Last week marked a noteworthy milestone in our economy: On Wednesday, August 22, the bull market entered its 3,453rd day, the longest such run in U.S. history. In the past 9 plus years, domestic indexes have come quite a way since the dark days of the financial crisis. The S&P 500 is now more than 4 times the level that it was when the bull market began on March 9, 2009.
FACT OF THE WEEK
More than 55 million Americans rely on Medicare for their health care coverage. Every day, another 10,000 people turn 65, making them eligible for the government-provided health insurance program.
Both the S&P 500 and NASDAQ closed last week with new record highs. The S&P 500 added 0.86%, the Dow increased 0.47%%, and the NASDAQ gained 1.66%. International stocks in the MSCI EAFE also grew, increasing 1.52% for the week.
This domestic growth occurred against a backdrop of geopolitical events. Investors considered new tariffs between China and the U.S., as well as legal developments potentially related to President Trump. However, economic updates seemed to hold the most sway over market performance last week.
What did we learn about the economy last week?
Beyond passing a major milestone in the bull market, we also received some key economic updates, including:
1. The Fed's interest rate increases should continue at a gradual pace.
In talks last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell called the economy "strong" and said inflation isn't overheating. He indicated the central bank intends to maintain its current pace of interest-rate raises. Markets increased after his remarks.
2. The labor market remains strong.
New claims for unemployment fell for the 3rd week in a row and were below expectations, continuing on July's trend that included the lowest numbers since 1969. This data indicates that, despite U.S. companies facing ongoing trade tension, the labor market remains on solid ground.
3. Business investment may be on the rise.
Data for durable goods orders includes details that can hint at how businesses plan to approach spending. This so-called "non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft" grew far more than anticipated in July. The reports indicate that business investments started the 3rd quarter on solid ground.
These updates may help support economists' perspectives that the bull market still has life left. If you have questions about where your financial life stands today and in the future, we're here to talk.
DON'T MISS OUT ON MEDICARE'S FREE WELLNESS VISITS
A very small portion of Medicare patients are taking advantage of the completely free annual visits to health care providers. These annual wellness visits were implemented by the Affordable Care Act. Annual Wellness visits have no co-payment requirement or any other out-of-pocket costs to patients.
These wellness visits were designed for help prevent disease and disability based on your current health and risk factors. These visits can include items such as blood pressure measurements, preventive shots, detection of any cognitive impairments and other preventive services.
Yet only 8.1 percent of Medicare beneficiaries used the free doctor visits when they were first made available in 2011, including just 4.5 percent of African Americans, according to the study, published in the journal Medical Care.
By 2013, the rate for all patients remained less than 15 percent, the researchers reported, based on the experience of 14,687 adults age 66 and older who participated in the Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey 2011-13.
Industry experts believe more should be done to inform those on Medicare of these free visits. Please be sure to check in with your health care provider regarding the free annual wellness visit.
FINANCIAL STRATEGY OF THE WEEK
THE HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNT FOR MEDICAL EXPENSES
A Health Savings Account is a tax-advantaged savings account that is specifically for medical expenses. It is available to those who are enrolled in a high deductible health insurance plan.
The contributions made to the HSA are tax deductible and withdrawals are tax free if used for qualified medical expenses. The accumulation in HSAs is similar to that of an IRA and can be invested. Along with the tax deductible contributions and tax free withdrawals, the investment earnings in the account grow completely tax free.
The main goal of the HSA is to provide financial incentive to save for bigger future healthcare expenses and provide flexibility for qualified medical expenses not covered by a traditional plan.
There is one more advantage to Health Savings Accounts. If there are excess funds in the account, it will roll over year after year unlike a Flexible Spending Account (FSA). If the funds are not used for medical expenses then they can be withdrawn as a supplemental income source during retirement. However, doing so will trigger a taxable event and you will need to pay income tax on all HSA plan withdrawals. Please consult with your Financial Advisor to see if an HSA may be suitable for you.