Tag: IRA

2011 Q1 Letter & upcoming webinars

2011 Q1 Letter & upcoming webinars

We held our first “webinar” earlier this month on the timely topic of municipal bonds. We have posted the narrated presentation at www.youtube.com/wsqcapital for the benefit of those who were unable to attend. We plan to host three webinars this quarter:

To register for any of these webinars, please visit blog.wsqcapital.com. We will continue to add recordings of future presentations to our page on youtube. Feel free to pass along an invitation to anyone in your circle interested in learning more about these topics.

IRA contributions, Roth IRA conversions

Most taxpayers can make IRA contributions for the 2010 tax year up until the individual tax-filing deadline, which is April 18, 2011 this year.

Roth IRA conversion rules have changed and virtually anyone can now convert a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. Partial conversions of an IRA account are also permitted. Please contact us if you’d like to discuss specific issues surrounding your circumstances.

Interest Rates & QE2

In prior letters, we have discussed the extraordinary measures the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world have taken to keep interest rates at historic lows. Short-term rates in the US remain below current inflation levels, which means savers are being penalized for holding cash. This is no doubt due to the actions of the Fed which continues to purchase the bulk of newly issued US Treasuries under its Quantitative Easing program. We estimate short and medium-term rates are 1.5% to 2.0% below where they would otherwise be.

Meanwhile, the flames of inflation have begun to flicker. A combination of increased demand and easy money policies has driven up food and commodity prices. If this trend continues, maneuvering through the obstacle course of rising inflation will take a toll on the global recovery. And as is usually the case, the burden will be heaviest for the world’s poorest who spend a higher percentage of their income on necessities. We are beginning to see some policy action and rate hikes in developing markets. Unless inflation levels stabilize quickly, this will begin to impact global trade. We caution bond investors that future returns are likely to be lower than those in recent years past. We continue to recommend high-quality bonds with 3-5 year maturities.

Budgets and Bluster

The issues facing most developed-market governments are remarkably similar whether we are talking about Greece, Ireland and Spain, or the US, California and Illinois. The long-term challenge involves tackling unfavorable demographics and enacting the painful policy reforms required to tackle the cost of social programs. In the short term, the double-whammy of a real-estate/financial crisis requiring an immense expenditure of government support, followed by a great recession driving down tax revenues have created huge deficits. The exact mix differs: in Ireland the cost of a bank bail-out has supercharged the national debt, whereas in Greece the crisis is compounded by a culture of tax-evasion and protectionism. In the US, the core problem is reforming Medicare and a health-care system that takes in more revenue per person and results in lower levels of health than those in other developed countries.

The imminent congressional debates over the federal budget and the national debt ceiling will bring fiscal issues front and center in the US. As the 2012 election campaign kicks off over this summer, we expect fiscal issues will be key in every race. In Europe, meanwhile, the moment of reckoning for Greece, Ireland and Portugal fast approaches. European institutions will either have to come up with a plan for debt-restructuring or direct support to assist struggling governments in the short-term. Meaningful progress towards the longer term demographic and policy challenges will also need to be made.


Nature, Energy and Politics

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami took a terrible toll on the people of Japan. The economic damage is also enormous as a significant percentage of the area’s power generation and distribution capacity has been offline for weeks, impacting businesses and residences across the main island of Honshu. Rolling blackouts have affected many areas, including Tokyo. Two nuclear power generation facilities (Fukushima I and II), with a total of ten operational reactors between them, suffered severe damage. It is now clear that all the reactors at Fukushima I will need to be scrapped. A large amount of fuel from the operating reactors and spent fuel stored at the facility has been damaged and released into the environment. The situation remains critical and the full extent of the crisis is still unknown.

Nuclear power generation requires operational and design expertise far more specialized than other forms of energy production. In general, the industry has recognized this and a great deal of thought and effort has been put into improving design and procedures. We should also not forget that most other forms of energy generation carry their own risks, and often a higher carbon footprint. For instance, the production and burning of coal costs numerous miners their lives every year, and damages the respiratory systems of populations globally. Hydro-electric dams have failed due to design faults or natural disasters causing a large number of casualties. We firmly believe renewable energy must be at the core of any long-term solution to global energy needs. Nevertheless, replacing our current energy infrastructure is a multi-decade project and represents an enormous investment. One step towards that process would be to accurately account for the true health and environmental costs of all forms of energy production. As things currently stand, the conventional energy industry derives numerous economic benefits from tax-breaks, favorable industrial policy and political gridlock in assessing the true environmental cost of greenhouse gas emissions.

With all this in mind, we believe certain modern nuclear plant designs can play a role as a crucial bridge technology. In many fast-growing economies, nuclear power is the only viable alternative to coal and gas for large scale power generation. It is clear though, that the nuclear industry will face tough public scrutiny and a risk re-assessment is underway. We are particularly concerned about the operational safety of nuclear power in countries without a strong tradition of accountability, independent oversight and open public discourse (see China). Some of these concerns are acute for certain developed nations such as Japan, which has few energy resources of its own and relies on nuclear power for 24% of its electricity needs. As a result, we continue to view long-term investments in renewable energy favorably.

Upheaval in the Middle East

Mass protests in the Arab world have captured the world’s imagination since the sudden, largely peaceful overthrow of Ben-Ali in Tunisia. We certainly do not believe every group engaged in protest has benign intentions and recognize that in some countries one repressive regime may be replaced by another. That said, we are hopeful the power of public protest and increasing civic engagement by ordinary citizens will transform the moribund political and economic regimes in the region. For the time being, we expect this part of the world will continue to experience upheaval over the next decade or more. In many of these societies, oil wealth has distorted economies and politics. A demographic bulge is now bringing about rapid change. Investors should remain aware that demographic and political change may cause certain markets to be disrupted over the next decade.

We are positive on emerging markets in the long-term, but advise caution for the present since asset prices have risen very rapidly. Further rises in oil prices could accelerate inflation and lead to a slow-down in global growth, which would impact emerging markets negatively.




Louis Berger                                                                                        Subir Grewal



Five things you didn’t know about IRAs.

Five things you didn’t know about IRAs.

Image of Piggy Bank: www.flickr.com/photos/maedae/180440142/We’ve been fielding client questions about IRA contributions recently and thought a blog post would be in order.  Here are the top five things many people aren’t aware of when it comes to IRAs:

  1. Most people can make an IRA contribution for tax-year 2010 up till their tax-filing deadline (April 18 in most cases), and remember you need to file form IRS 8606 in many cases.
  2. You may be able to take a federal tax deduction for your traditional IRA contribution. Some people may even be eligible for a tax credit equal to their contribution.
  3. You can contribute to an IRA even if you are currently participating in a retirement plan at work (401k, 403b, etc.), but you may not be able to deduct the amount contributed.
  4. You may be able to make a contribution to your spouse’s IRA, even if your spouse does not have earned income for the year.
  5. The maximum amount you can contribute for 2010 to a traditional IRA is 5,000 for 2010 (6,000 if you’re over 50 years old).

For many people, Roth IRAs are attractive since distributions during retirement from Roth IRAs are not taxed. Distributions or withdrawals from traditional IRAs or retirement plans are subject to income tax in most instances.

In effect, you are saving more with a Roth IRA since you’re paying the taxes up-front. A $100 saved in a Roth IRA may mean lower income today than a $100 saved in a traditional IRA, but when it comes time to use the money, you will have more available since you pay no income taxes on regular withdrawals.

Here are five things people often don’t realize about Roth IRAs:

  • Income limits that govern who can contribute to a Roth IRA have risen slowly over the past few years, the 2010 limits are here.
  • Virtually anyone who has a traditional IRA can convert it to a Roth IRA (this started in 2010). The $100,000 income limit has been removed. You may have to pay taxes on part of the converted amount (typically contributions you claimed a deduction against and earnings).
  • Unlike traditional IRAs, there are no required minimum distribution rules for Roth RIAs, so you could leave your Roth IRA savings undisturbed after you turn 70 and a half.
  • Just like a traditional IRA, you could contribute to a Roth IRA for your spouse, but this is subject to income limits.
  • You may be eligible for a tax credit if you contribute to a Roth IRA, have income below certain thresholds and meet a couple of other criteria.

The IRS website on publication 590 provides the definitive overview on IRA plans (we’ve linked to many relevant sections of the document in the text above).

Of course, there are many other considerations when saving for retirement. We’re happy to answer questions you may have, just give us a call at 646-619-1157.