Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Covered Call Writing

When reading articles on the topic of covered calls, talking to others and analyzing various options, be sure to really understand the pros and cons of your decision.  Below we discuss several of the most important topics.

Shorter Term or Longer Term?

Like most topics, there is often lively debate as to which is better: longer or shorter calls. We generally prefer writing options that have a shorter time to expiration; usually a year or less.  We do this for several reasons.

When you write covered calls further out in expiration, you lose control over your money.  It gives you much less flexibility if something in the marketplace or the company changes.  What if volatility changes, the stock market crashes, the company does great or terrible?  If any of these scenarios occur, you are “locked” in to that expiration date.

Additionally, the benefit of receiving more income by going further in expiration decreases exponentially. When you sell an option, you want the price of that option to decline.  Because time decay happens more quickly closer to expiration, we prefer to sell shorter term calls to take advantage of this.

Here is a chart and link that explains the issues with using longer-term options.

Take a look at this article, which goes on to further explain that for each option a “sweet-spot” exists with the optimal time to expiration/option price. We agree!

What is the Best Strike Price to Go After?

Answering this question is more of an art than the previous question.  A very generic answer depends on how much income you want from the covered call and at what price are you comfortable “selling” the stock if the stock did go above your strike price.  The more complex answer may start to sound Greek to many investors.  That is because options have various metrics which they are measured by: Delta, Vega, Gamma, Theta, and Rho.  All of these are important for different types of options. Some of our clients receive ongoing solicitations from other advisors who do not understand these concepts. We do! This knowledge and experience is why it is great to have WFG as your advisor! We analyze all that for you before we make a suggestion.


The last issue is timing.  Think back to the day you met your significant other.  How amazing was that timing? We all know, timing is everything. Though it is nearly impossible to predict accurately, the best time to write options is when volatility is higher relative to its average.  Option prices are directly related to the volatility.

For example, this Bloomberg graph shows the historical volatility for CHRW (C.H.Robinson) over the previous year (this graph is for illustrative purposes only).

The yellow line is the volatility over 30 days and the white line is over 10 days.  This type of graph helps to determine the best time to write covered calls, regardless of expiration or strike price.


Although writing covered calls are an easy exercise to execute, it still requires a lot of attention to detail. Make sure you are analyzing these variables when you write calls.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Emerging Market Opportunities

In our continuous search to improve upon our emerging markets success in the beginning of 2014, we would like you to consider another demonstration of country-wide performance, the 2014 World Cup.  The World Cup occurs every four years, and showcases the most talented soccer players from around the world.  For the preliminary round, countries are split into eight groups, each consisting of four teams.  We have taken these same groups, and used them to display financial, rather than physical, performance metrics.  Each group has been sorted by year-to-date return.

Group A-D
To demonstrate present and projected valuation, the current and forward price-to-earnings ratios are also listed.  As a reminder, price-to-earnings ratio is defined as current price divided by trailing 12-month earnings per share.  Greece, for example, would be the only country in this list with negative earnings, given their negative P/E ratio (-3.3). Italy’s P/E ratio is so alarmingly high (287.1) because the country has just recently generated positive, albeit still very low, earnings.
Group E-H
Forward P/E is the ratio of a country’s current price over its projected earnings for the next four quarters.  The best way to use this information is to compare the forward P/E ratio with the current P/E ratio, keeping in mind that lower is better.  Since the bulk* of these countries have forward P/E ratios that are lower than their current P/E ratio, a vast majority would be expected to see increased country-wide earnings over the next year.

As we have recently mentioned, we currently see a much greater opportunity in emerging markets as opposed to developed markets.  Developed markets, for the most part, performed very well in 2013 while emerging markets lagged far behind.  Based on historical evidence, we feel that this performance gap will continue to shrink throughout the rest of the year.  Each emerging market carries with it a different set of economic circumstances, however, which is why we are continuously focusing on selecting emerging market countries for our Alternative (ALT) strategy that we feel are most poised for future off-field success.

*Excluding Belgium, Argentina, Russia, and the special circumstance of Greece.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Summertime is a good time to refresh gift planning ideas

Charitable Trusts

As interest rates change, certain types of trust gift planning change.
Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts: These trusts pay an annuity to the donor or another person for a set term, with the remainder going to a charity.  The donor gets an up-front deduction for the value of the charities remainder interest, which is larger when a higher interest rate is used.
Charitable Lead Annuity Trusts:  These trusts pay an annuity to a charity for a set term, with the remainder passing to the donor or someone such as a family member.  The donor gets to claim an up-front deduction for the present value of the charities annuity interest, which decreases as interest rates rise. Grantor-retained annuity trusts, where the person who sets up the trust gets an annuity for a set term are also hurt by higher rates.  Any balance left after the term expires goes to whoever the grantor originally named. Higher rates boost the potential gift tax bill.

Other Gifting Strategies

Do not waste the annual gift tax exclusion of $14,000: 
You can give up to $14,000 each to a child, grandchild or other person free of gift tax and it does not count against your “life-time” exemption.  If you’re married, your spouse also can give $14,000, doubling the tax free amount.
The 2014 “life-time” estate and gift tax exemption is $5,340,000.  You will not owe any gift tax on gifts over $14,000 as long as you do not use up your $5.34M exemption.
Pay a Donee’s tuition or medical costs directly:
The payments made directly to the educational institution or medical facility do not count against the $14,000 annual gift tax exclusion.
Give Appreciated Assets When Donating to Charity:
The appreciation escapes capital gains tax and you get to deduct the full value if you’ve owned the asset for over a year.
Keep Receipts and Records for Personal Property Donations:
Donations of gently used household items, clothing, furniture, etc. can add up to a substantial sum.  Keep a list of the items donated and note the condition of the item (e.g. excellent, good, fair).   An acceptable value for most items donated is 15% to 25% (or more) of the original cost.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tom's Tax Tips: Vacation Property

Renting the Vacation Property:

If you rent your vacation home for less than 15 days a year, the rental income is tax-free and you can deduct interest and property tax payments (and casualty losses) on the house, but not the rental expenses, for the entire year.

You do not deduct the following:
  • Personal use days
  • Any days that you stayed at the rental property to perform routine repairs and maintenance including:
    • repairing the bathroom toilet
    • shampooing carpets, floor cleaning
    • painting, caulking
    • shopping for furniture or supplies 
    • d├ęcor changes
  • Meetings with property managers 
  • Meetings with association boards

Maintenance days are not counted as personal days, even if your friends or relatives joined you for recreational purposes. These type of days should not be considered personal days and should be documented on a calendar or written document including receipts.

If you rent your vacation home out for 15 days or more during the year, and personal use does not exceed the larger of 14 days or 10% of the rental days, you must include the rent in income.  You get to deduct 100% of any property management fees in addition to rental expenses and it gets complicated because you need to allocate rental expenses between the days the property is rented and those used for personal purposes.  If personal use is 30 days and rental use is 120 days, 80% (120 divided by 150) of your mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance premiums, utilities and other rental expenses.  You can claim depreciation of 80% of the value of the house (no depreciation on the land part of the purchase).

If you limit your personal use to 14 days or 10% of the rental days, the vacation home is considered a business and up to $25,000 in losses may be deductible in each year.  I say losses “may” be deductible because real estate losses are considered “passive losses” by the federal tax law.  Passive losses can be used to offset taxable profit when you ultimately sell the vacation property.

Selling the Vacation Property:
Although the rule that allows home owners to take up to $500,000 of profit tax-free applies only to your principal residence, there is a way to extend the break to your second home: make it your principal residence before you sell. That's not as crazy as it might sound, nor is it as lucrative as it used to be.

Historically, retirees were selling the family home and moving full time into what had been their vacation home. Before 2009, this had a very special tax appeal. Once you live in that home for two years, up to $500,000 of profit could be tax free — including appreciation in value during the years it was your second home. Any profit attributable to depreciation while you rented the place, though, would be taxable. Depreciation reduces your tax basis in the property and therefore increases profit dollar for dollar.

In 2008 Congress cracked down on this break for taxpayers who convert a second home to a principal residence. Now a portion of the gain on a subsequent sale of the home is ineligible for the home-sale exclusion of up to $500,000, even if the seller meets the two-year ownership and use tests. The portion of the profit that's subject to tax is based on the ratio of the time after 2008 when the house was a second home or a rental unit to the total time you owned it.

This can still be a great deal if you've owned your second home for many years before the law changed. Let's say you have owned a vacation home for 18 years and make it your main residence in 2014. Two years later, you sell the place. Since the six years after 2008 the place was your second home (2009 and 2010) is 30% of the 20 years you owned the home, only 30% of the gain is taxed. The rest qualifies for the exclusion of up to $500,000.

Tom's Tax Tips: Stretch IRAs

What is a Stretch IRA?

A stretch IRA refers to an individual retirement account that is inherited by a beneficiary who is eligible to take the required minimum distributions from the account over the beneficiary's own life expectancy. This includes any type of individual beneficiary such as children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, even friends, but not charitable beneficiaries since they do not have a life expectancy. It also does not apply to surviving spouses, who can simply elect to take an IRA inherited from a deceased spouse and roll it over into their own IRA.

Benefits of a Stretch IRA

The advantage of stretch IRAs from an estate planning perspective is that if a grandparent leaves the IRA to a grandchild or grandchildren, then the IRA can continue to grow tax-free for the benefit of the grandchildren since the grandchild's life expectancy will require the grandchild to withdraw relatively small required minimum distributions over many years leaving the principal and much of the tax-free growth inside the IRA.

Tom's Tax Tips: Alternative Minimum Tax

How does the Alternative Minimum Tax Work?

The Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) is a separate, independent tax calculation completed on a separate tax form (#6251).  AMT uses its own set of rates and its own rules for deductions which are generally less generous than the regular tax rules. Because of these separate, complicated rules, the only way to determine if you owe the AMT tax is by filling out the forms (essentially doing the tax calculation a second time).  Thank goodness for professional tax software made available to everyone at an economical cost (and of course qualified professionals who complete your tax return for a fee).

If your gross income is above $75,000 and you have write-offs for personal exemptions, taxes and home-equity loan interest you most likely fall into an AMT tax category.   Ditto if you exercised incentive stock options during the year, or if you own a business, rental properties, partnership interests or S corporation stock. If you earn more than $100,000, AMT calculations are pretty much required.

Alternative Minimum Taxable Income

AMT rules require adding back some tax deductions and income exclusions to your regular taxable income to arrive at your alternative minimum taxable income. Here is where the most everyone making over $75,000 gets hit!

First, add back the personal and dependent-exemption deductions ($3,900 each in 2013).   Then, if you do not itemize, the standard deduction is added back ($12,200 for joint filers in 2013; $6,100 for singles in 2013).  The state, local and foreign income and property tax write-offs, as well as your home equity loan interest, if the loan proceeds are not used for home improvements also get added back.

The AMT also ignores some itemized deductions, such as investment expenses and employee business expenses, and some medical and dental expenses. AMT rules add the interest from some private-tax-exempt activity bonds to income. Finally, AMT rules force you to pay taxes on the “spread” between the market price and the exercise price of incentive stock options granted by your employer. For example, if you exercised an option to buy 1,000 shares of stock for $3 a share and the stock was trading at $15, the spread would be $12 a share, or $12,000. Under the regular rules, you wouldn't pay current taxes on this amount, but under the AMT, it’s considered income.

Alternative Minimum Tax Benefits

AMT rules allow a couple of small benefits you do not receive under the regular tax rules. For example, while you can’t deduct state, local and foreign taxes under AMT rules, you can exclude the refunds, which are considered income under the regular tax rules. And because you’re taxed on the spread on your incentive stock options, your tax basis for the option shares you bought is higher under AMT rules, meaning your future AMT tax bill will be lower when you sell those optioned shares.  This stock basis adjustment, of course, requires good record keeping.

The AMT form has quite a few other rules that are pluses and minuses related to rental properties, partnerships, and other business entities. My intention is to give you a glimpse of the complicated rules so I will limit the rules explanation to the above paragraphs.

Exemption Parameters

Lastly, the AMT exemption is deducted from the recalculated AMT taxable income -- $80,800 for 2013 joint filers; $51,900 for unmarried persons; $40,400 for those who use married filing separate status. However, this exemption is reduced by 25 cents for each dollar of AMT taxable income above the applicable annual threshold. For 2013, the thresholds are $153,900 for married joint-filing couples, $115,400 for singles, and $76,950 for folks who use married filing separate status.  After the exemption (if any) has been deducted, the result is subject to the AMT rates:

  1. 26% on the first $179,500 for 2013 or $89,750 for if you are married and file separately from your spouse and
  2. 28% on the excess. If the AMT exceeds your regular tax, you have to pay the greater amount. 

Technically, the AMT is shown on your federal income tax return as just the liability over and above the regular tax, and this figure is entered on page 2 of Form 1040.

ALERT:  There may be a recovery of some of the AMT paid.  It’s possible to be eligible for the so-called minimum tax credit, which allows taxpayers to claim a credit on their tax return in future years for some or all of the extra AMT tax you paid.  Another tax form, 8801, is necessary to determine if you are eligible. For whatever reason, the tax rules say that exercising incentive stock options is one of the few things that qualify you for the AMT credit, so if that’s the reason or one of the reasons you paid an AMT tax, make sure this credit calculation form is included in your tax return.

Monday, February 03, 2014

2014 Market Slide - Humbles Aggressive Investors

Just as many people thought it was looking easy and were clamoring for more risk and equity exposure; it seems the market, once again, continues to remind investors it is never as it seems.  Today alone, the S&P 500 fell -2.28%.   The S&P 500 is down approximately -5.66% Year-To-Date, as of February 3rd 2014! 

As we recently published in our emails and The View Forward bulletins, the rocky start that we had predicted for 2014 has come to fruition for the stock market.  We still feel it is a prudent decision on your part, not to get too aggressive with stocks.  As a reminder, at Wade Financial Group, we emphasize diversification along with our Con-Val® approach.  We feel this approach should help guide you through these turbulent markets.  

As an update, last week we performed the annual rebalance of our Lifestyle Income Bond and Foundation portfolios. 
This week, we will be rebalancing our Paid In Advance® and Paid To Wait® model portfolios.

Give us a call if you have any questions.