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Visualizing the Hierarchy of Financial Needs

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Hierarchy of financial needs

This Markets in a Minute Chart is available as a poster.

Visualizing the Hierarchy of Financial Needs

Behavioral scientist Abraham Maslow wrote “A Theory of Human Motivation” in 1943, arguing that humans worldwide are influenced by a “hierarchy of needs”.

This theory organizes human needs across five levels, where needs in the lower end must be satisfied before progressing onto the next level. At one end are physiological needs such as sleep and shelter, while at the other end are esteem and self-actualization.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments explores how Maslow’s theory applies to our financial needs, pinning down the steps to creating a strong financial foundation.

The Essentials

What are the five levels in the hierarchy of financial needs?

  1. Cash flow and basic needs:
    Covering food, housing and daily expenses. Ensuring the fundamentals, including our physiological needs, are covered financially.
  2. Financial safety:
    This covers insurance and an emergency fund to help prepare for unforeseen events and risks. As a safety cushion, an emergency fund should cover three months of living expenses in case of an accident, an unexpected health or family issue, or losing a job.
  3. Accumulating wealth:
    This includes growing investments, paying down debt, and saving for retirement. At this level, the focus shifts to growing assets for long-term success and longevity.
  4. Financial freedom:
    Long-term care and children’s education are found within this category, along with retirement savings and vacations. These financial needs are linked with esteem needs, such as self-respect and personal accomplishment.
  5. Legacy:
    Estate planning, tax planning, and business succession planning all fall within this category, connecting with self-actualization in Maslow’s pyramid.

Naturally, financial needs can shift based on a given situation. But as a general rule of thumb, moving along this path can help create an enduring roadmap for financial heath.

Financial Needs Under the Microscope

While it’s easy enough to describe the theory in concept, how does the hierarchy of financial needs impact our day-to-day lives in practice?

To start, as individuals live longer, many are concerned with having enough savings for retirement—across all income levels. For Americans in the lower income bracket, 50% worry about their retirement savings, while 26% worry in upper income levels.

Worry about each of the following oftenLower IncomeMiddle IncomeUpper Income
Being able to save enough for retirement50%37%26%
Paying their bills59%35%15%
The amount of debt they have51%35%21%
The cost of health care for them and their family47%35%18%
Take a pay cut due to reduced hours or demand for their work51%25%18%
Losing their job40%21%11%

Source: Pew Research Center, survey of U.S. adults conducted April 7-12, 2020

Debt is also a primary concern among many Americans, as the cost of both healthcare and education have continued to rise. Average annual college costs, for example, have risen 25% over the last decade, while U.S. household debt has roughly doubled to $14 trillion since 2004.

It’s only once these above needs are taken care of that individuals can focus on the top of the financial needs hierarchy, taking care of legacy-focused items such as estate and tax planning, or business succession planning.

The Importance of Wealth Management

To navigate the hierarchy of financial needs, the importance of having a robust financial plan comes into focus.

Especially during times of uncertainty, individuals need a framework that accounts for changing life circumstances, such as a new job or purchasing a house. And when individuals move up each rung of the financial needs pyramid, they must also recognize how their tactics might need to change to best pursue their financial goals.

Cultivating a stronger awareness of financial needs can help individuals make more informed choices, on both a micro and macro level—from day-to-day purchases to long-term investment decisions.

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Markets in a Minute

Should a U.S. Election Affect Your Asset Mix?

Election jitters prompt investors to put their money in low-risk assets. We analyze why this may not be the best idea for your portfolio’s asset mix.

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Should an Election Affect Your Asset Mix?

U.S. elections are a powerful force in investor psychology.

In fact, historically, investors pour more money into low-risk assets than equity investments surrounding election season. Following election years, investors reverse course and put their money back into equities.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows how investors have reacted to U.S. presidential elections over time, and why maintaining your long-term asset mix may be a better course of action.

Market Behavior During U.S. Elections

While investors allocated funds into safe assets in election years, what happened to the market?

 Average S&P 500 Returns in Presidential Election Years (1928-2016)
New president is elected9.3%
Incumbent president win13.4%
All election years11.3%

Source: Morningstar (Dec, 2019)

On average, the market has returned 11.3% in election years over the last century.

Markets also appear to prefer familiarity—when the incumbent president won, the S&P 500 averaged higher returns. Alongside this, it made no difference if a Democrat or Republican candidate won.

Implications for the 2020 Election

Still, with mail-in voting controversy and the anticipation of a results dispute, the 2020 presidential run has stoked greater volatility in financial markets. What reference point can we make to previously contested results?

Following the 2000 results between Al Gore and George Bush, investor fear ran rampant. Markets fell 1.6% when no winner was clearly determined. Compare this to the 2016 presidential run, when markets jumped 1% the day after the election.

But while short-term impacts of U.S. elections cause heightened uncertainty, it’s important to analyze if it’s an emotional or rational decision being made in response to market unrest.

Opportunity Costs

While investors typically run to safe-haven assets during these cycles, the table below illustrates how this may be less optimal for their portfolios.

 U.S. Treasury Bill (T-Bill) Rates
8 Week T-bill0.09%
26 Week T-bill0.11%
52 Week T-bill0.13%

Source: U.S. Treasury (Dec, 2020)

Instead of paying attention to unknown variables inherent in every market, investors can focus on what the numbers are saying.

Building a Resilient Portfolio

So how can investors stay the course during election season?

Broad historical trends show that in spite of unique events, money in the stock market positively increases over time. Staying invested in your long-term asset mix can help capture these overarching trends.

One-off events such as an election provide an opportunity to take advantage of temporarily lower prices. This, coupled with the higher volatility levels that accompany election cycles, offer an avenue for your portfolio to be more resilient as it helps strengthen portfolio returns.

The diminishing returns of cash compound this effect. Over the last decade, cash returned close to 0%. These return rates could fall even lower in the years ahead as interest rates decline.

In short, it’s impossible to predict the future. Instead, equities and other fixed income investments have offered a number of advantages. Macroeconomic factors, such as falling interest rates and the supply of capital, have only highlighted this trend.

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Markets in a Minute

U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

How have U.S. elections historically impacted market volatility? With elections nearing, we look at over 90 years of market data.

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U.S. Elections: Charting Patterns in Market Volatility

Do elections influence market volatility?

Over 90 years of data shows that volatility jumps 30% in the five months leading up to an election. But while elections have historically stoked uncertainty in the market, in reality, the scale of their impact plays a relatively minor role.

This Markets in a Minute chart from New York Life Investments shows volatility trends surrounding elections over the last century, and how investors can best position themselves amid market turbulence.

Making Sense of Market Volatility

Volatility is when a security has sharp price movements in either direction. The market’s volatility is measured by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), also known as the ‘fear gauge’ for the market. The higher the VIX reading, the higher the volatility.

The five-year average VIX value is 15.8, with an an all-time low of 9.1 in November 2017, and reaching an all-time high of 82.7 in March 2020. Specifically, in the five months ahead of U.S. elections, the VIX tends to fall between 14 and 18.

MonthAverage Monthly VIX During U.S. Election Years Since 1928
July14.2
August15.0
September16.0
October17.4
November18.0
December14.7

Source: Eureka Report

After the dust settles from elections, market volatility reduces as investors gain more clarity on government direction.

In short, in the six months following an election, volatility tends to fall on a downward sloping trajectory.

Finding Opportunity Surrounding U.S. Elections

With volatility here to stay, investors can utilize a number of portfolio strategies prior to elections.

  1. Stay the course: The easiest thing investors can do is nothing. Ignoring irrational market activity and staying invested will help you keep your investment goals on track.
  2. Focus on value: Investors can focus on companies with sound balance sheets that return value back to shareholders, such as fixed-income investments or dividend-paying stocks. For instance, when concerns circled around increased taxes on investment income in 2012, no less than 1,100 companies issued a special dividend following the election.
  3. Bargain hunt: Overvalued stocks, or sectors in the policy spotlight, can temporarily dip amid market fear. For example, in 2016 the health care sector saw new policies that investors feared would have damaging effects. Ultimately, these concerns were overdone, and the sector rallied after the election.

Focusing on solid company fundamentals can offer windows of opportunity to investors who look past the short-term volatility.

Long-Term Areas to Focus On

Investors can look to structural factors, such as the economic environment, that have a more powerful impact on financial markets.

Interest rates, low bond yields and policy measures, among others, have a greater influence on market performance. Rather than paying attention to short-term volatility, investors can also focus on policy changes that have a lasting impact on the economy:

  1. Employment: Economic policies that help to promote workforce outcomes will have positive impacts on earnings growth, market performance, and investor portfolios.
  2. Taxes: Tax policies reallocate capital. Corporate tax cuts, for instance, can buoy markets and investor optimism.
  3. COVID-19 containment: The policies in place in response to COVID-19, such as the CARES Act, will have a marked impact on investor sentiment, company earnings, and ultimately economic resilience.

Looking past the election, and keeping an eye on policy shifts, could provide more insight into key forces shaping the future of the economy.

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