STOCK MARKET COMMENTARY
For the week of Mar. 17, 2008
The Federal Reserve’s announcement on Tuesday that it would loan investment firms and banks Treasury securities for 28 days rather than overnight sent the market skyrocketing. The Dow broke a five-year record with a 416-point gain Tuesday, and all three major indexes had gains of at least 3.5 percent. Stocks lost that traction as the week continued, despite a consumer inflation report from the Labor Department showing consumer prices unchanged in February, compared to an expected gain of 0.3 percent. The Dow ended the week up 0.55 percent to 11,951.09. The S&P lost 0.36 percent to close the week at 1,288.14, and the NASDAQ finished the week flat at 2,212.49.
Good for Grads – College students graduating this spring will find more opportunities than their 2007 counterparts. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, companies plan to hire 16 percent more college graduates this year, in part to compensate for the retirement of workers over age 55. Those with degrees in marketing, engineering and computer science will be most in demand. Average starting salaries among all degrees are expected to be 4 percent higher than a year ago.
Value Holding Pattern – U.S. car owners are keeping their vehicles longer, thanks to quality improvements by manufacturers. The median age of cars on U.S. roads for 2007 was 9.2 years, tying the record high age set in 2006. In 2007, 41.3 percent of all cars were 11 years or older, compared to 40.9 percent for the previous year, according to consulting firm R.L. Polk. Auto loans are also aging. J.D. Power data shows that 79 percent of loans are for five to six years, 4 percent for seven and 0.1 percent take eight or more years to pay off.
Very Little Change – In 1988, it took taxable income of $363,000 on a joint return to produce federal income tax of $100,000. Over the past 20 years, Congress has implemented changes to the tax code (other than normal cost-of-living adjustments) in 1990, 1993, 2001 and 2003. Now 20 years later, it will take 2008 taxable income of $367,000 on a joint return to produce federal income tax of $100,000 (Source: Tax Foundation, BTN Research).
How Big Is My Check? – Your monthly Social Security benefit payment at retirement will be based upon a calculation that uses your highest 35 years of indexed wages, i.e., your income totals from all past years are increased to the present day to reflect wage inflation that has occurred (Source: SSA, BTN Research).
More In Than Out – Social Security took in $179 billion more than it paid out in calendar year 2007. The last time Social Security ran a deficit in any calendar year was 1983 (Source: SSA, BTN Research).
WEEKLY FOCUS – Like Spring Follows Winter
Across much of the nation, Americans are trying to shake off winter with thoughts of spring, tax refunds and economic stimulus rebates. And those same incentives
(well, maybe not the warm weather) are bringing out identity thieves looking to separate Americans from their money. The IRS has been warning taxpayers about thieves posing as IRS representatives, who request personal information so the individual can obtain an economic stimulus payment. It’s important for you to know that those payments do not require additional information – they go out automatically to anyone who files a tax return with the appropriate level of adjusted gross income.
This year alone, taxpayers have forwarded the IRS 33,000 emails reflecting 1,500 different scams, all of which employed phishing – the practice of tricking the recipient into revealing confidential financial information. Thieves use the information to empty bank accounts, run up credit card charges and apply for loans. Some retirees, filing a tax return for the first time in years so they can receive the stimulus rebates, are finding identity thieves have been filing fraudulent returns using the retirees’ Social Security number.
Not all thieves go high-tech. In Albuquerque last week, a woman filing her tax return discovered an identity thief had already filed in her name and walked away with a refund-anticipation loan for her $2,204 refund. The thief used the woman’s W-2 wage statement, which many companies mail to employees’ home addresses, to file a tax return with a nationwide tax preparation chain. Now the victim must file a paper return with the IRS and wait for months while it verifies her identity and issues her refund check.
A few reminders for protecting yourself: Consider having sensitive documents like W-2s sent to a post-office box or obtain them directly from your employer. Guard your Social Security number – do not carry the card, or any card that contains your Social Security number (like an insurance card) in your wallet. Do not provide your Social Security number or bank account numbers to a person contacting you by phone, or in any email. Buy a cross-cut shredder to destroy documents you no longer need. Consider using direct deposit for Social Security tax benefits, tax refunds and other payments. (If you use direct deposit for your 2007 tax refund, your economic stimulus payment will be deposited to the same account.) And request and review your free credit report once a year.
Identity theft can take months and even years to clean up, costing you time and money. Elderly people can be especially vulnerable to phishing scams and mail theft. If you or someone you love needs more information about protecting your identity, please contact our office.
* The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is a price weighted index of 30 actively traded blue-chip stocks. NASDAQ Composite Index is an unmanaged, market-weighted index of all over-the-counter common stocks traded on the National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotation System. The Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe, Australia and Far East Index (MSCI EAFE Index) is a widely recognized benchmark of non-U.S. stock markets. It is an unmanaged index composed of a sample of companies representative of the market structure of 20 European and Pacific Basin countries and includes reinvestment of all dividends. WMCSAI# 271835