Thinking Through Cryptocurrencies | Part 1

Thinking Through Cryptocurrencies | Part 1

 

It seems like everyone nowadays is talking about cryptocurrencies. Whether it’s the proselytizers on CNBC or the techie next door, it feels as if everyone is either talking about or buying into this next big thing.

Trying to adequately explain an emerging technology and it’s economic impact in less then a few thousand words is bound to neglect certain facets of the subject. This series attempts to cover the technical specification of cryptocurrencies, how they can be viewed in an investment environment, the narratives that accompany this new technology, and the future impact, applications, and risk of the cryptocurrency universe.

 

What Is a Cryptocurrency?

The first cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, was originally imagined as a system of value exchange that could bypass institutions and instead allow users to make transactions on a peer-to-peer basis. For such a network to succeed, there had to be a way to verify the veracity of the transaction for both parties.

This is where the revolutionary technology called the blockchain comes in. The blockchain can be visualized as its name suggests: a chain made up of individual blocks of transactions. At its heart, this is what Bitcoin is: a series of transactions leading up to the current moment. When an individual buys Bitcoin, they are simply adding their name to the transaction list (or ledger), saying, “I have bought x number of Bitcoins.” Of course, it’s not as simple as adding a line.

Bitcoin works by having computers (or nodes) confirm and document transfers. When a transaction between Person A and Person B occurs, this transaction is sent out over the Bitcoin network. These nodes then verify that Person A has the right amount of Bitcoin to transfer to Person B by looking at the blocks of historical transactions on the chain. Once the majority of nodes on the network (50%) verify that a transaction can take place, it is added to the blockchain transaction log.

This verification process is where Bitcoin miners come into the picture. Miners provide the computers and computer power needed to verify transactions. They provide this service and get “paid” for it by having the opportunity to mint a new Bitcoin. To mint a new Bitcoin, a miner must verify 1MB worth of transactions and find a solution to a cryptographic hash function, which is the difficult part. The Bitcoin miner who verifies the transactions and is the first one to determine the target hash is the one who gets to include a new transaction for themselves, essentially minting a Bitcoin. While cryptocurrencies differ in the exact way that they go about transactions and the minting of new coins, the Bitcoin method is a solid enough base to understand cryptocurrencies at their base level.

 

Where Do Cryptocurrencies Fit in the Investment Landscape?

Cryptocurrencies, especially Bitcoin, are sometimes referred to as digital gold. Like gold and other currencies, they are something that derives their value from the belief that they can be exchanged in the future for something else of value and that the future value will be greater than the present value. The term that is frequently used is “a store of value.” Perceptions of value can change much more quickly than physical objects, which leads to the volatility that has always been present in currency markets, digital and fiat.

One of the advantages of cryptocurrencies, unlike gold or silver, is the ability to store value in an even more concentrated physical form. A 100-gram gold bullion cost about $6,000 dollars in 2020. This gold bullion could be slipped into your pocket or placed in a safe. A small flash drive, smaller than the gold bullion, could essentially hold billions of dollars in Bitcoin.

As with gold, there is a physical limit to the number of Bitcoins that can be produced. There can only be 21 million Bitcoins in the current Bitcoin network. So far, almost 19 million have been mined. Many believe this commodity-like supply will result in the value of Bitcoin rising with inflation—or possibly even faster.

Cryptocurrency advocates have discussed how this feature also makes digital currencies immune to the hyperinflation that can result from governments printing money. On the one hand, that is true. However, on the other side of the coin, the creation of a new Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency via mining injects new money into the supply. And as has been seen with gold historically, short-term, localized abundance of even a limited supply commodity can result in hyperinflation. The famous 1849 Gold Rush in California is a perfect example of the phenomenon. The prices for various goods like eggs, bread, and boots in the local area rose to more than three times the original price. Allowing for the lower accuracy of CPI data from the late 1800s, there is general consensus that the various gold rushes of the era from the U.S., Australia, and South Africa all resulted in increased inflation rates. So, while cryptocurrencies may be more immune from government influence, it is unlikely that they are immune to supply and demand shocks.

Other types of cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum or Cardano, offer different use cases by allowing the creation of new cryptocurrency assets or non-proof-of-work methods. The full effect of these other types of cryptocurrencies remains to be seen. One Ethereum-based crypto asset that has seen a lot of recent attention is the rise of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). These tokens represent a unique digital item and are not interchangeable. This has created a marketplace for artists to sell digital items with the authenticity guaranteed by the blockchain. Many of the applications of varying alternative cryptocurrencies are still being figured out at this time. It has yet to be seen whether these become alternate stores of value or simply new, more efficient ways to transact.

 

Watch for the next installment where we discuss cryptocurrencies and recent market conditions.

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

It is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation of any particular security, strategy or investment product. Opinions expressed by Merriman are based on economic or market conditions at the time this material was written.  Economies and markets fluctuate.  Actual economic or market events may turn out differently than anticipated.  Any reference to an index is included for illustrative purposes only, as an index is not a security in which an investment can be made.  Indices are unmanaged vehicles that serve as market indicators and do not account for the deduction of management fees and/or transaction costs generally associated with investable products. As always please remember investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital and past performance does not guarantee future returns; please seek advice from a licensed professional.  Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place. All composite data and corresponding calculations are available upon request.

Is It Time to Hire a Financial Advisor? | 5 situations when the answer could be yes

Is It Time to Hire a Financial Advisor? | 5 situations when the answer could be yes

 

 

A financial advisor is a professional who is in charge of guiding an individual or entity towards their financial goals in the most efficient way. At Merriman, we love taking on the burden of financial planning so our clients can get back to spending their time and energy doing the things they love.

 

Thrive Global describes the financial sector as complex and dynamic, with assets and trends changing and interdependent with other factors, and a financial advisor has the skills required to study these processes and trends. However, only 17% of Americans hire a financial advisor, with the rest either managing their own finances or simply winging it. But in a time where debt and living expenses are increasing, having and following a financial plan is more important than ever. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, you should consider hiring a financial advisor:

 

You’re starting a new business

Starting a new business can be a costly endeavor, as it involves expenses and procedures you wouldn’t immediately be aware of, such as filing for a certificate of formation and providing initial reports and paying their respective filing fees. A financial planner can advise you on the best structure to form your business in, taking into account startup costs, annual taxes, and filing fees. LLCs in Washington need to be aware of the taxes they need to pay at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as a sales tax and state employment tax. All of these can become overwhelming to keep track of, especially if you’re a budding business, and a financial planner can help you get it all sorted out.

 

You’re a DIY investor

A simpler investment plan is usually better; however, this isn’t true with financial planning. An overall financial plan should also consider factors such as retirement planning, tax planning, and insurance planning. Market Watch explains that DIY investors would still need a financial advisor in order to be sure that nothing is being missed out. Clients don’t realize that an advisor will do more than just manage their portfolio and help with investment plans. Financial advisors can take charge of a range of money-related management tasks, such as making a comprehensive saving and spending plan and guiding the client towards making sensible financial decisions.

 

You’re starting a family

Raising a child is not cheap: It costs an average of $233,610* to raise a child for the first 17 years of their life. Having a financial advisor can help you review your finances to see if you can actually afford being a parent. An advisor can also help you plan when to start saving for your child’s college expenses, while also keeping your retirement plan on track and leaving space for a growing family. They can help settle any future inheritance as well as ensure that your children will be taken care of.

 

You’re close to retirement age

Though you may have a retirement plan, the financial decisions you make in retirement might be more complex than the decisions you’ve had to make in the years leading up to it. A financial advisor can help you consider what you should do so you don’t end up outliving your money. Even when you’re already in retirement, a financial advisor can help you manage a spending plan. You might even consider an investment plan as well, and an advisor will help you make decisions that won’t sacrifice what you already have.

  

You’re financially illiterate

There is a financial literacy crisis in America, but financial advisors can help solve this problem. Americans would rather talk about anything else, such as religion, politics, even death, rather than personal finances. Aside from the embarrassment, another major factor that makes money talk taboo is that it is considered rude to talk about it with other people. However, talking about money is the first step to being a financially literate person. Advisors let their clients ask anything without judgment, creating a learning environment that empowers people to expand their knowledge about their own financial situation.

 

The circumstances requiring a financial planner aren’t just limited to the points discussed above. Overall, it’s important to plan for your financial future. Read our “Why Do I Need a Financial Plan?” for a deeper understanding of why a financial advisor is the right person to develop a financial plan for you. And to learn more about the value that a financial advisor can provide, check out the “10 Reasons Why Clients Hire Us.” If you would like to start looking for an advisor to help you with your plans, get in touch with us to discuss the necessary steps.

Article written by Ellie Hartwood
Exclusively for Merriman

 

Source: *https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child#:~:text=Middle-income, married-couple,Where does the money go?

Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

 

2020 brought many expected and unexpected challenges – on top of a political election year, we faced a pandemic, a challenged economy, and turbulent markets, to name a few.

We don’t yet know what 2021 will bring for the economy, for markets, or for our own lives, but there are still some things we can control.

As we welcome in a new year with hopeful expectations, let’s take a moment to recommit to those factors within our control:

 

Sharing Our Dreams and Values

As we reflect on the strange and challenging times this year, many find themselves wondering what their families did in the past to get through difficult times. We may remember snippets of stories told by our elders or passed on through our family, but often wish we knew more.

As wealth advisors we know firsthand the importance of legacy planning through legal documents. We also believe in the value of sharing the essence of who you are, your values, and experiences for future generations to come, through the creation of a Family Legacy Letter.

 

Building Better Financial Behaviors

Too many investors focus on markets when they should focus on themselves, their hopes, their goals, and their dreams. Identifying the choices in our control isn’t just a good financial lesson, it’s a great life lesson dating back to ancient Greece, when the Stoic philosopher Epictetus said:

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control.”

 

Understanding Our Biases

Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky are famous for their work on human behavior, particularly around judgment and decision making. We can apply much of their discoveries to investor behavior. While we can’t completely eliminate biases, we can learn about them and how they impact our decision making, allowing us to take action to address them and avoid costly mistakes.

 

May you and your family enjoy the warmth this season has to offer and a new year filled with hope, love and success!

 

 

Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

Why Do I Need A Financial Plan?

 

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail. This adage, generally attributed to Benjamin Franklin, is as true for financial planning as it for other endeavors. At Merriman, we want to help clients meet their financial goals. Any successful goal-setting strategy includes a detailed plan. But this plan is not only helpful for increasing chances of success. It is also one method we use to minimize potential failures.

When you first met your advisor, did you start your relationship and immediately hand over your hard-earned resources to their management, or did they put you through a rigorous due-diligence process to develop an agreed-upon plan before moving forward?

While the latter requires a lot more time and energy upfront from both parties, this hard work pays off and makes the relationship more valuable and more productive in the long-term. (Short-term pain, long-term gain). It can especially add value during times of uncertainty or major life transitions, such as retirement. When the unexpected happens, the plan serves as the basis for deciding how to react. Without a plan, it is easy to act impulsively or without fully considering future consequences. A good plan has already taken into account potential pitfalls or trouble spots and has a strategy to overcome them. With a plan in place, you are able to adjust course, if needed, and ultimately still get to your desired outcomes.

At Merriman, we build a plan together from the beginning of our relationship and stress test your resources to determine the likelihood of achieving your most important financial goals. We start with a discovery meeting where we map out all aspects of your life—financial and otherwise—so we can provide a truly customized plan to help you achieve your goals. To make this meeting as productive as possible, we ask that if you have a spouse or partner, have them join us, as the plan we are building together is for the both of you.

As part of our due diligence, we securely collect important items such as tax documents, insurance statements, estate planning documents, paystubs, budgeting and expenses, financial accounts and retirement income statements, and debts, among other information. This may seem like a lot to ask for at the start, but these documents provide clues to potential weak spots in your plan.

Think of it this way: when you meet with a physician for the first time, do they judge your health based solely on your physical appearance, or do they ask tough questions and run a gamut of tests before providing a diagnosis? The collected samples and information serve as the inputs and the test results are the outputs based on the criteria used in the examination. A financial plan can be thought of the same way.

While test results are useful, they are in themselves really just data. We then interpret this data, informed by our education and experience, to provide comprehensive advice on how best to achieve your financial goals.

Why do you need a financial plan? Because in good times and difficult times, a financial plan is your best opportunity to meet your financial goals. At Merriman, that’s our mission, and that’s why we take financial planning as seriously as we do. You should expect the same attention to detail from anyone with whom you choose to work.

Reach out to us to discuss your specific goals and the necessary next steps to achieve them.

 

What to Do When the Pandemic Forces an Early Retirement

What to Do When the Pandemic Forces an Early Retirement

 

 

Because of the pandemic, many companies are trying to rapidly reduce their workforces. Boeing recently offered their voluntary layoff (VLO) to encourage employees near retirement to do so. Other companies will resort to traditional layoffs.

What should you do when you find yourself unexpectedly retired—whether voluntarily or not?

 

Assess the Situation—Review Your Numbers

Retirement is a major life change for everyone—even more so when it happens unexpectedly. The first step financially is to get a clear picture of your assets. This includes investment accounts and savings. It also includes debts like credit cards and mortgages. In addition, you’ll want to identify current or future sources of income such as pensions or Social Security.

Next, you’ll want to be clear about how much you’re spending. Free or low-cost tools like mint or YNAB can help you easily track how much you’re spending as well as categorize your expenses. That may make it easier to see if there are ways to reduce costs, if needed.

Knowing your minimum monthly costs is a major part of determining if you have the resources to retire successfully or if you need to find another way to work and earn money before retirement.

 

Identify Adjustments

If you’re unexpectedly retired, identify if you need to reduce your expenses. Some of those reductions may happen automatically—most families aren’t spending as much on travel right now—while other reductions may require more planning.

You’ll want to account for healthcare costs. For some, employers may continue to provide health coverage until Medicare begins at age 65. For others, health insurance will have to be purchased either through COBRA to maintain the current health insurance or through the individual markets. These policies can cost significantly more than when the employee was working, although by carefully structuring income, it may be possible to get subsidies to reduce this cost.

Identify if you need additional sources of income. This may come from part-time employment. It may also come from reviewing your Social Security strategy. Social Security benefits can begin as early as age 62, although doing so will permanently reduce your benefit. Take time to compare the tradeoffs of starting your Social Security benefit at different ages.

Finally, review your investment allocation. You’ll want to make sure you have an appropriate percentage providing stability (cash, CDs, short-term bonds) to protect you from the fluctuation of the market when you need the money. With a retirement period of 30 years or more, stocks will likely be an important part of your investment strategy, too.

 

Do Some Tax Planning

It’s important to identify what mix of accounts you have. IRA, Roth, and taxable accounts are all taxed differently. It’s often best to spend from the taxable account first, then the IRA, and save Roth accounts for last, although there may be times where it’s better to use a mix from different types of accounts each year.

Many early retirees temporarily find themselves in a lower tax bracket because they don’t have a salary and they haven’t yet started Social Security. This may be a time to take advantage of Roth conversions. Moving money from a traditional retirement account to a Roth account now, while you’re in a lower tax bracket, can significantly reduce taxes over your lifetime.

 

Planning Beyond Money

When a major change like this occurs, it’s important to take care of your finances. It’s also important to take care of your mental health. Retirees often have years to plan for this major life change. Because of the pandemic, many are making this change suddenly and unexpectedly.

It’s essential to take the time to set a new routine and identify new hobbies or other activities to incorporate into your life.

 

Conclusion

When retirement is unexpected, it doesn’t have to be scary. Building a financial plan to determine if you’re on track to meeting your goals, to discern what adjustments should be made to help you reach those goals, then to execute that plan can help provide the peace of mind brought about by a successful retirement—even when it comes sooner than expected. If you want help with this process, reach out to us

  

Ask Merriman: SIPC Coverage

Q: Brokerage houses have additional insurance that covers certain events relative to my deposit. Should I be concerned when the funds on deposit at a major brokerage exceed the insurance limits?

Let’s assume this refers to SIPC coverage brokerage firms use. While loosely similar to the more familiar FDIC insurance to cover bank deposits, SIPC insurance is much more limited in scope.

Essentially, SIPC insurance provides coverage from loss due to the brokerage firm going out of business. It provides up to $500,000 of protection on securities and up to $250,000 in cash in excess of what is recovered. It does not provide coverage from a decline in the value of investments.

To help visualize an example of when SIPC would come into play, let’s use an example of a $5 million client account:

· Assume the brokerage firm fails, resulting in $5 billion of client claims on assets.

· Assume 90% of clients’ assets ($4.5 billion) are recovered. The actual historical recovery rate is 98.7% according to SIPC.

· The client in this example holding $5 million in SIPC eligible assets would receive $4.5 million from recovered assets and $500,000 from SIPC. The loss to the $5 million client account would be zero.

It’s exceedingly rare for a client to be entitled to recover damages under SIPC and not be made whole because of the $500,000 limit.

Also, most large brokerage firms purchase “excess of SIPC” insurance, which insures clients for any losses above the $500,000 limit.

Ultimately, clients do not need to be concerned when funds at a brokerage exceed the coverage limits.

More detailed information about SIPC coverage can be found here.


 

Do you have a question about investments, taxes, retirement or insurance? Send it to “Ask Merriman” and one of our financial advisors will help you find an answer.