Like a Tragic Russian Spy Novel

July
21

Written by: Jon McGraw

Events of the last week could have been plot elements in a Tom Clancy novel. Tragically, they were real and ratcheted geopolitical tensions higher around the globe.

On Wednesday, the United States toughened sanctions against Russia. Bloomberg.com reported the new sanctions prevent specific Russian companies from “…accessing U.S. equity or debt markets for new financing with maturities longer than 90 days. They don’t otherwise prohibit U.S. companies or individuals from doing business with the Russian firms.” The European Union also introduced new sanctions although theirs were more modest than those of the United States. Russian bond and stock markets tumbled on the news.

Soon after, The Washington Post reported the new sanctions were likely to have a more profound affect on Russia. “While earlier sanctions, primarily against individuals, have been largely brushed off as an inconvenience by their Russian targets, the new round appeared designed to cause significant blows to the Russian economy and fundamentally alter its global financial relationships.”

On Thursday, an international commercial airliner carrying hundreds of passengers was shot down over Ukraine by a surface-to-air missile. No one has acknowledged responsibility; however, Ukrainian officials labeled the event an act of terrorism as it happened in an area of Eastern Ukraine plagued by violence associated with a pro-Russia separatist uprising. When this commentary was written, it remained uncertain whether the crash was an act of aggression or a tragic accident.

Understandably, investors took the news poorly and fled to ‘safer’ investments. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 1.2 percent for the day – its biggest one-day drop since April. Ten-year U.S. Treasury yields also dropped and the rate on Germany’s 10-year bond closed at a record low. Stock market losses also reflected Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza.

American markets rebounded on Friday although geopolitical tensions continued to shadow economic and earnings news.


Data as of 7/18/14

1-Week

Y-T-D

1-Year

3-Year

5-Year

10-Year

Standard & Poor’s 500 (Domestic Stocks)

0.5%

7.0%

17.1%

14.9%

15.8%

6.0%

10-year Treasury Note (Yield Only)

2.5

NA

2.5

2.9

3.6

4.4

Gold (per ounce)

-2.1

8.8

1.9

-6.5

6.5

12.4

Bloomberg Commodity Index

-0.7

2.8

-0.2

-7.6

1.2

-1.3

DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index

1.3

18.6

9.6

12.1

23.3

9.5

Summer Dreams: Taxes, Really?

As you’re plunking bait, lolling on the beach, or paddling a stream, let your thoughts turn to… taxes. Sure, it’s a lot easier not to think about taxes until you have to, but by then it’s usually too late to do anything that might make a difference. Late summer, when your blood pressure is nice and low, is the perfect time to decide whether you need to take any steps to prepare for this year’s taxes. Consider Forbes’ assessment of top tax brackets for 2014 before you stop reading:

Single taxpayers earning:

  • Over $36,900 up to $89,350 may owe $5,081.25 plus 25 percent of the excess over $36,900
  • Over $89,350 up to $186,350 may owe $18,193.75 plus 28 percent of the excess over $89,350
  • Over $186,350 up to $405,100 may owe $45,353.75 plus 33 percent of the excess over $186,350
  • Over $405,100 up to $406,750 may owe $117,541.25 plus 35 percent of the excess over $405,100
  • Over $406,750 may owe $118,118.75 plus 39.6 percent of the excess over $406,750

Married taxpayers filing jointly and earning:

  • Over $73,800 up to $148,850 may owe $10,162.50 plus 25 percent of the excess over $73,800
  • Over $148,850 up to $226,850 may owe $28,925 plus 28 percent of the excess over $148,850
  • Over $226,850 up to $405,100 may owe $50,765 plus 33 percent of the excess over $226,850
  • Over $405,100 up to $457,600 may owe $109,587.50 plus 35 percent of the excess over $405,100
  • Over $457,600 may owe $127,962.5 plus 39.6 percent of the excess over $457,600

Apologies if your blood pressure just jumped higher. Take a deep breath and decide whether these tips, offered by The Fiscal Times, can help.

  1. Manage your taxable income effectively. It may be possible to reduce your taxable income by deferring it, making contributions to pre-tax investments (like retirement accounts), and making gifts of income producing investments or cash to family members.
  2. Generate investment losses. Selling depreciated assets can help generate losses and losses may offset capital gains.
  3. Accelerate income if you are subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Forbes offered additional insight to this suggestion. “While a taxpayer’s regular taxable income is subject to graduated rates with a low of 10 percent and a high of 39.6 percent, AMT income is taxed at a flat 28 percent rate… And where I come from, 28 percent is less than 39.6 percent. And it’s this variance that gives rise to an often-overlooked planning opportunity.”

None of the above is intended as tax advice. It’s food for thought. Before you do anything, talk with a tax professional about your financial situation.

Weekly Fun – Think About It

“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.

–Ayn Rand