High Tides Raise All Boats

July
20

Written by: Jon McGraw

sailboatInvestors around the world breathed a sigh of relief last week.

It wafted many markets higher. The Nasdaq jumped by more than 4 percent. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 2.4 percent. France’s national benchmark index rose 4.5 percent, Germany’s was up 3.2 percent, Italy’s increased by 3.6 percent, and China’s Shanghai Composite was up 2.1 percent. So, what happened?

Global markets stabilized.

First, the Chinese stock market staunched its wounds and recovered some value, which eased investors’ worries. According to Barron’s, by the end of the week, the Shanghai Composite Index was up 13 percent from its early July low. The market’s recovery owed much to Chinese government intervention. Bloomberg Business explained:

“Chinese policy makers have gone to unprecedented lengths to put a floor under the market as they seek to bolster consumer confidence and prevent soured loans backed by equities from infecting the financial system. Over the past few weeks, they’ve banned large shareholders from selling stakes, ordered state-run institutions to buy shares, and let more than half of the companies on mainland exchanges halt trading.”

Investors also were appreciative when Greece reached an agreement with its creditors. It accepted austerity measures, which voters had soundly rejected with a “no” vote on July 5, to forge a bailout agreement with European Union (EU) leaders.

That doesn’t mean the Greek debt debacle is over. Late last week, the International Monetary Fund issued a memo indicating it would not support a bailout for Greece unless significant debt relief was involved. Neither the EU nor the European Central Bank is interested in forgiving Greek debt. In fact, that was one of the main reasons negotiations with creditors failed the first time around.

Data as of 7/17/15 1-Week Y-T-D 1-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks) 2.4% 3.3% 8.6% 16.0% 14.7% 5.7%
Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. 1.7 3.9 -5.3 8.1 4.7 3.1
10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only) 2.4 NA 2.5 1.5 3.0 4.2
Gold (per ounce) -2.3 -5.5 -13.0 -10.6 -0.8 10.4
Bloomberg Commodity Index -1.8 -6.5 -25.0 -11.6 -5.1 -4.7
DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index 0.9 -1.4 7.5 9.3 14.5 7.1

Are You Missing Out on a Possible Triple Tax Advantage?

If you have a high-deductible health insurance plan and you’re not contributing the maximum to a health savings account (HSA), then you may be missing out. A study cited by The Washington Post found just one in 20 people with HSAs take full advantage of the opportunity.

In general, HSAs offer three tax benefits:

  1. Contributions are federally tax-deductible up to certain limits ($3,350 for a single person and $6,650 for a family in 2015; add $1,000 to those limits if you’re age 55 or older).
  2. Any interest earned on money in an HSA grows tax-deferred.
  3. Withdrawals used to pay qualified medical expenses are free of income tax.

Tax advantages aren’t the only reason to open an HSA. Money set aside in these accounts can be used to pay health insurance deductibles as well as qualified medical expenses—although, according to The New York Times, determining which products can be purchased with HSA savings can be confusing:

“Under a change enacted with the Affordable Care Act, most over-the-counter drugs, like common allergy medications or pain relievers, are HSA-eligible only if you get a prescription for them from your doctor. On the other hand, items like sunscreen and contact lens solution are eligible for purchase—without a prescription—with your HSA funds.”

HSA assets also can be used to pay health insurance premiums (if workers are receiving unemployment benefits) and long-term-care premiums.

It’s important to make sure HSA funds are used for qualified expenses because any money withdrawn for nonqualified expenses is taxed as ordinary income, and a 20 percent penalty tax is assessed if the account holder is younger than age 65.

That brings us to another advantage provided by HSAs. Kiplinger.com explained money not spent during the contribution year remains in the account. Any earnings grow tax-deferred and the savings that accumulate may be used for qualified medical expenses in the future or, once the account holder reaches age 65, for living expenses. In the latter case, withdrawals may be taxed as ordinary income.

Weekly Fun—Think About It

“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

—Yogi Berra, American baseball player