these stocks' prices to pre-selloff levels and nets a quick profit. That's known as the January effect.

Unfortunately, this strategy has become a victim of its own popularity. These days, the stocks that sold off in December are snapped up incredibly fast in January—often with the help of automated buying programs. The buying pressure drives up prices so quickly that it's become very hard to find them "on sale."

Compounding the problem is the "wash-sale rule." It prevents investors from claiming a loss on the sale of a security if a substantially identical security is repurchased within 30 days. The fact that you can't buy back the same security you've sold for 30 days means that, too often, you're waiting to make the trade while watching the price creep up a little further every day. Thus, the rationale for selling good stocks just for tax purposes has gotten a lot weaker.

If the goal is to maximize your wealth over the long term—and almost all investors should be focused on the long term rather than quick profits—then it's best to be very judicious about tax-loss harvesting. If a holding just doesn't seem like it will work out, then selling it for a tax advantage can definitely make sense. But holding those you believe in makes more sense than ever.

We’re beginning to hear predictions from some on Wall Street that a fourth-quarter stock-market rally is in the works. But I’d urge caution here. 


Optimists point out that since 1950, the S&P 500 index has risen in the fourth quarter 80% of the time. And they point to recent indications from the Federal Reserve, which has raised interest rates from nothing to 5.5% over the past year and a half, that the rate-hiking cycle may be over. That would be good news for stocks; while the S&P is still up 13% for the year, it’s dropped more than 5% since the start of August. The rate hikes have been especially hard on tech stocks, as the NASDAQ has fallen 20% this year.


But trying to guess what the Fed will do is tricky; after all, many market watchers thought it would be cutting rates by now. But even if the rate hikes, which the Fed deployed to fight inflation, are over, my belief is that we’re far from out of the woods.  


The end of a rate-raising cycle doesn’t necessarily translate into stronger results for companies. A lot of the effect of higher interest rates takes place a year or even two years after they’re raised. This lag effect means there could be plenty of pain yet to come for the economy and for businesses.


The most obvious impact of higher interest rates can be seen in the housing market. Home sales have fallen sharply as a result of rising mortgage rates. The unemployment rate is low but has started to creep up, from 3.5% in July to 3.8% in September, and it’s likely to continue rising.


A big worry is the fact that many companies loaded up on debt when interest rates were low. Much of that debt will have to be refinanced soon, at rates that could be triple those of the original debt. That will be a major headwind for earnings and thus for stock valuations. 

Furthermore, the Federal Reserve is predicting that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of the U.S. economy, is set to slow down markedly. That will be another big obstacle for corporate earnings.


And if and when companies’ debt problems lead to a significant number of layoffs, those consumers will not only curtail their spending but will have trouble paying their mortgages. Consumers are already heavily in debt; total U.S. credit card debt recently passed $1 trillion, and the average credit card interest rate is now more than 20%.


Then there are the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. The latter could result in higher oil prices, and both present a real danger of spreading to involve additional countries. The current dysfunction in Washington, and next year’s looming election are additional wildcards.

I always advise clients to stay in the stock market for the long run. Ultimately, it’s the best way to earn the kinds of returns you’re going to need to retire comfortably and meet other goals. But in the short term, we’re likely in for some instability. 


My advice to investors right now is to be very selective about what you buy, to avoid taking big swings on risky stocks, and to make sure your portfolio contains companies that are strong enough to make it through some turbulence. Remember that there will be opportunities to buy hard-hit, discounted stocks once the sharp rise in interest rates fully works its way through the economy. 


In times like these, an experienced investment advisor can provide good market perspective, help evaluate the strength of your portfolio and make sure you’re well positioned for when the market eventually does rebound. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. 

"When is the right time to retire? And how much money will I need so be sure I’ll never run out?" 
Those are perennial questions asked by every Americans who doesn’t intend to work until they drop. They’re so popular that all the brand-name financial companies seem to have a rule-of-thumb formula for figuring it out. 
Fidelity's guideline is to save at least one time your salary by age 30, three times by 40, and so on. Vanguard recommends saving 12% to 15% of your pay each year. T. Rowe Price says you should have as much as 11 times your salary saved by the time you’re 60. 
People are especially nervous about their retirement savings now because of the nasty inflation we’ve experienced in the past couple of years, as well as last year’s market rout of both stocks and bonds. No one wants to retire just as their nest egg is taking a beating from bad markets and inflation is eating into their buying power.
So fretting over when to retire and what it will cost is warranted. It’s normal these days for retirements to stretch on to 30 or 40 years thanks to longer lifespans. The bad scenario is to have to cut way back on your lifestyle in order to stretch your savings. The extra-bad one is to have to move in with your kids, or worse. 
So it’s important as you save for retirement to make sure you're on track to reach your goals. But you shouldn’t rely on rules of thumb from the investment companies mentioned above. 
Let’s leave aside the possibility that these firms’ advice is skewed by a desire to have you invest as much money as possible in their funds. The real problem with retirement-savings rules of thumb is that they’re too general. 
There are some calculations that are helpful in getting started. Calculating your present income minus expenses can give you an idea of what your spending will look like in retirement, for example. But the right savings target for each individual depends on personal factors. How long are you likely to live? Family health history can yield some clues there. Do you want to live large in retirement or pursue a simpler lifestyle? And how much risk are you willing to take in your retirement portfolio in hopes of maximizing growth? If you’re a more cautious investor by nature, you’ll need to save more.
It's easy to make overly optimistic or pessimistic assumptions if you’re trying to calculate your savings target on your own. An experienced investment advisor can give you a factual, non-emotional perspective. I’ve had to persuade clients who were absolutely convinced that they could not retire that they were wrong. I’ve had others who expected to live off $5,000 a month in retirement when they were spending $10,000 per month in the present. I’ve told others they can retire if they’re willing to pick up some part-time work. Reality checks are the stock in trade of a good investment advisor. 
I strongly suggest working with an investment advisor to at least pinpoint a realistic nest-egg target. Look for an experienced advisor: There’s a big advantage in working with a 20-year professional because they’ve not only built retirement plans but executed them and seen the results. It’s also imperative to work with an advisor who is independent and a fiduciary—meaning they’re legally required to place your financial interests above their own. If you go to a big, marquee-name brokerage house, you may find yourself pushed toward whatever investment product is most lucrative for them, and your target number may be suspect as well.
What’s your retirement number? No formula or rule of thumb can really tell you—it’s a personalized question whose answer is unique to you.

There are all kind of reasons that people don't save for retirement, or fail to save enough.

Retirement may seem far away. The rising cost of living may make it hard to find extra money. And life can throw you expensive curveballs, like health crises and divorce. Before you know it, you're 40 or 50 years old and you're not on track to retire when you'd hoped to.

Often, the real reason people end up unprepared for retirement is procrastination. If you can't save enough to make a difference, it's better to wait until you can. That kind of thinking is a trap, because if you're not comfortable setting money aside now, you may never be.

So start now. Set aside what you can, and do it through autopay: Make it like paying your mortgage, where you don't even think about it. Aim to save 10% to 15% of your income during your working years, and more if you're catching up.

The important thing is to start putting money aside, even if it's a modest amount at first. Let's say you're able to contribute just $200 a month to your retirement account. By the second year you may be able to increase the amount to $400 a month. Let's say that by year five, you're doing better financially and are able to contribute $1,000 per month. That continues for the next five years. Assuming an investment return of 7% per year—which is a good bet based on historical market returns—you'll have more than $95,000 at the end of that period. That's $16,000 of interest.

In a different scenario, if you invest $1,000 per month with a 7% annual return, you'll have more than $170,000 after 10 years--$70,000 of which is interest. After 20 years, you'll have $574,000--$344,000 of which is interest. Compounding really works, and the more you save, the greater the compounding effect is.

The way that you invest your money is important. You shouldn't swing for the fences with aggressive investments that put your hard-earned savings at risk. On the other hand, it's a mistake to be too cautious. While you may want to stash your money in a bank account, or buy safe Treasury bonds, those investments won't give you the kind of returns that will grow your money adequately for a comfortable retirement. What's needed is a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, with risk levels that are tailored to your goals, tolerance for market volatility, and time horizon.

It's never too late to get started. Please contact us if you'd like to learn more about saving and investing for retirement.

There's lots of volatility in the market right now. Since the beginning of the year, the S&P 500 index has risen 9.3%, then fallen 7.8%, only to rise another 14.8%. Since mid-June, it's fallen 1.2%.

It's not surprising, then, that many investors are on the sidelines. But while they wait for the markets to calm down, one thing is certain: Thanks to inflation, they're earning a negative return of about 4% a year.

Whether your cash is intended for short-term or long-term use, it should be invested right now. There are good yields right now on short-term bonds and money market funds, and even CDs and savings accounts. And while long-term investments in stocks and other assets may rise and fall in the short term, history shows over the long run they help investors beat inflation and earn enough return to help pay for goals like retirement.

For short-term investments, the best savings accounts are paying 4.5% annualized interest or even a little more. That's enough to beat inflation and protect your cash's buying power. One-year CDs, meanwhile, are paying more than 5%. U.S. Treasuries are paying attractive yields as well: The one-year note currently yields 5.35%.

For longer-term money that you don't need to touch for at least five years, it makes sense to stay invested in the stock market. Short-term volatility is the rule in the stock market, not the exception. Between 1946 and 2022, the market declined between 5% and 10% 84 times, which averages out to more than once a year. But stocks also go up—a lot more than they go down. Over the past 20 years, the S&P is up 400%.

Stocks have far more growth power than bonds, and that growth is necessary to achieve goals like retirement or college funding. Since 1926, large-cap stocks have returned 10% a year on average, while long-term government bonds averaged between 5% and 6%. Stocks' higher growth power helps disciplined long-term investors not just keep pace with inflation, but to come out ahead.

But it's critical that you stay invested. Frequent buying and selling of stocks will invariably decimate your long-term returns due to missed opportunities. Not even professional investors can predict when a long period of declines will give way to periods of appreciation, and vice-versa. Trying to guess means you will likely sell when prices are low and buy when they are high.

It's easy to make emotional, short-term decisions if you invest based on news headlines. The way to be successful as an investor is to figure out how much money you need to invest in safe, short-term solutions and how much you should invest in more volatile investment like stocks—and then stick to the plan. If you'd like to review your investments, don't hesitate to reach out to us.