What To Know About Filing For Bankruptcy

About one million Americans file for personal bankruptcy each year, with one in 10 households having filed at some point. Given the loss of jobs, reduced income, and the coronavirus recession in 2020, those numbers could increase this year if the economic recovery is not both swift and omnipresent.

There are two main types of personal bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. Chapter 7, which is the more common option, will liquidate the filer’s assets in order to discharge all or a portion of the outstanding debt. People generally choose this route because they are in way over their heads and do not earn enough income to pay their debts in any type of normal time frame.

Chapter 13, on the other hand, provides some immediate breathing room while helping the filer develop a payment plan based on a reduced percentage of the debt. This percentage is determined by how much he makes and what he can feasibly pay each month. While a Chapter 7 bankruptcy remains on your credit report for 10 years, while Chapter 13 bankruptcy is a bit less punitive staying on record for only seven years. As the filer works to pay down his debt and sticks to his plan, his credit score will gradually improve over time. In some cases, the debtor may be able to apply for an FHA, VA, or USDA home loan a year after his bankruptcy filing, or two to four years if applying for a conventional mortgage.

Bankruptcy can provide immediate relief from creditors calling and threatening to evict, foreclose, repossess, shut off, or garnish wages. However, be prepared for some level of pain, such as the bankruptcy court seizing property to be sold to pay your creditors, and/or your credit cards being canceled.

You may see television ads to get debt relief without having to file bankruptcy. Be aware that while these programs may negotiate a debt settlement to something you can better afford, they will not skirt the wrath of the dreaded credit rating agencies. Any time an entity negotiates a reduction in your debt, this will show up as a negative factor on your credit score, and will likely remain that way for many years. A more recent issue that not everyone is aware of is that some employers have started checking the credit reports of job applicants. This makes it all the more difficult to pay off your debt if you can’t get a job because of your past payment history. Your best option is to secure a reliable income before you work with a debt relief agency or file for bankruptcy.

Before entering any type of debt relief program, it’s a good idea to consult with a qualified, non-profit credit counseling agency for a free debt analysis. Don’t go to just anyone; make sure it is a legitimate resource which, by law, is required to serve your best interest. Shady debt counseling vendors are inclined to recommend a debt solution that works out better for the agency than their clients.

If you do decide to file for bankruptcy, be aware that court fees cost about $300, plus lawyer fees tend to run between $1,000 and $3,000 for a Chapter 7 filing and approximately $3,000 to $6,000 for a Chapter 13 filing.

A Realistic Picture: Will You Be Able to Afford In-Home Elder Care?

By the end of September, the nation had recorded over a quarter million cases of COVID-19 and nearly 60,000 deaths in nursing homes that were attributed to the disease. The recent pandemic offers yet another reason why more than 90 percent of seniors say they want to grow old in their homes rather than move into a senior housing facility.

But just how feasible is that goal, from a financial perspective? Much depends on how independently you can live for the rest of your life. That is something we cannot plan. Even elderly people with an excellent gene pool and no known health conditions can experience a fall or other accident that could render them helpless. And the older you get, the higher the risk of cognitive decline, which can make it unsafe to live alone.

However, you might still be able to live out your golden years in your own home if you can afford to pay for in-home care. Each year, Genworth Financial publishes a Cost of Care Survey that examines the cost of various types of long-term care. However, when you break down the assumptions, you might find the survey’s cost estimations are lower than what many people actually pay.

For example, the average fee for homemaker services (household chores, prepare meals, run errands, accompany to appointments) is $22.50 an hour. For a home health aide (help with bathing, dressing, toileting and simple first aid) the average hourly wage is $23. Depending on your location, you could pay more for a company that employs home workers or pay less for independent caregivers. Be aware that if you choose the independent route, you’ll have to vet abilities, trustworthiness and schedule your own back-up resources if they don’t show up for some reason.

However, according to the Genworth report, the average daily rate for a homemaker is only $141, or $4,290 a month. That breaks down to about six hours a day. What happens when you reach a point where it’s unsafe for you to mill about the house by yourself because you might leave the stove on, or you might fall and there’s no one to help. If you pay a caregiver to stay with you 16 waking hours a day, that would cost you $360 per diem, or about $11,000 a month.

If you don’t sleep well and tend to have to use the restroom at night, you might need to pay for a night shift caregiver just to make sure you get around OK. That means 24-hour care will run you more than $16,000 a month, or $195,000 a year – and that’s in today’s dollars.

If you’re planning on in-home care 10 to 15 years from now, those rates will probably be higher.

There are a couple of other issues to note. First, you don’t need to be completely incapacitated to require 24-hour care. It could be as simple as mild but gradual progressive dementia; a mobility issue; or fear of living alone after a spouse dies. Also, if a couple is living comfortably at home with 24-hour care, that expense probably won’t go away if one spouse dies – but household income will probably decrease.

There are alternative ways you might consider that would allow you to stay home throughout your elder years, and the earlier you plan for them the better they will work out. First of all, be nice to your grown children. Not only might you prefer to move in with them or they move in with you, but if things don’t work out, they will likely be the ones to determine where you live out your golden years.

Second, consider your housing situation and if you can negotiate room and board to one or more caregivers in exchange for their help. You might also consider cohabitating with an elderly friend or family member to help share caregiver fees, and perhaps eliminate the need for excess hours a day. Better yet, consider moving in together with several friends to help spread out the costs and improve your chances that some seniors will be less infirmed than others.

Since 2010, on average more than 10,000 Baby Boomers turned age 65 per day and by the year 2030, all Baby Boomers will be 65 or older. Among them, 52 percent will require long-term care in their lifetime. If you want to remain at home but worry about the cost of caregiving, you’ll have plenty of housemates from which to choose.

Long-Term Financial Impact of COVID-19

As bad as the economy is right now due to the COVID outbreak in the United States, many economists are predicting that the long-term outlook is much bleaker. Alas, Congress and the Federal Reserve’s efforts at stimulus and interest rate management have done much to keep the economy and stock market afloat. However, small businesses – the backbone of America’s employment growth – are closing every day. As consumer spending reduces further, the impact will likely affect Wall Street. Consequently, share prices may soon begin correcting to reflect the future more so than the present.

It should come as no surprise, then, that 88 percent of respondents admit they are worried about their finances, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education.

This economic decline has presented an interesting mix of demographics who have or will be affected the most over the long term. For instance, many low-income workers have remained employed throughout the pandemic because their jobs are considered “essential services.” This includes check-out clerks at grocery stores; laborers who work outdoor jobs; nurses, orderlies, and nursing home attendants.

By contrast, many white-collar business owners – such as physicians and dentists– closed shop for a few months and/or have reduced the number of patients they see. Alas, 79 percent of those surveyed with a household income of more than $100,000 a year said they were at least somewhat concerned about their financial situation.

Millennials are the generation most likely to change the way they manage their finances in the future. Although many have remained employed in white-collar jobs – primarily due to their technology-enhanced skills and knowledge – they have reason to be concerned. After all, this generation has already lived through the market downturn following 9/11, the Great Recession, and now a historic economic decline caused by the coronavirus. In fact, once they finally got a foothold in their careers, this recent downturn obliterated the last five years’ worth of economic growth. Going forward, finance experts predict that these young adults will be more focused on stock-piling savings, buying modest homes when the real estate market corrects, and generally working on a long-term plan for financial stability.

While those strategies are mostly good, it’s a shame this generation had to learn the hard way – all while encumbered with historically unprecedented student loan debt. However, as these lessons are passed down through generations – much the way the Great Depression had a lasting impact on the Silent Generation – U.S. populations may see higher savings rates at the expense of lower GDP growth.

For households recovering from financial stress or looking to create a plan for stronger financial resiliency no matter what the future holds, consider the following strategies.

  • First priority: Save from three to six months’ worth of liquid, emergency funds should you encounter a large expense, such as an auto repair or a temporary loss of income.
  • Learn how to budget effectively, which includes examining if you overpay for basic household needs or do not know how much of your income is spent superfluously every month.
  • Take stock of the full scope of your financial resources, including:
    • Savings accounts
    • Investment accounts
    • Retirement accounts
    • Health savings accounts
    • College savings accounts
    • Whole life insurance
    • Real property
    • Structured settlements
    • Vehicles (auto, boat, motorcycle, recreational)
    • Art, jewelry, wine, or other high-value collectibles
    • Expensive furnishings and household items
  • Develop a Plan B to help supplement any income loss right now; a Plan C to help bolster your savings rate once you’re back to full income; and a Plan D strategy for income replacement in case you’re ever in a situation like this again.

Financial setbacks will come and go; it’s the lessons we learn from them that should have the most staying power.

Tips for Retiring in the Next 10 Years

Tips for Retiring in the Next 10 YearsThe stock market continues to perform with relative resilience, despite the current economic decline. But to be clear, without 100 percent participation in the economy – in terms of small business job creation, consumer spending, and company growth and expansion – the stock market is apt to reposition prices to reflect slower growth. With no containment or control of the pandemic on the horizon, there is plenty of uncertainty associated with future financial planning.

Anyone looking to retire in the next 10 years or so may want to take a fresh look at their current retirement income plan. In fact, they might need a Plan A, B, and C in order to stay flexible – with C being the option to continue working longer. The following are portfolio tips to consider for a 10-year time frame until retirement.

Emergency Fund

If there was one financial tip worth following pre-pandemic, it was to have liquid cash savings of six months to a year’s worth of expenses available. Workers who did are probably pretty relieved about now if they lost their job or had hours reduced. Having substantial cash available can save you from raiding retirement accounts and/or your investment portfolio.

In preparation for retirement, that cash buffer is even more important. Some advisors recommend a liquid savings fund to cover one to three years’ worth of expenses. That’s because once you’re on a fixed income, you’re not likely to replenish that account. What it can do is supplement variable retirement income that is reliant on the markets. Having a cash buffer gives investments time to recover from temporary losses so you don’t have to plunder your principal.

Status of Social Security

While you may know what your benefit level is for retirement at a certain date, be aware that your benefit could change – even after you’ve retired. Recent research has found that thanks to the loss of FICA revenues resulting from COVID-19, the Social Security Trust Fund might run out of money four years earlier than predicted: as early as 2032. You may want to consider other forms of reliable income in case your benefits are reduced in the future.

Guaranteed Income

Speaking of reliable income, Olivia Mitchell, executive director of the Wharton School’s Pension Research Council, recommends that an annuity option become a staple in employer-sponsored retirement plans. Annuities generally offer an option for issuer-guaranteed income for life. With 10 years until retirement, allocating money to an annuity can help build a separate income stream to supplement Social Security benefits. Even if your employer doesn’t offer an annuity option in your 401(k) plan, you can purchase one separately using other assets.

Employer-Sponsored Retirement Plans

Speaking of the 401(k), consider that when this plan was first established in 1980, the marginal federal income tax rate was 43 percent. Today’s tax rates are historically quite low, so for the time being you might want to consider allocating more savings into a Roth IRA. This means you’ll pay taxes on that money at today’s low rates, but going forward it can grow tax-deferred and be withdrawn tax-free. But don’t leave money on the table if your employer offers a matching 401(k) contribution. Roth IRA contributions are limited to $7,000 (2020) and some deferred income can help reduce your taxes today – so plan accordingly.

Roth Conversion

By the same token, you may want to take advantage of today’s lower tax rates by converting at least some traditional IRA funds to a Roth or by making backdoor Roth IRA contributions. Be aware, however, that you must pay taxes on converted funds, so consider a gradual transition over multiple years to help you stay in a lower tax bracket.

Investor Portfolio

Some market analysts are predicting a “new normal” going forward, which could provide some interesting investment opportunities. Ideas include new operating business models based on a largely remote workforce, population spread as people move out of cities into more affordable rural areas, and innovations borne out of newly created demand. While a buy-and-hold strategy is a common advice for equities, it’s important to stay flexible. As long as you remain within your customized asset allocation strategy, you might want to use your equity portion to explore new ideas that could offer higher return opportunities over the next decade.

Borrowing From Your Retirement Plan: New CARES Act Rules

It’s been nearly half a year since Americans first became widely aware of the coronavirus contagion within the United States. While for a brief month it looked as if we had the virus in hand, since then it has spread wildly out of control in many areas.

People who did not suffer dramatic financial consequences in the early stages of the pandemic could see some hard days ahead. For this reason, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the new relaxed rules associated with withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement plans.

In late March, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This bill offered provisions related to distributions from retirement accounts such as an IRA or 401(k). One of the key goals was to enable workers to make penalty-free withdrawals from a retirement plan to help sustain them while out of work due to the coronavirus.

To be eligible to make penalty-free withdrawals, plan participants must meet one of the following criteria:

  • The account owner, spouse or a dependent is diagnosed with COVID-19
  • The account owner experiences one of the following financial consequences due to the virus:
    • Furloughed
    • Laid-off
    • Work hours reduced or place of business closed (including for self-employed)
    • No access to childcare
    • Quarantined

The Act stipulates that workers can self-certify that they meet at least one of the criteria. Be aware, however, that if it is later discovered that the account owner did not meet the criteria for a coronavirus-related distribution, he might be required to pay the early withdrawal penalty.

Also note that while this penalty is waived for qualified workers, they must still pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, there are a few ways to mitigate the income tax burden on those withdrawals. The first is to through a regular distribution. These are the parameters:

  •  You have up until Dec. 30, 2020, to make a distribution
  • The total aggregate limit is $100,000 from all plans and IRAs
  • The distribution waives the 20 percent income tax withholding requirement
  • Income taxes will be due when filing a 2020 tax return
  • Retirement account owners who no longer work for an employer are free to take a distribution
  • Current employees may take a distribution only if the employer plan allows for a hardship or in-service distribution (note that the CARES Act permits employers to amend plan documents to allow coronavirus-related distributions)

While a retirement plan distribution does trigger income taxes for the tax year withdrawn, you can spread the tax burden out over three years. For example, let’s say you withdraw $18,000 this year. You may report the full amount as income on your 2020 tax return; or you can claim $6,000 a year on your 2020, 2021 and 2022 returns. This strategy reduces the chances of bumping your income into a higher tax bracket.

The second way to is to pay the distributed amount back into your retirement plan. Initially, you will have to pay income taxes on the amount withdrawn. However, if you pay it back within three years, you can file to get the taxes you paid refunded. One caveat with this plan is that eligible retirement plans will treat repayment of this type of distribution as a rollover event for tax purposes. Be aware that if the retirement plan does not accept rollover contributions, it is not required to change its terms for this purpose.

Your third option is to withdraw money as a loan if your employer permits loans from the retirement plan. This is another scenario in which you must repay that money within a specified time period. You do not have to pay income taxes on the loan, but you do have to pay interest on the amount borrowed. The good news is that the interest you pay also goes into your account.

Under normal circumstances, retirement account loans are limited to $50,000 or 50 percent of the account balance, whichever is less. But for a coronavirus loan, you may borrow up to 100 percent of your vested balance or $100,000, whichever is less. You will need to repay that loan within the plan’s stated repayment period, although the CARES Act gives 2020 borrowers an additional year to repay this type of loan from an eligible retirement plan. Be aware though that you’ll owe both income taxes on the outstanding balance and the penalty for withdrawals made before age 59½ if you do not repay that loan in time.

Note that these CARES Act provisions are available only for the first 180 days after the Act was passed, which was on March 27, 2020. As Congress debates new legislation to aid struggling Americans suffering from the pandemic, this provision could be extended.

How To Use Qualified Charitable Distributions For Charitable Giving

Each year, millions of Americans make donations to charitable organizations and receive something in return – a tax break. However, the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act curbed this tax advantage because it reduced the number of people eligible to claim a charitable deduction by raising the standard deduction. For 2020, the standard deduction is $12,400 for individuals and $24,800 for married couples filing jointly. If your list of deductions is not greater than those amounts, there is no tax benefit to itemizing – which means you might not be able to claim your charitable donation.

Without the ability to claim a deduction, some retirees just take their normal required minimum distribution (RMD) and bank the money, pay taxes on it and then make charitable gifts or tithe to their church on a monthly basis. For example, say your RMD is $10,000 and you pay 15 percent in taxes on this distribution. If you want to donate the money as a charitable gift, you’ll have only $8,500 left to do so.

However, there is a way to do this that will give you a tax advantage. A Qualified Charitable Distribution from an IRA enables retirees to claim their standard deduction and receive a tax benefit for their gift. The key is to arrange for the distribution to be made directly from your account custodian to the qualified 501(c)(3) charitable organization so that you do not take possession of the assets.

IRA owners may gift up to $100,000 each year, or $200,000 for a couple that files a joint tax return. Note that this option is available only for IRA owners over age 70½; it is not allowed for 401(k)s, 403(b)s, thrift savings plans, or other qualified plans. The QCD will be reported to the IRS and should be claimed by you on Form 1040 as an IRA distribution, but it will not be taxable. Another perk of this strategy is that the QCD can satisfy your annual Required Minimum Distribution (RMD). Be aware that if your QCD does not meet the full distribution amount required, you will have to withdraw and pay taxes on the remaining balance.

Another benefit of using an RMD for a charitable donation instead of receiving it as income is that this could keep you in a lower tax bracket. Consequently, it can help minimize taxes on Social Security benefits and keep your Medicare premiums low.

Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, RMDs are not mandatory in 2020. That’s because the initial market losses triggered by the COVID-19 outbreak were substantial; by not requiring distributions this year, retirement accounts have more time to potentially recover those losses.

Since it isn’t necessary to take an RMD this year, you might want to just make charitable gifts in cash. The CARES Act also enables this option by increasing the adjusted gross income (AGI) limit for individuals who qualify to itemize on their tax return. In 2020, you may deduct up to 100 percent of donations (up from 60 percent) against your AGI. For example, if you earn $500,000 in income, you may donate $500,000 and the entire amount is tax-deductible. This strategy is available to people younger than age 70½ and offers a benefit similar to the QCD.

Even if you don’t qualify to itemize, you may claim up to a $300 charitable gift deduction on your 2020 tax return. As always, it’s best to seek the advice of a tax professional in order to figure out what is best for your situation.

Why Sequence of Returns Risk Matters Now

That year or two when you are closing in on your retirement date, followed by a year or two after you retire, are the worst times for a sustained market decline. Market analysts call this scenario the sequence of returns (SOR) risk – because once your principal has been significantly reduced, there’s not enough time in the market left for you to recover those losses.

Two things will likely happen. First, the amount of retirement income you can withdraw each year is irrevocably reduced. For example, if you were planning to withdraw 4 percent a year from a $350,000 portfolio, you would have received a supplementary income of $14,000 a year. But if your principal drops to $280,000 a year, your 4 percent draw will generate only $11,200 a year. If you need that additional money, you will have to increase your draw to about 5 percent of the principal each year.

This leads us to the second consequence of a market decline: your principal will diminish faster. The longer you live, the greater your chances of running out of money.

How Big Is This Problem?

Because the coronavirus pandemic has sent stock markets reeling over the past few months, SOR risk has become a widespread concern. According to research by Spectrem Group, at the end of 2019 there were 11 million millionaires in the United States. By the end of March this year, at least half a million of those people were no longer millionaires.

While losses among millionaires may be disconcerting, the situation is far more dire for middle-class investors, who might not have several hundred thousand dollars to spare in their retirement portfolio.

Strategies To Offset SOR Risk

If the last recession is any indicator, the economic recovery going forward could take several years. That’s not good news for people who were looking forward to retirement. This group may want to seriously consider the merits of delaying retirement and continuing to work longer, such as:

  • Allowing their portfolio time to recover
  • Continuing to contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts
  • Enabling their Social Security benefits to accrue higher

Another strategy to help protect your portfolio against future SOR risk is to position a larger allocation to fixed-income assets and/or an annuity. While this might limit your potential for income growth in the future, these assets are backed by more reliable payors and less subject to the vagaries of the stock market. By diversifying your current assets, you can build multiple streams of reliable income to protect you from the future threat of market losses, a global pandemic or changes in Social Security benefits.

It’s worth considering that once we emerge from this current crisis, legislators will have to find a way to deal with the federal deficit and growing debt. The Social Security program was already projected to cut benefits by 2035 without any new funding solutions. Now, that threat is even further exacerbated by the enormous jump in unemployment numbers. This situation leaves even fewer people paying into the Social Security and Medicare programs.

All of this is why it’s very important to address today’s challenges presented by the sequence of returns risk. Explore ways to develop multiple income streams to protect your current assets and ensure they last throughout your lifetime.

Prospects for Investing in the 2020s

Investing in the 2020The third decade of the 21st century started out with a vigorous economy, record low unemployment levels, and benign inflation. But late in the first quarter over the span of two weeks, investors faced the fastest stock market correction in history.

With an unpredictable assailant like a global virus, short-term actions by Congress and the Federal Reserve will need time to see if they are effective. Ultimately, the fate of the U.S. and global economies, which in turn will impact the investment markets, is dependent on how long the COVID-19 outbreak continues and if there is a second wave. Clearly, both supply and demand have been dramatically reduced, with a ripple effect on companies, workers, consumers, and investors. Once the crisis has passed, we will learn which sectors, industries, and individual companies remain financially viable with a business model built to sustain this unprecedented economic fallout.

Amid this backdrop, wealth managers must read the tea leaves to anticipate what the investment markets will look like post-coronavirus. The challenge is how to best position assets to take advantage of future gains without giving up ground now and turning paper losses into permanent shortfalls.

For individual investors, it comes down to what you want to accomplish in the next decade – or what your money can accomplish for you. Are you nearing retirement? Will you remain in the accumulation phase, wherein you can afford to take on market risk? Are you just starting out, and are you risk-averse due to the two major economic declines experienced in your relatively short life, or are you prepared to invest in future prospects – wherever they may lie?

Anyone already in or nearing retirement would do well to invest for a steady stream of income. While the DJIA initially took a beating, many blue-chip stalwarts continue to grow and payout dividends as they have long term, through thick and thin. However, pay attention here, as there are some long-standing dividend-paying companies that are starting to suspend or substantially cut dividend payments.

Growth-oriented investors would do well to look at companies that were well-positioned to survive the pandemic, because they may well represent commerce of the future. This includes the well-established FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), which have become masters of fast and reliable delivery of online content and physical delivery of essential and discretionary products. Unfortunately, the stock prices of these companies have soared in recent years, so it’s time to consider what the “next big thing” in this arena will look like and who are the frontrunners.

With that in mind, take a look at 2020 demographics. Millennials recently surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the United States, but they aren’t expected to hold this mantle for long. Generation Z/Centennials are on track to enter the workforce in higher numbers during the next decade. This is a generation that has never known life without cell phones and the internet, so expect the technology sector to ramp up not just with consumer innovations, but with ways to help other industries enhance data management, blockchain supply chains, and artificial intelligence – which might become as omnipresent as retail strip malls.

In a post-pandemic world, employers seeking to strengthen their business models might come to embrace the idea of foregoing healthcare and other expensive benefits offered to employees. A subsequent world of higher pay and more public options could spur the growth of entrepreneurship and new small businesses. By taking advantage of remote employees, low overhead expenses, and emerging technologies, smaller companies or conglomerates might be able to compete with the likes of Amazon in both domestic and global markets.

As a short-term precaution, consider how you might defend your portfolio against the possibility of inflation as we stumble out of the pandemic economy. The federal government’s generous stimulus packages combined with a continued easing of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve could lead the United States to higher inflation. This could be exacerbated by the recent shutdown of production in many industries; the initial low supply of products also might contribute to price escalation. During this interim, investors may want to consider investing in commodities and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities for inflation protection.

As always, it’s best to seek the advice of a professional in this ever-changing environment.

Economic Correlation: Cyclical and Non-Cyclical Stocks

A rising tide might lift all boats, but the same cannot be said for the economy.

When the U.S. experiences robust economic growth, certain sectors of the stock market tend to rise while others hold steady or even decline by comparison. The stocks of companies that experience higher revenues are typically categorized as cyclical. In other words, their good fortune rests mainly on consumers being gainfully employed and having ample discretionary income with which to buy more goods and services.

Take, for example, auto manufacturers. Sales typically increase when more people can afford to buy a new car. But that’s not all the time, because the economy is cyclical – it ebbs and flows over time. Therefore, companies that produce non-essential products – sometimes referred to as consumer discretionary goods and services – tend to flourish during economic cycles of strength and rising GDP. That is why they are called cyclical stocks.

But when the economic future is in decline or at least uncertain, people tend to delay buying non-essential items like a new car. When the economy really takes a nosedive, more consumers are affected, they buy less stuff, manufacturing takes a hit and companies start laying off their workforce.

Despite these unfortunate circumstances, people still have to eat. They buy essential items, such as food and toothpaste and toilet paper. These are considered consumer staples, and the stocks of companies that produce these types of goods are defined as non-cyclical stocks. That’s because those companies are expected to continue earning revenues regardless of economic cycles. Non-cyclical industries include food and beverage, tobacco, household and personal products.

Another non-cyclical sector is utilities. Utilities are a little bit different because people tend to purchase relatively the same amount of utility service – with exceptions for extreme weather or making slight thermostat adjustments to save money – whether the economy is robust or in a downward spiral. Because of this, utility companies are considered a very stable business model.

For investors, that means they are well-established, long-term performers and usually pay out high dividends. Not only are utility stocks a good option for retirees seeking income to supplement their Social Security benefits, but they offer a safe haven for investors to relocate assets during periods of economic decline.

In light of recent cautions by economists predicting a recession in 2020, this could be a good time to review your portfolio from the perspective of cyclical versus non-cyclical holdings. It doesn’t mean you need to sell completely out of your stock allocation; perhaps just temper your holdings to equities that tend to perform reliably regardless of the economy. In addition to consumer staples and utilities, consider companies that specialize in national defense, waste management, data processing and payments.

Also be aware that the past three decades have boasted several of the longest running economic expansions in U.S. history (1991 to 2001; 2001 to early 2007; 2009 through 2019). What this tells us is that U.S. economic growth cycles appear to be lengthening while declines are relatively shorter and followed up with impressive recovery periods.

So, take heart. If you decide to transfer some of your assets to less flashy, non-cyclical securities, you might not have to leave them there for long. However, it’s always a good idea to maintain a diversified portfolio so you don’t have to make adjustments based on economic cycles. And as always, consult an investment professional to help you make these important decisions.

Gross Domestic Product: A Primer

The economic indicator known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents the dollar value of all purchased goods and services over the course of one year. It is comprised of purchases from all private and public consumption, including for profit, nonprofit and government sectors.

There are four components that are added to calculate the GDP:

  • Consumer spending
  • Government spending
  • Investment spending (this includes business, inventory, residential construction and public investment),   Net exports, meaning the value of goods exported minus the value of goods imported

The government calculates and publishes the GDP rate on a quarterly basis and for the entire year.

What Affects GDP?

There are different ways GDP is measured. For example, nominal GDP refers to a straight calculation of raw data, while real GDP adjusts the calculation to include the impact of inflation.

When inflation increases, the GDP tends to rise; when prices drop, so does the GDP. Be aware that this adjustment can happen even when there is no change in the quantity of goods and services produced in the United States during that time frame.

A key component of the GDP calculation is net exports. This number rises when the country sells more goods and services to foreign countries than it buys from them. A trade surplus means the United States sells more than it purchases, which is a strong contributor to GDP. When the United States buys more foreign goods than it sells, this creates a trade deficit, which is a negative weight in the GDP calculation.

GDP also reflects demand. The dollar output of certain sectors and industries rises and falls based on the popularity of their products and services. For example, when a new product is well received, then those sales increase that sector’s contribution to the GDP. This is a helpful measure because it enables companies to make better research and development decisions based on recent success. The same is true when a new product, or even an upgrade to a new product, does not increase sales.

What Does GDP Indicate?

The GDP is the most common, broad-based measure used to monitor the country’s economic progress. When it is on the rise, the economy is considered to be growing. When the GDP rate drops – even if it remains in positive territory – the economy is viewed as contracting. If it continues to slip quarter after quarter, it is an indicator that the economy might be in trouble and the Federal Reserve or Congress could consider altering monetary (interest rates) or fiscal (taxes and government spending) policy to inject cash into the nation’s financial system.

Technically, economists define a recession as a prolonged period of economic decline, often precipitated by two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

This economic yardstick also is used to indicate a country’s general standard of living. The better a country is able to produce the goods and services that its residents and businesses use, the more that capital is infused back into the country. Therefore, higher GDP levels indicate a more prosperous country and relatively higher standard of living among its residents.

The GDP doesn’t just gauge domestic economic health, it serves as a comparison measure to other countries. This is particularly important during periods of growth and decline, when the United States can track how well it is responding to global economic factors relative to other countries.

Current Trendline

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, first quarter real GDP closed at 3.1 percent. In the second quarter, real GDP fell to 2.0 percent. The advanced assessment for the third quarter of 2019 is 1.9 percent.