It has largely faded from the news, but Americans in high tax states are feeling the pinch from the SALT cap limits. States are currently mounting a last ditch attempt to stop the new limit through a highly creative legal argument that relies on court precedent from as far back as the Civil War. However, early indications are that the push will fail, finally sounding a death knell for any hopes the cap would be overturned.
FINSUM: As one of our esteemed readers pointed out to us, this SALT cap has much more significant implications than real estate prices or asset allocations. The bigger worry is that the tax-home migration of the wealthy could hollow out the public finances of already precarious state and local governments.
Wirehouse business may have gotten a boost from the demise of the fiduciary rule, but its decline has been uninterrupted for years. New data from 2018 is in and shows that wirehouses shed 5.7% of their client assets during the year. Advisor headcount also dropped by 403 advisors, brining the total to 54,030. According to the study, put out by Aite Group, “Wirehouses have steadily ceded market share from 2008 to 2018 … The segment has lost a total of 10 percentage points over that time period. As wirehouses continue to rationalize the size of clients they serve in advisory relationships, they also continue to see an outflow of advisors into other industry channels”.
FINSUM: RIAs and IBDs have been taking market share from wirehouses for years and the reasons why are obvious—better selling points for clients and better compensation. We think it is also a product of the demographics of the industry—as advisors get more senior and established the economics of going independent become more alluring.
ETFs are obviously the biggest financial product of the decade, and have been very broadly adopted by advisors. However, how advisors actually use them varies greatly, partly due to the diversity of the asset class. There are around 2,200 ETFs covering a seemingly endless variety of niches. But within that cornucopia of offerings, which can be dizzying, lays the opportunity to personalize. Specifically, the large variety of highly specialized approaches allows advisors to be very tactical with portfolios without the need to buy specific stocks. Further, since ETFs are replicating a benchmark, they do not suffer from “style drift” like mutual funds do. In that way, the sectors/niches they track are more reliable and can be depended on for the role they play in a portfolio.
FINSUM: This might be obvious to some, but there are many out there who still only use ETFs are ultra-cheap trackers. Some of the new offerings provide really interesting exposure to specific areas—part of the reason they have been heavily adopted by hedge funds.
One of the oldest tricks in the American tax book is seeing new life because of recent changes to the tax code. The process is referred to as upstream tax planning. Changes to the tax code mean that investors can take assets that have seen capital gains and transfer them to a trusted older relative with the understanding that they will be bequeathed. When that asset is re-inherited by the original donor it now has a new basis and can be sold into the market immediately with no taxes due despite the initial capital gains. One estate planner summarizes the changes, saying “People didn’t want to use up their estate tax exemption, but the whole paradigm has shifted because of this new high exemption amount … When they doubled the exemption, everyone thought they’d do away with the step-up in basis at death, but that didn’t happen. So this creates a huge opportunity for taxpayers”.
FINSUM: This is a very good loophole, but it does have a trust component where the donor needs to be confident the beneficiary will hold onto the asset!
Barron’s has interviewed some of the top financial advisors in the country to figure out how they incorporate ETFs into their portfolios. We thought our readers might be curious. Raj Sharma, from ML, said that he thinks ETFs are just a tool and that active management still has a big role to play, especially in emerging markets and small caps. One top advisor, for whom ETFs comprise 50% of their business, says they use options bets against ETFs, something you can’t do with active funds. Another top advisor from ML, Peter Rohr, summarized ETFs nicely, saying: “ETFs allow us to control the controllable. We can control fees, we can control taxes, and we can control risk level”.
FINSUM: ETFs are a very flexible, and largely inexpensive product, facts which explain their explosive growth. However, that flexibility also means it takes strategy to put them to their best use.
Not to be outdone by the DOL, the SEC made some comments on its forthcoming Best Interest Rule yesterday. SEC chief Clayton has been tightlipped about the rule and its updates, but yesterday said that it would be out soon, likely much sooner than expected. The expectation has been that the SEC would debut the rule in the fall, but speaking on timelines Clayton said “Wait and see … You won't have to wait long”. Reporters taking note of the comment say he suggested the final rule was imminent.
FINSUM: We bet some unveiling of the final rule happens before Memorial Day. This means the DOL’s updated rule is likely coming very soon as well, as they are working in concert.