October 2017

Inside this issue:


RELIEF FOR HURRICANE HARVEY AND IRMA VICTIMS

The IRS announced relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey and Irma similar to what was provided last year to Louisiana flood victims and victims of Hurricane Matthew. For participants, the relief includes streamlined loan procedures and liberalized rules for hardship and unforeseen emergency distributions that are made by January 31, 2018. For Employers, there is additional time to file 5500 tax returns if they were originally supposed to be filed on or after September 6, 2017, and before January 31, 2018. 

This relief applies to those who live or work in disaster areas designated for individual assistance by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). For a complete list of eligible localities, visit https://www.fema.gov/disasters.
 
Further details about this and other tax relief can be found on the IRS disaster relief page.


PORTFOLIO PATRIOTISM — DOMESTIC MARKET OPTIMISM OR INADVERTENT ASSET ALLOCATION?

Globalization of the world economy has increased exposure to international investments, yet equity portfolios in general remain largely home biased today. This may be a good time for participants to reevaluate their asset allocation to see if they may be exhibiting a home country bias— or displaying overly optimistic expectations about the domestic market and/or pessimism about foreign markets.

After years of mediocre growth from developed international equity markets, we are finally starting to see signs of life abroad. The margin of outperformance for U.S. stocks has been rather large over the past five calendar years. The five-year annualized returns for the MSCI EAFE1 (NR USD Index2), a proxy for international stocks, is up 6.5 percent3, compared to the S&P 500 4 (TR5), a proxy for U.S. stocks, which is up an impressive 14.7 percent annualized. Year to date however, we are starting to observe a reversal as the MSCI EAFE is up 14.0 percent. Compare that to the S&P 500, which is up 8.7 percent6.

Why now? International equities are looking attractive from a valuation standpoint as the U.S. Cyclically Adjusted Price Earnings (CAPE7) ratio is well above its historic average (29.8x versus 16.8x respectively8). A global overview of CAPE can be seen in the chart to the right, suggesting the possible attractiveness of international equity from a valuation standpoint. This relative attractiveness is further supported with the expectation that domestic earnings will reach record highs within the next 12 months9.

Focusing attention internationally, the Eurozone domestic demand rose 2.8 percent year over year as of the first quarter. This is the highest annual growth rate since Q3 200710. The European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi ruled out further interest rate cuts in a sign that it’s moving closer to an exit from its stimulus program. Election results in the Netherlands, France and Germany reduced uncertainty over government agendas. Lastly, the United Kingdom successfully continues to reduce unemployment (4.60 percent11) in spite of last year’s Brexit vote.

index

Higher valuations and uncertainty around domestic political agendas underscore the need for broad diversification and careful portfolio management. However, when it comes to defined contribution (DC) investors and their equity portfolio allocations, the numbers tell an intriguing story. For the 2016 calendar year, the average DC participant12 devoted 86 percent of their entire equity allocation to domestic stock. As a result, it could be deemed that participants over-allocate to U.S. stocks by 33 percent14 when compared to the MSCI All Country World Index (MSCI ACWI Indexes offer a modern, seamless, and fully integrated approach to measuring the full equity opportunity set with no gaps or overlaps. MSCI ACWI represents the Modern Index Strategy and captures all sources of equity returns in 23 developed and 24 emerging markets) (as of 3/31/17). DC investors might not realize that sticking mainly with U.S. stocks can actually increase portfolio risk and simultaneously reduce returns.

county world index

The remedy may be more global equity exposure. If you buy into the concept of a reversion to the mean and that valuations look better overseas than here in the U.S., then you should not be surprised if international markets begin to outperform. By adjusting their portfolio balances more toward global equities, DC investors have the potential to increase returns by offering more exposure to fast-growing segments15 of the global economy while simultaneously increasing diversification.

Today, plan sponsors can help their participants strike a more appropriate balance by providing:

  • Access to an actively and passively managed broad-based international equity strategy within the investment menu.
  • Education to participants about the importance of diversification and the potential pitfalls of a home country bias.
  • Re-enrollment into target date funds, which often have a greater weighting to equities outside the United States versus typical portfolios and offer ongoing professional management.

As Americans we’re all patriots, but when it comes to investing, leave home country bias at the door.

1 MSCI EAFE® (Europe, Australia and Far East) Index - is a free float-adjusted market capitalization index that is designed to measure developed market equity performance, excluding the US & Canada. As of December 2003 the MSCI EAFE Index consisted of the following 21 developed market country indices: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. EAFE is a registered service mark of Morgan Stanley
2 Net returns U.S. Dollar
3 Data from Morningstar
4 S&P 500 Index is an unmanaged group of securities
5 Total returns
6 Morningstar. As of 5/31/2017.
7 Price earnings ratio is based on average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous 10 years, known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio), Shiller PE Ratio, or PE 10
8http://www.multpl.com/shiller-pe/
9 Q3 2017 JPMorgan Guide to Markets
10 Global Purchasing Managers’ Index for Manufacturing
11https://ycharts.com/indicators/uk_unemployment_rate
12 Fidelity recordkeeping system as of 12/31/16. For plans with $10-$20M in assets. Asset weighted average.
13 Map from: http://www.starcapital.de/research/stockmarketvaluation
14 MSCI All Country World Index
15 In relation to GDP. For example, the Nominal GDP Domestically is around 2.1% versus the global GDP of around 5.7%.

Using diversification as part of your investment strategy neither assures nor guarantees better performance and cannot protect against loss of principal due to changing market conditions.


AUDITING RECORDKEEPER STATEMENTS — A FIDUCIARY DUTY?

Adhering to prudent standards includes auditing quarterly statements from the recordkeeper. However, there is no explicit requirement for plan fiduciaries to do so.

With regard to plan assets, fiduciaries have the explicit duty to ensure that:

  • employee deferrals are contributed in a timely manner;
  • the plan does not engage in prohibited transactions; and
  • plan assets are used exclusively to pay plan benefits and defray reasonable plan expenses.

Fiduciaries must act prudently in carrying out these duties. A bright-line test for the exact definition of prudent does not exist. It depends upon the facts and circumstances.

The plan trustee has the duty to keep plan assets safe. If you are the plan trustee, you should oversee how your recordkeeper handles plan assets. Auditing their quarterly statements helps to accomplishing this.


NEWS FROM MRPA

Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors was recently named by the National Association of Plan Advisors (NAPA) to their 2017 Top DC Advisor Firms list. This list focuses on defined contribution (DC) practices specifically. For more information, go to Announcing NAPA’s Top DC Advisor Firms.

 


No strategy assures a profit or protect against loss.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. To determine which investment(s) may be appropriate for you, consult your financial advisor prior to investing.

For Plan Sponsor use only – Not for use with Participants or the General Public. This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors, but is not intended as authoritative guidance or tax or legal advice. Each plan has unique requirements, and you should consult your attorney or tax advisor for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does advisor assure that, by using the information provided, plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. 

Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors does not warrant and is not responsible for errors or omissions in the content of this newsletter.

Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors offers investment advisory services through Independent Financial Partners, a Registered Investment Advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors are separate entities.


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Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors offers investment advisory services through Independent Financial Partners, a Registered Investment Advisor. Independent Financial Partners and Montgomery Retirement Plan Advisors are separate entities.