In the spring of 1959, then-Senator John F. Kennedy delivered a memorable speech in which he made the following observation:
“In the Chinese language, the word crisis is composed of two characters, one representing danger and the other, opportunity.”
Some have pointed out that Kennedy’s translation was imperfect, but I don’t think that takes away from the overall insight: Unusual circumstances often present simultaneously both risk and opportunity.
There’s no question that these are unusual times. The U.S. stock market, which has nearly quadrupled since 2009, is up another 20-plus percent this year and keeps hitting new highs. Meanwhile, in just the past week we have also seen some unnerving political developments: This morning the president’s former National Security Advisor pleaded guilty to making “false, fictitious and fraudulent” statements to the FBI. And, earlier this week, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile powerful enough to reach the United States.
In short, there is plenty of risk. But, are there any opportunities?
I believe there are. The economy is good, unemployment is low, the stock market is still near all-time highs, and most real estate markets are solid, driven by interest rates that are still near all-time lows. All of this adds up to opportunity. But, it’s also important to remember that economists are notoriously bad at predicting recessions, so this rosy picture could change at any time. Therefore, if there is a financial move you have been considering, I would suggest moving without delay.
While everyone’s situation is unique, here are just a few ideas:
Charitable gifts: If you make regular charitable contributions, you might consider opening a charitable gift fund and donating to it the most highly appreciated of your investments. This will accomplish three things: First, you’ll be able to take advantage of the market highs when the gift fund sells your shares. Second, you will avoid paying any capital gains taxes on those sales. And third, you’ll lock in a charitable deduction for 2017. If Congress succeeds with its tax-cut plan, this could be worth more to you this year than next.
Home financing: If you are considering refinancing your home or opening a home equity line of credit, do it now. Not only will you be able to take advantage of today’s low interest rates, but as a general rule, it’s always best to line up credit when you don’t need it.
Downsizing: If you are considering downsizing your home, you might consider doing it sooner rather than later. A solid real estate market should provide you with a good price on your sale, and you’ll be able to lock in a low interest rate on your new purchase. Also, to the extent that Congress succeeds in limiting the tax deductibility of real estate taxes or mortgage interest, or both, the prices of larger, more expensive homes might be impacted more.
Investment risk: If you haven’t reviewed your investment accounts recently, I would conduct a risk review. Go account by account, making sure that your current holdings are aligned with your current needs. If you are closer to retirement, or if your children are closer to college, than when you last reviewed things, it might be time to dial back on risk.
If you have questions about any of these, please just let me know.