Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Jersey Benefits Advisors Newsletter Winter 2010


My wife and I had the opportunity to visit New York City with some friends for her birthday on December 29th. That evening we strolled through Times Square, right past the unmarked, unlicensed, white cargo van that had been parked there for several days and was removed from the street the next day. It was searched for explosives, but none were found, however, the NASDAQ and other buildings in the area were evacuated. For the second time in a week, my attention was once again focused on terrorism. In fact, had it not been for the incompetence of the nut case with the bomb in his underwear, Christmas Eve could have been a night of tragedy for this country.

While sitting in the lounge at the Marriott Marquis in the Times Square area, our conversation turned to the multitude of high rise office buildings and the numerous businesses located in this section of the city. The history of this vibrant economic engine confronts you at every corner. The activity in the area gives one an appreciation for the scope of the economy of NYC, and helps me fathom the enormity of the 14 trillion dollar economy of our country, which many times seems quite esoteric.

We have been through a difficult recession and unemployment is still at an uncomfortable level, but as bad as 10% unemployment sounds, the reality is that 9 out of 10 workers have jobs. As an investment advisor, I read numerous publications and constantly scan data. I condense it into this newsletter to help you make decisions about your investments in order to attain your goals. Information constantly flows from the media, and much of it is spun by extremists on the right and left to advance their agenda. While I am not always correct, I try to be objective and show both sides of the issues facing us.

An interesting year has just concluded for the markets, as the financial panic that began in 2008 reached its nadir in March of 2009. Since then, the markets have recovered dramatically signaling the end of the recession and posting some significant gains for the year. In fact, the DJIA gained 18.82% for the year and closed at 10,428.05 while the S&P 500 improved to 1,115.10 which is an increase of 23.45%. Meanwhile, the NASDAQ rose to 2,269.15 adding 43.89%. While these percentage gains are significant, it is important to keep things in perspective.
In order for the indices to reach their former all time highs, the DJIA must still add 35.83% to get to 14,164.53 and the S&P 500 must improve to 1,565.15 which is another 40.35% gain. The NASDAQ, which bubbled into the stratosphere in 2000, must still reach 5,048.62 which is an increase of 122%.

While these statistics seem a bit depressing at first glance, it is safe to say that none of us invested all of our assets in the markets in October 2007, when the DJIA and S&P 500 reached these levels. While the value of our assets are lower than their highest value during the previous bull market, most of us have made money on our investments over the years. If you were investing through the entire recession, then you are poised to reap some pleasant rewards during the next bull market, which is unfolding now.

Remember, somewhere out there is a hapless soul who sold his investments in March, at the height of the panic, and went to cash. Now he is trying to decide if this rally is for real. Luckily, it is none of us! There will be some ups and downs going forward, and problems still exist, but the growth machine that is the US economy is unstoppable if we don’t constrain it.


Of course, this turn of the page of the calendar also has us entering a new decade, which many times seems like a new chapter in an interesting book. There are many soothsayers out there trying to convince you they “know” what is going to happen this decade, and frankly I have read forecasts that are all over the map. My purpose here is to focus on where we are now and what we can expect in the short term, drawing on opinions depicting best and worst case scenarios.

As I mentioned earlier, the recession has not “officially” been declared over by the National Bureau of Economic Research, but the 2.2% growth in the third quarter is an indicator that the economy is growing again, albeit by economic stimulus. Of course, there are predictions of everything from a double dip recession to fourth quarter GDP increasing by 4.5% and annual GDP growth of 3.5% in 2010. According to a survey of 58 economists by Bloomberg, done in December, the US economy is “expected to muddle along at the 2.6% average annual growth rate of the past 20 years, that consumer prices will rise by 2.1% and that joblessness will remain at 10% for the year”.

Within that particular survey, the economists were divided into two distinct and extreme groups as to their view of the direction of the economy. One group adhered to the belief that the recovery will follow historical norms, with pent up demand generating a burst of growth. The other group believes things will be different this time as people will shy away from shopping and banks will be tight fisted with credit. While the “this time it is different crowd” was debunked in in the previous decade on dotcom profits, different paradigms, demographics, housing and decoupling of economies, there have also been recessions in the past where the recovery was not prolific or “V shaped”. It seems like the consensus view of muddling through may indeed be what happens.

Another area where opinions diverge drastically are on government intervention and stimulus. Had the government done nothing, the ensuing panic may have been even worse than what we saw from October 2008 to March 2009. So, now the focus is on an exit strategy.

There is reluctance to withdraw the stimulus too soon for fear of choking off a recovery. However, the more stimulus in the system, the higher probability of inflation. Many economists see little risk of inflation with unemployment at 10%, but politicians are already sweating the 2010 midterm elections. Current legislative initiatives will be costly, and all of us will have to pay more in taxes. Higher taxation stifles growth. Without growth, unemployment increases. Let’s hope Bernanke has the will to remove the punch bowl in time.


In 2010, the income limit of $100,000.00 for ROTH IRA conversions will be eliminated, making it possible for anyone with an IRA to convert to a ROTH IRA. There are many factors to consider when making a decision about whether or not to convert your IRA to a ROTH IRA, but the overriding factor is taxation. If you convert in 2010, you must pay 100% of the tax by the date of final tax filing, which is October 14, 2011. Or, you can defer the tax due and pay half in 2011 & half in 2012. You also have until the final tax filing date to recharacterize or undue the conversion if your account value drops, and the tax would be lower by reconverting in 2011. However, then the total tax due would be 100% in that year. Give me a call for more information to see if it makes sense for you.


Investment Advisory Services offered through:
Jersey Benefits Advisors
P.O. Box 1406
Ocean City, N.J. 08226
Phone: 609 827 0194
Fax: 609 861 9257
Email: kaighn@jerseybenefits.com

Securities offered through:
Transamerica Financial Advisors, Inc.
A registered Broker/Dealer
570 Carillon Parkway
St. Petersburg, FL 33758-9053

Third Party Administration and Insurance Services offered through:
Jersey Benefits Group, Inc
P.O. Box 1406
Ocean City, N.J. 08226
Phone: 609 827 0194
Fax: 609 861 9257
Email: kaighn@jerseybenefits.com

All opinions expressed in this newsletter are solely those of John Kaighn & Jersey Benefits Advisors, formerly known as Kaighn Financial Services.