The Impact of Student Loans on Your Own Retirement

Roddy MarinoRoddy Marino, CIMA, Executive Vice President
National Accounts & Distribution

An education is one of the greatest gifts a parent or grandparent can give to the next generation. The problem for many, however, is that it comes at the cost of their own retirement.

People over the age of 60 represent the fastest-growing segment of individuals taking out loans for education. Over the past decade, student loans taken out by individuals over the age of 60 grew from $6 billion in 2004 to $58 billion in 2014. To put the dollars into perspective, consider another staggering statistic—the numbers of senior citizens with student debt exceed 760,000. Some have co-signed loans or taken Parent PLUS loans to help children or grandchildren get an education. Other seniors carry old debt from when they returned to school to get advanced degrees or in the pursuit of new skills needed for a career change.

A mistake some retirees make is they incorrectly assume that they will never have to repay their student debt. Only two things can make federal college debt go away: satisfaction or death of the borrower.

shutterstock_44454148Federal student loans aren’t forgiven at retirement or any age after. Bankruptcy won’t even discharge a federal student loan, and the consequences to a senior who defaults on a federal loan are severe. The government can garnish Social Security benefits and other wages. Recent reports indicate over 150,000 retirees have at least one Social Security payment reduced to offset federal student loans. This number represents a drastic increase from the 31,000 impacted in the year 2002.

The government can withhold up to 15% of a borrower’s retirement benefits and can also withhold tax refunds in the event the borrower defaults on a college loan.

If repayment is not possible, you may want to explore a few options to minimize the impact on cash flow once you are on a fixed income. You could stretch out the term of the loan as long as possible through extended payments, or enter into an income-driven repayment plan. Typically, borrowers must pay 10-20% of discretionary income in an income-contingent scenario.

Both strategies could reduce your monthly payments; however, ultimately either strategy will result in higher total payments. To put it simply, debt of any kind is best retired before you retire.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

60% of the Time, It Works Every Time

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

“Bonds Show 60% Odds of Recession.”

It was a bold, slightly jarring headline to an article I happened across one recent morning. I had done a solid minute of skimming before I scrolled back to the top and noticed the published date—October 22, 2011.  If the models cited in the article had bet their chips on red, so to say, then the U.S. economy continued to hit black for some time.  Over the next four years, the domestic unemployment rate nearly halved while the S&P 500 returned a cumulative 84%.  Say what you want about much of that return being multiple expansion (84% total return on cumulative earnings per share growth of 16%)—it would’ve been a tough four years for investors to sit on the sidelines.

I’m writing this from an investment perspective rather than an academic one, but it is still a preoccupation for both fields to monitor to the economy.  Why?—because, as quantified by Evercore ISI, S&P 500 bear markets have been more severe (-30%) when they predate what actually morphs into an economic recession versus times when dire signs of economic stress do not ultimately turn up (-15%).

The world is once again on “recession watch” in 2016; signs of financial strain include the offshore weakening of China’s yuan, widening credit spreads, an apparent peak in blue chip earnings per share, and spiking European bank credit default swaps (CDSs).  One telling recession indicator, yield curve inversion, has seemingly not reared its head.  As measured through the difference between 10-year and 3-month Treasury yields, the spread today stands around 150 basis points, while it has fallen like clockwork to zero or below prior to each U.S. recession since 1956. (Recessions are indicated by the shaded grey areas below, as defined by the NBER.)

Source: The Federal Reserve, Brinker Capital

Source: The Federal Reserve, Brinker Capital

A number of commentators have raised concerns that the statistics above should not warrant an “all clear” sense of thinking there won’t be a recession.  In full awareness of the folly of claiming that “this time is different”—well, this time may be different.  Breaking down the term spread into its two components—the yield on a shorter-dated bill and longer-dated bond—the short rates have been artificially held down by a zero-bound federal funds rate for the past six years, while the feature of positive convexity that is inherently more pronounced for long rates means that it is, in theory, very tough to close the gap” on the remaining 150 basis point spread that would indicate an inverted yield curve mathematically.  (A convexity illustration is shown below—the takeaway is that the yield-price relationship becomes asymptotic at high prices, meaning that the 10-year note would need to be exorbitantly bid up to bring its yield down to equate with much shorter maturities.)

Source: Brinker Capital

Source: Brinker Capital

So, what are the odds of a recession?  If it’s not clear yet, I’m not writing this to assign a current probability but rather to warn against viewing such a figure in isolation.  Following the logic illustrated in papers such as this one, statistical programs make it possible to truly fine-tune a model: plug in any number of explanatory vectors (time series variables such as industrial production or unemployment claims) and “fit” the historical data to the response variable, which is essentially a switch that is “on” during a recession” and “off” when not.  But as calibrated as the model becomes, there is still subjectivity involved: what is the proper “trigger” for alarm?  Should your reaction to a 70% implied probability be different from your reaction to a 60% reading?  An important consideration is the objective behind such a model in the first place—to create a continuous distribution (infinite number) of outcomes and assign a probability to a discrete event (red or black, recession or no recession).  When framed this way, often it is the unquantifiable, intangible narratives and examination of what’s different this time (rather than what looks “the same”) that can create a fuller picture.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Investment Insights Podcast – August 5, 2015

miller_podcast_graphic Bill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded August 4, 2015), Bill breaks away from the traditional format to provide context around the headline of Puerto Rico defaulting on some of their bonds.

Highlights include:

  • Puerto Rico’s debt is larger than every other state in the U.S. except for California and New York
  • They did not make payment on a specific type/class of bond
  • General obligations/revenue bonds are indeed still being paid, just specific class of bonds are in default (smaller of the classes)
  • Puerto Rican government has formal restructure plan to be announced early September; more bonds may be impacted
  • Believes bond holders should carry some of the burden, not just the citizens of Puerto Rico

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change

Investment Insights Podcast – February 5, 2015

Raupp_Podcast_GraphicJeff Raupp, CFA, Senior Investment Manager

On this week’s podcast (recorded January 31, 2015):

What we like: Yields on investment-grade and high-yield corporate bonds have moved higher; credit is strong fundamentally; investors indiscriminately selling credit securities

What we don’t like: Impact of lower oil prices on energy companies; possible creation of defaults

What we’re doing about it: Keeping current weight to credit, but opportunities arising due to credit selling; monitoring falling oil prices

Click here to listen to the audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

The State of Municipal Bonds

 Amy Magnotta, Brinker Capital

In December 2010, analyst Meredith Whitney made a prediction of hundreds of billions of defaults in the municipal bond market. While we have experienced defaults, we have not yet seen anything close to the magnitude of that statement. Prior to that statement, in October of that same year, Brinker Capital released a paper that discussed our positive view on the municipal bond market due to technical factors and improving municipal credit. Because we invest in municipal bond managers with strong, deep credit research teams and a focus on high quality issues and structures, we encouraged our investors to remain invested in municipal bonds. Investors have been handsomely rewarded with close to 20% cumulative returns in municipal bonds since they bottomed in January 2011.

The financial health of municipalities is again hitting the headlines. Moody’s has warned of more problems for California cities after San Bernardino, Mammoth Lakes and Stockton have each sought bankruptcy protection. Scranton, Pennsylvania, which made the news after the mayor cut the pay of all city employees to minimum wage this July, is now seeking help from hedge funds in an effort to delay a bankruptcy. Even Puerto Rico municipal bonds, widely held by municipal bond strategies because of their attractive yields, are being seen as a greater credit risk.

We don’t believe the headlines are representative of the broader municipal bond market. There are more than 50,000 municipalities across the country, each with their individual issues. This makes municipal credit research in this environment extremely important, especially without the fallback of bond insurance. A positive corollary of these types of headlines is that it forces change. Many state and local governments have made the necessary changes to their budgets to set them on a sustainable path, but many still have more to go. Often, the largest owners of a municipality’s bonds are their own constituents – they need to maintain a good relationship with these investors in order to access financing in the future.

We feel the technical factors in the municipal bond market remain positive. Demand is very strong. While supply has been higher in recent years, most of it is refinancing, so net new supply remains at low levels. The budgets of state governments continue to improve while local governments remain under pressure. Rates are low, offering the opportunity for refinancing. The fights over pension and healthcare benefits for public workers will continue, but these issues do not present an immediate cash flow problem. However, this is a broad characterization of the municipal bond market. We will continue to invest with managers that have deep credit research teams and focus on high quality issues, seeking to avoid the problem issues as a result.

Municipal Market Update by Dan Genter, RNC Genter Capital Management

The city of Stockton, CA has decided that it will file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 9 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. This announcement is likely to be a national news item that may catch the eye of many investors.

This call to bankruptcy was anticipated considering that Stockton had already defaulted on its debt and, for the last 90 days, had been in a mandatory mediation period in an attempt to negotiate concessions in labor costs and benefits, which are currently almost 70% of the city’s general fund. We do not believe this headline will be considered unexpected or that it will have a negative impact on the municipal bond market.

We also do not consider that this is the start of an epidemic among municipal entities to use default or bankruptcy strategies. Though there may be more smaller entities that will use this option going forward, we view this as more of a politically expedient approach versus a viable solution, which will generally be adopted by municipalities under financial stress.

Frankly, it is hard to understand after the Vallejo, CA experience that a municipal entity nearby would even consider the bankruptcy route. Vallejo spent many months initially having the bankruptcy proceeding approved (it is not as automatic as with corporations), spent three years in bankruptcy proceedings, spent $10 million in legal fees, and almost a year, after emerging from bankruptcy, is still struggling to meet the mandates that were dictated by the bankruptcy court. Considering that their tainted reputation has now effectively barred them from the capital markets, and that the ultimate concessions that they received in bankruptcy mirrored what likely would have been accomplished through diligent negotiations, they clearly have not established an attractive road map for others to follow.

It does reaffirm, however, that smaller municipal entities continue to be under stress and that clients should be very cautious in stretching for yield.

An Update on Greece

With the recent headlines coming out of Greece this week, Brinker Capital’s Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist, Stuart Quint, shares a few quick points.

  • Greek elections on June 18 raise the risk of Greek default sooner rather than later, leading to some uncertainty. However, risks of Greece have been known for a while by the markets. The question is whether we see bank deposit runs out of other weaker European economies (Spain, Italy) and into stronger ones.
  • European Central Bank liquidity measures and hopeful, but inconsistent, fiscal progress in Ireland, Portugal, and Italy could cushion the downside and show commitment to keeping the Euro around in the near term.
  • Economic growth and European equities, primarily, are likely to take the pain until we get further clarity on the issues listed above. U.S. equities and other risk assets will also be affected in the near term due to concerns on slower global growth, although the U.S. is less affected by global growth than other markets.