Perspective on Inflation, Recession, Stagflation, Deflation

To date, we’ve all seen price increases (inflation) and also shrinkflation (smaller content of a product for the same price) but so far no hyperinflation. As consumers and investors, we participate in this process but seldom acknowledge the interplay. For example, when we decide to spend freely at this point in the economic cycle, we are contributing to inflation but not spending at all can contribute towards deflation.

To me, recessions are a natural cleansing mechanism for the economy. Over the course of economic expansions, companies become flush with excess. Meaning that their processes loosen, they hire too many people, they accumulate too much inventory. Recessions are a business cycle’s ‘diet plan’ for companies that need to shed excess but do so reluctantly – with negative growth. Recessions are never fun (the pain will certainly be felt more by those without adequate resources or with less certain employment), but historically they tend to be short-term interruptions between economic expansions. It is accepted that the greater long-term risk to the economy is not recession, but stagflation (slow growth, increased unemployment, and inflation) or even deflation (drop in demand for goods).

Despite headlines to the contrary the ‘tightening’ of monetary policy by the Federal Reserve is essential to economic recovery, which means raising interest rates have to be tolerated to slow down inflation and hopefully without dramatic increase in unemployment.  With that, it is “quite likely” that the unemployment rate will rise “a fair bit” from  where it is now, at 3.6%. If it rises more than a ‘fair bit,’ we could see a period of stagflation.

You’ll likely see headlines through the next months about the last time the US experienced stagflation. Briefly, in the 1970s the onset of stagflation was blamed on the US Federal Reserve’s unsustainable economic policy during the boom years of the late ‘50s and ‘60s. At the time, the Fed moved to keep unemployment low and to boost overall business demand. However, the unnaturally low unemployment during the decade triggered something called a wage-price spiral and hyperinflation. The impact of inflation on our economy will depend on the differential between the inflation rate and wage growth. This is what the Fed is trying to control as it maneuvers for a ‘soft landing’. The higher the unemployment, the greater potential for stagflation.

Stagflation may happen if a recession sets in before inflation has gone down low enough. For example, if unemployment were to go up to about 5% and consumer price index inflation was also above 5%, then that would be a kind of stagflation, though nothing like the degree experienced in the ‘70s. In the near term, we expect the labor market will more likely just cool, resulting in fewer vacancies rather than unemployment. It is likely that we will enter a recession this year and/or in 2023 but hopefully not stagflation. Much depends on how the economy and businesses react to Fed rate hikes.

Before focusing on the unknown future, we should remind ourselves that in the last 20 years, we’ve seen declining interest rates and low inflation, which in turn caused a seemingly never-ending increase in housing prices. This put extra money into our pockets and drove prices of all assets up, which in turn boosted consumer confidence, as people felt wealthier and were encouraged to spend. In addition, during the last 20-plus years every time the economy stumbled, the Fed worked to bail it out – by lowering interest rates, injecting the market with liquidity. This caused the economy and equity market to recover quickly and without much pain. The pain we were spared was stored, metaphorically speaking, in a pain jar (represented in part as increased debt, income discrepancies) awaiting the next crisis. Today, to prevent inflation turning into hyperinflation, the Fed has no choice but to raise interest rates. We expect that this process will take time and likely be cyclical since the Fed only controls a couple of components. Consumers, by their purchases, will play a role in which companies survive this market cycle. The larger goal is for the business cycle to trim inefficient businesses while avoiding hyperinflation, stagflation, and deflation.

Though price drops are considered a good thing—at least when it comes to your favorite shopping destinations – price drops across the entire economy, however, is called deflation, and that’s a whole other ballgame. Large scale deflation can be really bad news.

While inflation means your dollar doesn’t stretch as far, it also reduces the value of debt, so borrowers keep borrowing and debtors keep paying their bills and the economy continues to grow. Modest inflation is a normal part of the economic cycle—the economy typically experiences inflation of 1% to 3% per year—and a small amount is generally viewed as a sign of healthy economic growth. You might have heard that 2% is the Fed’s target inflation rate.

Inflation is also something consumers with assets/resources can protect themselves against, to some extent. Investing in equity markets, for instance, grows your earnings faster than inflation, helping you retain and grow your purchasing power. Protecting yourself against deflation is trickier because debt becomes more expensive, leading people and businesses to avoid new debt. They instead payoff increasingly pricey variable rate debts from prior purchases and avoid new purchases, decreasing growth.

During periods of deflation, the best place for people to hold money is generally in cash investments, which don’t earn much. Other types of investments, like stocks, corporate bonds, and real estate investments, become riskier when there’s deflation because businesses (even businesses with good market performance but with high debt) can face very difficult times or fail entirely.

Overall, in the USA we’ve primarily experienced inflation, not deflation.

As consumers and investors, we don’t control these market components, so what might we do? We focus on what we can control and work to feed the economy while trimming our excess spending.

This is actually a really good time to revisit your financial fundamentals. Do you still have a reasonable emergency fund? Are you spending consciously and aligned with your values and budget? This is certainly a time to re-examine any adjustable-rate debt and determine how to best lock them in. It is also a great time to examine your career and ensure you are professionally valued and not likely in any potential layoff pool. Most importantly, this is a time to get comfortable with what you value and control.

Do not let fear derail what you do. Instead prepare your finances to take advantage of whatever situation presents itself.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Gamification of Trading

The suicide of a 20-year-old experimenting with trading on the Robinhood platform
has many calling for new regulations on trading. I think new regulations on the “Robo”
interfaces are required but not on trading. Robo platforms, like Robinhood, provide a
software interface that makes trading more like a game.

Brokerage firms have been on a serious race to engage directly with the young and the
inexperienced. Robinhood, E-Trade, TD Ameritrade, Charles Schwab, Interactive
Brokers, Fidelity, Merrill Lynch, and many others have all embraced commission-free
and zero-minimum balance trading on platforms that focus only on the upside
of trading.
These platforms are more reminiscent of an animated game than a
serious financial transaction. Even those who have managed to make a little money on
day trading often fail to understand that there are tax consequences. They usually
reach out for assistance when they receive from these brokerage firms an unexpected
1099 with a large tax liability.

It is clear that what we need is more clarity on what is a game and what has real life
consequences.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

The American Rescue Plan of 2021: Highlights

The details of the American Rescue Plan 2021 are still being processed BUT we know
that it doesn’t include RMD relief for 2021 nor increased minimum wage. It does
provide both 2020 and 2021 tax filing items. Below, I’ve outlined those that I found
most significant so far.

  1. “Stimulus Checks” For individuals: $1,400 per eligible individual for
    all dependents with stricter phaseout that start at $75K for individuals and at
    $150K for those married filing jointly (MFJ). File early if your 2019 tax filing
    does not qualify you for this stimulus.
  2. Expansion of Child Tax Credit: It provides an increased amount of child
    tax credit for those under $150K (MFJ) AND an increase to $400K (MFJ) in
    earnings for the base credits. In 2021 there should be an opportunity to
    receive more child tax credits for up to $400K.
  3. Extension of Unemployment Compensation: An additional weekly
    $300 Unemployment benefit was added, and coverage was extended until
    September 6th, 2021.
  4. 2020 Tax-free Unemployment Insurance income: For those receiving
    Unemployment Insurance in 2020, up to $10,200 of those earnings will be
    tax-free.
  5. Increased Premium Credit Assistance: Healthcare premium assistance
    extended from 2020 through 2021 with higher earnings.
  6. Tax Credit for Employers to cover COBRA for 3 months: Any
    employee involuntarily laid off will have free full COBRA coverage for 3
    months by the employer who will receive credits for paying their COBRA.
  7. Tax-free student loan forgiveness for the future – if a student loan is
    forgiven by 2025, it will be tax-free.

It will take time to distill what will be relevant for 2021 taxes particularly since we are
all still trying to understand and work through CARES 2020 tax rules and implications
for 2020. For now, it makes sense to slow down the 2020 tax filing and
ensure that your CPA is aware of all of the CARES 2020 and TARP 2021
rules before filing – luckily, we all now have until May 17th.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Your Portfolio Allocation and Emotional Reactions: The Coronavirus and Portfolio Discipline

Here we go again – we’ve been down a similar road before, so none of this is news to those who have been with us through prior overreactions by market participants.

Volatility is part and parcel of participating in the market. When fear grips the market, selloffs by those who react to that fear provide portfolio opportunities for those who understand and adhere to a strategy. It is AIKAPA’s strategy to maintain your risk allocation and either ride out the volatile times or rebalance into them. Meaning that if you don’t need cash in the short-term, we buy when everyone else is selling.

As news of the Coronavirus (or other events outside of our control) stokes fear and uncertainty on a variety of fronts, it is only natural to wonder if we should make adjustments to your portfolio. If you are reacting to fear, then the answer is a resounding NO. On the other hand, if you are applying our strategy in combination with an understanding of the impact on business, then the answer is likely YES. When an adjustment is indicated we look for value and BUY while selling positions that are relatively over-valued. If the market continues to respond fearfully (without a change in value) then we will likely continue to buy equities and may sell bonds to fund those purchases. The only caveats to this strategy are that we must know that you don’t have short-term cash flow needs, that we stay within your risk tolerance, and that we are buying based on current value (keep in mind that value is based on facts not fear).

If you feel compelled to do something, then consider the following:

  1. Contact your mortgage broker and see if it makes sense to refinance (likely rates will drop soon after a significant market decline).
  2. Seriously examine the impact this has on your life today and let’s talk about changing your allocation once markets recover.
  3. Review the money you’ve set aside for emergencies and prepare for potential disruptions if these are likely.
  4. Business owners should consider the impact (if any) on their business, vendors and employees. Particularly important will be to maintain communication with all stake holders and retain a good cash flow to sustain the business if there is a possibility of disruptions.
  5. Regarding your portfolio, if you have cash/savings that you want to invest, this is a good time to transfer it to your account and have us buy into the market decline.

Market changes are a normal part of investing. Risk and return are linked. To earn the higher returns offered by investing in stocks, it is necessary to accept investment risk, which manifests itself through stock price volatility. Large downturns are a common feature of the stock market. Despite these downturns the stock market does tend to trend upwards over the long-term, driven by economics, inflation, and corporate profit growth. To earn the attractive long-term returns offered by stock market investing, one must stay invested for the long-term and resist the urge to jump in and out of the market. It has been proven many times that we can’t time stock market behavior consistently and must instead maintain portfolio discipline (if you want a historical overview of markets, see the “Market Uncertainty and You” video on our website www.aikapa.com/education.htm).

It is your long-term goals and risk tolerance that provide us with our guide to rebalancing and adjusting your portfolio, not short-term political, economic or market emotional reactions. In your globally diversified portfolio, we will take every opportunity to rebalance and capture value during portfolio gyrations. This IS the benefit of diversification and working with AIKAPA.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Tax Planning: Year-End Items to Consider

Tax planning consists of ensuring that tax liability is appropriate (given the tax code, family finances, and family goals) and that required actions are completed by the deadlines. At year-end, we identify relevant actions and relevant timeline.

Current Year actions …

  1. Estimate total earnings and total tax withholdings along with any tax-deferral that has or will be made for the current year. Use these and your deductions to estimate Federal and State tax liability.
  2. Ensure that expected tax liability has been paid either through payroll or through estimated tax payments. It is always best to pay taxes through payroll.
  3. For the self-employed, estimating taxes and ensuring that enough but not too much tax is paid throughout the year is part of tax planning. This is particularly important for businesses that have no payroll and pay their income tax and self-employment tax (i.e. Medicare and Social Security) simultaneously. Without tax planning, it is common for these businesses to underpay their Federal tax liability.
  4. Again, estimating profit from business entities (S Corp, C Corp, LLC, or sole proprietorship) allows business owners to adjust cash flow and meet tax deadlines. Business owners often create or contribute to various tax-deferral plans. The largest pre-tax contributions are for plans that have to be created prior to year-end.
  5. Any deductible contributions to H.S.A., Traditional IRAs or other accounts need to be made by their specific deadlines. These contributions might lower taxable income today (Traditional IRA, pension and 401K) or be tax free in the future (Roth) or both tax free now and in the future (H.S.A.).
  6. Year-end provides an opportunity to harvest investment accounts and therefore reduce or increase capital gain. Capital gain can be countered against capital losses to provide a net gain or loss which will either increase or decrease tax liability for any given year. We can reduce tax liability by adjusting what we buy/sell (i.e. the lot) at year-end depending on the overall tax burden. Keep in mind that tax rates differ based on taxable income. The federal tax rate for gain can be from zero to 23.8%.
  7. Estimating overall tax liability prior to year-end allows families to adjust deductions and employers to make needed capital purchases before year-end.

Actions based on next year’s rules …

Since we don’t yet know the tax rules that will apply in 2018, it will be especially difficult to fulfill the second part the year-end tax planning (where we either act or defer actions this year based on comparing the tax code in both the current and coming years).
Based on the two tax proposals (House and Senate versions) we consider acting prior to year-end if there is a high probability that a tax advantage will be lost in the new year and it plays a significant role in the person’s finances.

Though neither proposal appears to “simplify” taxes, both bills make significant changes to current tax rules and may, in fact, make it ideal to take some actions before the end of 2017 (taking advantage of current rules), while delaying those that benefit from the rules in the new year.

It will now be the job of the legislative committee to reconcile the differences without inserting any new provisions which will then need to go to the House and Senate for final approval. It is still too early to take action according to one or the other proposal but exploring the impact in light of individual tax circumstances makes sense.

  1. It may be worth considering accelerating itemized deductions into 2017 that are targeted for elimination. For example State income tax is scheduled to disappear in both proposals. Nevertheless, consideration must be given to unique situations, particularly regarding AMT (Alternative Minimum Tax).
  2. Consider recognizing tax losses prior to year-end (which is a normal annual year-end tax action) but the ability to select tax lots may disappear in 2018. The new rules may require that sales “first-in-first-out” (FIFO) which results in higher tax liability as it recognize higher gains on the sale of a security. We are hoping FIFO will not survive the reconciliation process but if it does we’ll have to act quickly before Dec 31.
  3. If you are planning to transfer very large assets between family members you would be well advised to wait until 2018 when there is an increased tax exemption. This doesn’t change the annual gifting which is currently at $14K in 2017 (and will be $15K in 2018).

Though we all want to contribute our share of taxes to sustain our communities and our way of life, it is always prudent to annually evaluate and implement the best way to handle tax liability considering current and future implications.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

2016 Presidential Election and the Markets

No matter the results, this is certainly turning out to be an “interesting” election. One of the things I find intriguing, is the willingness of financial “experts” and pundits to make predictions about the economic and financial ramifications of electing either candidate. Predicting the markets is fraught with difficulties at the best of times. Predicting lasting market behavior based on campaign promises and fluid party platforms is impossible.

The summary of pundit prognostications below does NOT reflect my views, but it does reflect the sort of noise I hear daily from market timers and day traders (a high proportion traditionally lean toward the Republican Party).

On a Clinton Victory
What reaction can we expect: Mild relief, to include a rally in stocks and bonds, but nothing particularly bullish though we expect to regain at least our September 30th gains. Expect little change in oil/gold and, similarly, little change in the value of the US dollar by year-end.

Perceived winners: Hospitals (no Obamacare repeal or replacement, maybe some small tweaks); small businesses (new tax breaks); alternative energy (continued investment in alternative energy programs).

Perceived losers: Biotech/pharma (fears of regulation/price ceilings); energy & coal (increased environmental regulation reducing coal and fossil fuel production); private prisons (Clinton wants to shut them down).

On a Trump Victory
What reaction can we expect: Stocks: a selloff lasting into the New Year. Bonds: Treasuries lower in the near term, but not a large change. Dollar: lower as markets take in the cancellation or renegotiation of major trade deals. Gold/Oil: both up on uncertainty.

Perceived winners: Coal (anticipating reduced regulation on coal production and sales); overall energy sector (in a relaxed regulatory environment); pharma/biotech (little or no risk of price controls or ceilings); banks (potentially higher rates, rollback of certain Dodd-Frank regulations).

Perceived losers: Hospitals (changes to healthcare law, including repeal of Obamacare); alternative energy (less funding and support for alternative programs and a return to energy reliance on oil/coal).

For what it’s worth, at the time this goes to press [October 31] online betting sites show a 70% probability that the Democrats will win the Senate and Hillary Clinton a 75% chance of winning the presidency. The media, on the other hand, suggests that there are ways for Donald Trump to garner enough Electoral College votes for an upset victory. This additional uncertainty will have potential market consequences until the end of election day.

As investors, as Americans simply trying to decide how to manage our finances, what do we surmise from all this prognostication? Basically, don’t lose perspective. Our thinking should change very little since our long-term goals have not changed. In 2012, the S&P 500 dropped 7% ahead of and after the election. The level of fear so far indicates that in 2016 we may see a similar drop which will provide another buying opportunity. Personally, though I understand why these predictions are being made I do not believe it is possible to predict market direction in the long-term. Storms come and go and staying the course is safest until the facts are in. Throughout, we remain true to our goals – rebalance as necessary and stick to a well-diversified portfolio.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

SEC charges former CalPers CEO in Agent Fee Scheme

SEC Charges Former CalPERS CEO and Friend With Falsifying Letters in $20 Million Placement Agent Fee Scheme

According to http://www.sec.gov/news/press/2012/2012-73.htm website Buenrostro (former CalPers CEO) directed placement agent fees to Villalobos through falsification of documents with CalPers logo.  The placement fees paid were at least $20 million dollars.

The letter was a new requirement by this fund company for fees paid to placement agents that assisted in raising funds.

There seems to be no end of leading executives who continue to cross ethical lines to enrich themselves and their friends.  Kudos to the SEC for identifying this action and hopefully, if found guilty, will apply a sufficient deterrence to discourage others from crossing over this very clear ethical line.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

2012 -0213 Obama’s budget today

Obama’s budget announcement today – not a surprise

Proposed 2013 budget would reduce dividend tax break, impose new rules, and raise top marginal rate to almost 40%

The $3.8 trillion budget that President Barack Obama proposed today for 2013 would generate $1.4 trillion in new taxes for the wealthy.

Perhaps the only surprising element of the proposal puts dividends paid by high-income Americans at ordinary income, boosting the rate paid to 39.6% from a current rate of 15%.

The higher rates would apply to couples making $250,000 or more and individuals making $200,000 or more IF they earn significant income from dividends.

Originally, the president had supported continuing to tax dividends at a favorable rate, but administration officials said Mr. Obama decided the nation couldn’t afford it.

“We don’t need to be providing additional tax cuts for folks who are doing really, really, really well,” Obama said today in a speech at Northern Virginia Community College.

This is not news, in 2003, dividends were taxed as ordinary income.

Not surprisingly, Republicans in Congress immediately criticized the president’s budget and predicted failure for the tax increases wanted by the White House. .

The change in dividend taxation would raise $206.4 billion over a decade, according to the administration, which has said the wealthy need to pay more to help the nation control its deficit and spur economic growth.

The president’s proposal would end the Bush era tax cuts and limit tax deductions to 28% for wealthy Americans, again defined as those couples earning $250,000 and individuals making at least $200,000.  Limits them to 28% but does not eliminate them. These high-income earners already were set to take a hit in next year when a provision of the 2010 health care law kicks in that will tax their unearned income at 3.8%.

The administration’s proposed budget also would boost the top capital gains tax rate to 20% from today’s top rate of 15% and the income tax rate would max out at 39.6% in 2013 (increased from 35%). As expected, the plan also would tax private-equity managers’ profits-based compensation at ordinary income rates (which it is) instead of the 15% current capital gains rate.

The president’s budget also sets a new rule called the “Buffett rule,” that would set a 30% minimum tax for individuals with $1 million or more of annual income, a proposal that’s been discussed since last year after billionaire Warren E. Buffett said the wealthy weren’t paying enough in taxes. That tax would replace the alternative minimum tax (AMT), which the White House contends hits the middle class instead of its goal of keeping the richest Americans from paying too little.  It is great if it replaces AMT.

Republicans do control the House and wield significant influence in the Senate so it’s unlikely that Obama’s budget will make it out of Congress but only time will tell.

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Shapiro on Small Business and our Economy

Excerpt from Chair Mary Schapiro’s Nov 17, 2011 Review on how the SEC works to Support Small Businesses – U.S. S.E.C

As you know, studies suggest that small businesses have created 60-to-80 percent of net new American jobs over the last ten years.

But there is a footnote to that statistic: the most vigorous small business job creation comes from small businesses determined to get much larger. Job growth comes from emerging enterprises trying to grow out of their warehouse space and into a corporate campus or to jump from single downtown location into retail sites nationwide. It comes from companies that need access to capital to make that jump.

Today’s focus is on creating an environment in which those small businesses have that access, one in which they can compete successfully for a share of our country’s investment capital.

Cost-effective access to capital for companies of all sizes plays a critical role in our national economy, and we believe that companies seeking access to capital should not be overburdened by unnecessary or superfluous regulations.

As we examine ways that the regulatory structure might better facilitate small business capital formation, though, it’s important to keep in mind another critical facet of the SEC’s mission: investor protection. We must balance the instinct to ease the rules governing capital access with our obligation to protect investors and markets.

This can be a challenge. Even necessary regulation can impose burdens that are disproportionately large for small businesses with limited resources.

As the daughter of a small businessperson, I am familiar with the unique challenges small businesses face. I know that instead of planning year-to-year or quarter-to-quarter, that sometimes it’s day-to-day. And I recognize that challenges that a larger business would barely even notice can be significant drains on resources and time to an enterprise that needs to focus everything on making its place in a competitive market.

It’s also important to note that investor protection shouldn’t just be a priority for investors and their advocates. Confidence in the fairness and honesty of our markets is critical to capital formation. Investors who understand that financial market participants are honest, that disclosures are accurate, and that markets offer a fair chance to earn a reasonable return are more likely to make needed capital available, and demand less in return for doing so.

And so, in this forum and through other efforts, the SEC is seeking strategies for meeting regulatory goals while reducing the weight borne by small businesses.

That is why I have instructed our staff to take a fresh look at some of our offering rules, and to develop ideas for the Commission to consider that would — in a manner consistent with investor protection — reduce undue regulatory constraints on small business capital formation. Among the issues that we are considering are:

  • The restrictions on communications in initial public offerings;
  • Whether the general solicitation ban should be revisited in light of current technologies, and capital-raising trends;
  • The number of shareholders that trigger public reporting, including questions surrounding the use of special purpose vehicles that hold securities for groups of investors; and
  • The regulatory questions posed by new capital raising strategies, including crowdfunding.

In conducting this review, we are gathering data and seeking input from many sources, including small businesses, investor groups and the public at large.

In addition, two weeks ago, we convened the first meeting of the SEC’s new Advisory Committee on Small and Emerging Companies. This initial meeting has produced a number of insights on these and other relevant issues, from committee members representing businesses, investors, academia and regulators.

The re-examination of existing regulations is also of a piece with a goal I set when I returned to the SEC as Chairman: to make sure that the agency was up to date, that the regulations we enforce reflect the current realities of the financial markets.

For 77 years, the SEC has contributed to small business growth by supporting a capital marketplace in which confident investors invested money in growing businesses. We worked to create a culture of compliance that supported transparent markets marked by high liquidity, strong secondary market trading and investor protection.

Full transcript at http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2011/spch111711mls.htm

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com

Judge Criticized SEC and Rejects Citi’s Mortgage Settlement

Judge Calls SEC on Allowing Settlements that do NOT address liability

— Content from Bloomberg and SEC websites

At question was Citigroup Inc.’s $285 million settlement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over mortgage-backed securities.  The federal judge rejected on grounds that he does not have enough facts.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in Manhattan rejected the settlement – he criticized the SEC’s practice of letting financial institutions such as Citigroup settle without admitting or denying liability.

The SEC claimed that Citigroup misled investors in a $1 billion fund that included assets the bank had projected would lose money. At the same time it was selling the fund to investors, Citigroup took a short position in many of the underlying assets, according to the agency.

Citigroup, the third-biggest U.S. lender, agreed last month to settle a claim by the SEC that it misled investors in a $1 billion CDO linked to subprime residential mortgage securities. Investors lost about $700 million, according to the agency. A trial could establish conclusions that investors could use against Citigroup.

“In any case like this that touches on the transparency of financial markets whose gyrations have so depressed our economy and debilitated our lives, there is an overriding public interest in knowing the truth,” Rakoff wrote in the opinion. The proposed settlement is “neither fair, nor reasonable, nor adequate, nor in the public interest,” he said.

Danielle Romero-Apsilos, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, declined to comment pending a review of the decision. SEC spokesman John Nester declined to comment immediately on the ruling.

Rakoff today consolidated the case with another SEC suit involving former Citigroup employee Brian Stoker and scheduled the combined case for trial on July 16, 2012.

Citigroup doesn’t want to formally admit liability because of the bad publicity that would follow and because an admission would give a powerful tool to investors suing the bank.

Allowing a bank to pay a fine without admitting liability allows the SEC to avoid the uncertainty of a trial and preserves resources that can be used to pursue other securities law violators.

He rejected the SEC argument that he should defer to the agency’s determination that the settlement is fair, particularly as it asked him to issue an order requiring Citigroup not to violate the securities laws in the future.

Calling Citigroup “a recidivist,” Rakoff said the SEC hasn’t tried to enforce such an order against a financial institution in the past 10 years.

Bloomberg News and SEC response at http://www.sec.gov/news/speech/2011/spch112811rk.htm

Edi Alvarez, CFP®
BS, BEd, MS

www.aikapa.com