Monthly Update
  • May Market Review
  • Avoiding the Pain Trade
  • The Future of Social Security
  • College Admissions Review
  • Personal Digital Safety
  • Practice Announcement
May Market Review

April showers gave way to flowers during the first half of May.

Stock market declines seemed to have been a function of early spring. As investors anticipated clearer, brighter weather ahead, they warmed up to stocks, though the warmth faded somewhat during the final week of May.

Large company US stocks, as measured by the S&P 500 Index, rose by 5% in May. Year-to-date, US stocks are in the black by 11.3%. Foreign stocks also returned 5% in May, and thus far in 2024 have gained 7.7%.

Small company US stocks climbed by 4% last month and are up by 4.5% so far in 2024.

Treasury bond yields were stable for shorter maturities but declined slightly for longer-term maturities in May.

For the month, the Bloomberg Aggregate Bond Index, the main benchmark for US investment-grade bonds, registered a positive return of 1.7%. Year-to-date, investment-grade bonds have declined by 1.6%.

Below is a summary of May returns:
US Stocks = S&P 500 Index; US Bonds = Bloomberg US Aggregate Bond Index
Avoiding the Pain Trade
On May 22, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, one of the oldest stock indices in the US (made up of 30 “blue chip” stocks), reached a new all-time high of 40,000.

Other more broadly-based indices such as the S&P 500 index (large-company stocks) and the Nasdaq Composite index (heavily weighted toward tech stocks) also attained fresh highs in mid-May.
The stock market can be viewed as a mirror of sentiment and as a measure of value, and new highs tend to be well received by investors. Strong demand for stocks has boosted prices and has created pleasing portfolio returns.
Regarding sentiment, most Wall Street prognosticators are bullish. In fact, the ranks of Negative Neds and Nellies recently faded from two to one.
The lead strategist at Morgan Stanley, well-known for his persistent bearish views, revised his 12-month stock market target sharply higher in May. Of seven leading investment banks, JP Morgan is the only firm anticipating a significant market decline by year end.
Even though the economic and market backdrop is constructive, a contrarian would suggest that stocks are climbing a wall of worry.
As we consider the situation at home and overseas, there’s plenty of cause for concern, including:

  • the rising costs of goods and services have made everyday living ever more expensive for consumers
  • a deeply polarized political environment in the US raises concerns about the possibility of civil disorder and the potential degradation of democracy
  • persistent conflict abroad is affecting the lives of millions
Worried investors who are overly pessimistic about the economic, political, or social landscape might be tempted to say “enough is enough.” Acting on this conviction by selling a significant portion of stock holdings likely would provide an immediate sense of relief for those seeing the glass as half full.
But this type of action invites the “pain trade”, where financial markets punish investors for their decisions, typically in the form of substantial losses or a missed opportunity for upside.
The pain trade for worried investors who sell their stocks today would occur if the stock market rally of 2023-24 proves persistent.
Nicholas Colas of DataTrek Research provides the following pointers for avoiding the pain trade (via a recently published article in Barron’s):
  • Don’t be irked by short-term losses; it’s better to endure a 20% to 30% dip, typical for bear markets, than to miss out on all of an investment’s future gains
  • Trust in the prospects of large company US stocks, which consistently deliver for investors over the long term
The adage “it’s time in the market, not timing the market, that matters” might cause a wince or an eye-roll from experienced traders. But consider the chart below, courtesy of AMG, which tracks cumulative returns of US large company stocks.
The yellow dots denote twelve major market pullbacks, starting with the Great Depression in 1929. The dark green shaded areas show the stock market rallies.

Two key take-aways:

  1. rallies tend to run on for extended periods, while sell-offs are typically sharp (and painful) but far shorter in duration
  2. the peaks historically have risen far higher during rally periods than the troughs have fallen during sell offs
Perhaps the phrase “it’s time in the market that matters” might serve as a helpful reminder of the benefits of cultivating a patient approach to investing and embracing long-term thinking when it comes to your personal financial situation.
Summing it up, DataTrek’s Colas offers the following: “In the end, the worst pain trade is being underinvested.”

Understanding the Future of Social Security
Our colleague and MFA founder Susan Moore contributed the following update on Social Security
As financial advisors, a frequent concern we hear from clients revolves around the future of Social Security benefits. Many are understandably worried about whether these benefits will be available when they retire, especially amidst reports of potential funding shortfalls.

We’ll share below the latest projections for Social Security funding and then explore the measures being proposed to ensure its long-term viability.

Current Projections for Social Security
The Social Security program is primarily funded through payroll taxes collected under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). However, demographic shifts such as declining birth rates and increasing longevity are leading to fewer workers supporting more retirees, which puts a strain on the system.

According to the most recent Social Security Trustees Report, the Social Security trust funds are projected to be depleted by 2035, one year later than projected in last year’s report, if no changes are made.

At that point, incoming payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay 83% of scheduled benefits. This projection highlights the need for reform to ensure that full benefits continue to be paid.

Proposed Measures to Strengthen Social Security
Several measures have been proposed by policymakers to address the funding challenges faced by Social Security. These proposals typically fall into three categories: increasing revenue, reducing promised future benefits, or a combination of both. Here are some of the most discussed options:

Increasing Revenue

  • Raise the payroll tax rate: One proposal is to increase the payroll tax rate, which is currently 12.4% (split between employers and employees), to bring more funds into the system.
  • Lift the payroll tax cap: Currently, payroll taxes are not collected on incomes above a certain threshold ($168,600 in 2024). Removing or increasing this cap could significantly boost Social Security’s funding.
  • Introduce new revenue streams: Some have suggested introducing new sources of income for the trust fund, such as taxes on certain types of unearned income.

Reducing Benefits

  • Increase the full retirement age: Gradually raising the age at which retirees qualify for full benefits could reduce the system's expenditures.
  • Modify the cost-of-living adjustments (COLA): Tying COLA to a different index that grows more slowly could decrease the annual increase in benefits, thus saving money over time.

Combination Approaches

  • Means testing: Reducing benefits for high-income retirees could help focus resources on those most in need.
  • Balanced approaches: Some proposals suggest a balanced approach that includes both modest tax increases and benefit reductions, aiming to spread the impact across different demographics and income groups.

One thing that’s important to note: all of the proposed measures described above would impact future Social Security recipients.

None of the measures that we have seen (except for the possible limit on the annual COLA) propose changes to benefits for those who are already receiving Social Security benefits.
What This Means for You
For individuals planning for retirement, the uncertainty surrounding Social Security underscores the importance of retirement planning. Depending on Social Security alone for retirement income is increasingly risky.

Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Increase Personal Savings: Boost your personal savings rate and maximize contributions to retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s.
  • Maintain a financial plan: We work with our clients to develop their financial plans and to update those plans to ensure that they’ll be able to reach their goals and can look forward to a sound financial future.
  • Stay Informed: Keep abreast of changes to Social Security legislation and consider how these might impact your retirement planning. And don’t hesitate to let your congressional representatives know what you think!

While the challenges facing Social Security are concerning, especially for those who have not yet retired, remedies are being considered.

With comprehensive financial planning, we can help you prepare for a variety of future scenarios. As your financial advisors, we are here to help you navigate these uncertainties and develop a retirement strategy that ensures your financial security, regardless of what the future holds for Social Security.

College Admissions Review 2024: Unraveling the Tumultuous Year of College Admissions Process

Our colleague and college specialist Donna Cournoyer contributed the following update for college planning
Applying to college can be a complex and multifaceted process, including several steps and requiring careful planning and attention to detail.

The most recent yearly cycle of the college admissions process has just finished, as high school seniors and their parents have completed the years-long college preparation and detailed application process by making a financial commitment to the school they will attend for the next four years this beginning this coming fall.

The current level of complexity of this process sent some families into procrastination mode, pushing off the inevitable facing of facts. For others, it means assuming an uncomfortable level of debt.

For those who started early and bravely committed to fully engaging and digging into the process- navigating all the steps and intricacies along the way- many found themselves completed exhausted emotionally, and unfortunately for some, financially.

How did we get here? Has the craziness finally peaked with the FAFSA debacle of 2024-2025? Not likely. Although we will learn more when the process starts up again this fall with the next application season.

The college application process in 2024 has been particularly tumultuous due to several key trends and changes that have intensified its complexity and competitiveness.

Key Trends and Challenges

  1. Surge in Applications: The number of college applications has increased dramatically. This surge is partly due to the widespread adoption of test-optional policies, which has encouraged more students to apply to a broader range of schools. Applications to public institutions have seen an 82% increase since 2019-20, while private institutions saw a 47% increase (IvyWise)​​ (Crimson Education US).
  2. Early Decision and Early Action: Early application options have become more popular, but acceptance rates for these rounds have decreased. Many top universities still admit a significant portion of their incoming class through these early rounds, which makes the competition fierce.
  3. Impact of Affirmative Action: The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has removed race and ethnicity as factors in admissions decisions. Colleges are now exploring new ways to maintain diverse student bodies, such as through supplemental essays and other holistic review strategies.
  4. Financial Aid Delays: The rollout of a new FAFSA form resulted in a large decline in applications, and caused delays, which means students received financial aid offers much later than usual. This had a huge impact for some students and families and their ability to make informed decisions about which college to attend.
  5. AI in Admissions: AI technology is increasingly used by colleges to streamline the application review process, including evaluating transcripts and letters of recommendation. This has raised concerns about the authenticity of student submissions, especially with some students using AI tools to assist with their essays (CollegeData)​​ (College MatchPoint).

Overall, the college application process is a significant undertaking that requires organization, time management, and support from various sources.

Strategies for Applicants

  • Broaden Your Application List: Consider adding a mix of public and private institutions, including those that might not be traditionally prestigious but offer strong programs in your areas of interest.
  • Early Applications: Apply early if you are confident about your top-choice schools, but be aware of the competitive nature of these rounds.
  • Holistic Applications: Focus on creating a well-rounded application that highlights personal experiences, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles.
  • Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest testing policies of your target schools and prepare accordingly.
  • Use AI Responsibly: AI can be a helpful tool, however, be sure your application essays contain your work and authenticity.

The 2024 college application process has indeed been chaotic, driven by increased application volumes, evolving admission policies, and the integration of new technologies.

Preparing for the upcoming college admissions season: Staying informed and strategically planning your application approach can help navigate these challenges effectively.

Reading Room: Personal Digital Safety and Security
The term digital native (ascribed to the author and educator Marc Prensky) describes a person who has grown up in the information age and is often applied to individuals born after 1980.
Digital natives are distinguished from digital immigrants, people who grew up in a world dominated by print and television because they were born before the advent of the internet.
For many of us, native and immigrant, a lot of our functional activity – how we communicate, transact, consume, work, and recreate – takes place online. So, it’s only prudent that we take steps to ensure our digital environment stays safe and secure.
Below we provide a checklist (courtesy of fpPathfinder) that helps you assess the degree to which you might be at risk of having your identity stolen or becoming a victim of fraud. Clicking on the checklist will allow you to download it.
And here are some official (non-commercial) resources for learning more about cybersecurity and what to do if you do fall victim to identity theft.
Cybersecurity Basics
Source: Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
Cybersecurity for Consumers
Source: Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Protecting Older Adults from Fraud & Financial Exploitation
Source: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
Keeping Children Safe Online
Source: Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA)
Reporting Identity Theft and Getting a Recovery Plan
Source: Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Practice Announcement
We welcome Greg Kania to Moore Financial Advisors as our summer intern for 2024.
Greg is currently a rising Junior at College of Wooster in Ohio and is studying Global and International Studies with a concentration in Economics. Greg also plans to complete a minor in French. He will study abroad in Geneva Switzerland in the fall, where he also plans to have an internship with an international Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).
At MFA, Greg is working on various projects that will help our practice operate more efficiently. Also, we will invite Greg to attend meetings during the summer to allow him to gain perspective on how we serve our clients.

Greg’s internship will conclude in mid August.
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Moore Financial Advisors
83 Leonard St, Suite 9
Belmont, MA 02478