Practicing Gratitude: A Look Back at 2019

It may be hard to believe, but the end of the year is upon us. During this time, many of us might reflect on the year and tally up the good and the bad, the pros and the cons of the past 12 months. In a society that focuses on success and getting ahead, probably the most common thing to do is zero in on what you didn’t accomplish, or what went wrong. But science tells us that if you’re smart, you’ll look back with gratitude. And the best news is: it’s good for our health.

Gratitude Changes Your Brain – For the Better

When you give thanks for positive things in your life and show appreciation, it literally changes the structure of your brain, according to UCLA’s Mindfulness Awareness Research Center. It keeps the gray matter functioning and causes synchronized activation in multiple brain regions, lighting up parts of the brain’s reward pathways and the hypothalamus. It’s kind of like an anti-depressant: it boosts neurotransmitter serotonin and causes the brain stem to produce dopamine, a chemical that mediates pleasure in the brain. In short, thinking about what you’re grateful for is kind of like free therapy.

Make a List of Your Successes

So now that you know how gratitude works, make a list of what you’ve accomplished this year. It doesn’t have to be big and dramatic; for instance: you ate at home more often. You decided to recycle. You drank more water. However, if you got a promotion and raise, by all means write it down and feel good about it. Besides, there’s more that happens: when you’re feeling grateful, you generate higher levels of activity in your hypothalamus, the area which controls a large array of essential body functions, like eating, drinking and sleeping. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), this activity prompts you to exercise more, get better sleep and, best of all, decreases depression and bodily aches and pains. How’s that for some motivation to put pen to paper?

Keep a Journal for Next Year

As you can see, being grateful is beneficial, both mentally and physically. So why not keep a journal for the upcoming year? It doesn’t have to be fancy. Granted, a journal helps organize your thoughts and can be your go-to source should you start feeling down. But practicing gratitude can be as simple as jotting down your thoughts on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror. Another way to do this is to pick a gratitude buddy. When you think of something you’re thankful for, text or email a friend. Don’t worry about it sounding right, just do it! Chances are, it’ll not only make you feel better, it might brighten your friend’s day, too.

Just Look for Positive Things

According to Dr. Alex Korb in his book “Upward Spiral,” the simple act of seeking things to be grateful for has as much if not more benefit than the things you are actually grateful for. Korb says that the search “forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” This area of the brain not only regulates blood pressure and heart rate, it’s also responsible for decision making and evaluation processes. Serotonin is good stuff: it’s known as the happy chemical. See how good this gratitude thing is?

So, in the coming year, if you start feeling blue and negative, here are some quick remedies:

  1. Look in the mirror and name five things you like about yourself.
  2. Write someone a thank you note.
  3. When something bad happens, think of something good that’s happened.
  4. Give someone a compliment. The act of giving is soul-nourishing: to give is to receive.

Here’s to looking back and feeling good, then moving forward with positive vibes!

Sources

https://thriveglobal.com/stories/how-gratitude-actually-changes-your-brain-and-is-good-for-business/

https://www.news-medical.net/health/Dopamine-Functions.aspx

http://ebooksdownloadfreeed.blogspot.com/2016/04/the-upward-spiral-pdf-free-download.html

https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Anterior+Cingulate+Cortex

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248

Gross Domestic Product: A Primer

The economic indicator known as Gross Domestic Product (GDP) represents the dollar value of all purchased goods and services over the course of one year. It is comprised of purchases from all private and public consumption, including for profit, nonprofit and government sectors.

There are four components that are added to calculate the GDP:

  • Consumer spending
  • Government spending
  • Investment spending (this includes business, inventory, residential construction and public investment),   Net exports, meaning the value of goods exported minus the value of goods imported

The government calculates and publishes the GDP rate on a quarterly basis and for the entire year.

What Affects GDP?

There are different ways GDP is measured. For example, nominal GDP refers to a straight calculation of raw data, while real GDP adjusts the calculation to include the impact of inflation.

When inflation increases, the GDP tends to rise; when prices drop, so does the GDP. Be aware that this adjustment can happen even when there is no change in the quantity of goods and services produced in the United States during that time frame.

A key component of the GDP calculation is net exports. This number rises when the country sells more goods and services to foreign countries than it buys from them. A trade surplus means the United States sells more than it purchases, which is a strong contributor to GDP. When the United States buys more foreign goods than it sells, this creates a trade deficit, which is a negative weight in the GDP calculation.

GDP also reflects demand. The dollar output of certain sectors and industries rises and falls based on the popularity of their products and services. For example, when a new product is well received, then those sales increase that sector’s contribution to the GDP. This is a helpful measure because it enables companies to make better research and development decisions based on recent success. The same is true when a new product, or even an upgrade to a new product, does not increase sales.

What Does GDP Indicate?

The GDP is the most common, broad-based measure used to monitor the country’s economic progress. When it is on the rise, the economy is considered to be growing. When the GDP rate drops – even if it remains in positive territory – the economy is viewed as contracting. If it continues to slip quarter after quarter, it is an indicator that the economy might be in trouble and the Federal Reserve or Congress could consider altering monetary (interest rates) or fiscal (taxes and government spending) policy to inject cash into the nation’s financial system.

Technically, economists define a recession as a prolonged period of economic decline, often precipitated by two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.

This economic yardstick also is used to indicate a country’s general standard of living. The better a country is able to produce the goods and services that its residents and businesses use, the more that capital is infused back into the country. Therefore, higher GDP levels indicate a more prosperous country and relatively higher standard of living among its residents.

The GDP doesn’t just gauge domestic economic health, it serves as a comparison measure to other countries. This is particularly important during periods of growth and decline, when the United States can track how well it is responding to global economic factors relative to other countries.

Current Trendline

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, first quarter real GDP closed at 3.1 percent. In the second quarter, real GDP fell to 2.0 percent. The advanced assessment for the third quarter of 2019 is 1.9 percent.

 

What Would a Phase One Deal with China Encompass?

The so-called phase one of a trade deal with China is expected to contain a provision for $40 billion to $50 billion in purchases of American agricultural products by China, according to an October news release from U.S. Sen. John Hoeven (D-ND) With ongoing discussions surrounding the US-Sino trade talks, there are rumors for such a partial trade deal. But how has the recent past impacted both countries’ economies and a mutual desire for better trade deals?

While not directly related but announced during a similar time frame, a November press release from the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced Chinese acknowledgment and acceptance of American poultry exports. This stated that China will now accept $1 billion in American poultry and related poultry products, effectively reversing China’s ban.

After a December 2014 avian influenza outbreak, China banned US poultry in January 2015. America exported more than half a billion dollars of poultry to China in 2013, and there has been much interest in restarting exports to China since August 2017. With the USTR citing U.S. poultry exports of $4.3 billion in 2018, this will undoubtedly ensure America maintains its position as the globe’s second biggest poultry exporter.

According to a late October press release from the USTR, there will be a 30-day comment period in November to garner public opinion on continuing tariff exemptions on certain Chinese goods, worth approximately $34 billion. The items currently exempt are set to reverse exclusion on Dec. 28. Additionally, as part of phase one discussions, the United States is expected to not implement tariffs scheduled to take effect on Dec. 15, along with rolling back existing tariffs in stages.

Trade War’s Impact

According to BNP Paribas Wealth Management, the trade impasse between the United States and China has had a measurable negative impact on the world’s economy. BNP cited a 1.2 percent point reduction in growth over the past 1.5 years.

However, the phase one deal is expected to include many provisions, such as $40 billion to $50 billion of US farm product exports to China, along with $16 billion to $20 billion of Boeing aircraft for commercial use to China.

Financial institutions outside of China will be able to establish insurance companies in mainland China, financed by ex-China investments, along with being able to hold shares in the newly created entities. Ex-China lending institutions will be able to create wholly owned banks and conduct business in the Yuan or Renminbi (RMB) currency throughout mainland China without explicit approval from Chinese officials.

These developments, according to the Chinese State Council and China Banking and Regulatory Commission and CNBC, are part of the ongoing discussions to determine how China will increase IP protection and the aforementioned agricultural purchases. Announced on Oct. 11, 2019, the China Securities Regulatory Commission will work on lifting limits on ownership ceilings for ex-China entities, specifically in mutual funds, securities and futures operating in China.

BNP also mentions expectations of Dec. 15, 2019, tariffs to not be implemented, along with expectations for existing tariffs to be relaxed or reduced. In addition to giving American farmers increased sales, this will provide China with more soybeans for domestic consumption, including an ability to help increase the number of the country’s pork livestock population through feedstock. If phase one is agreed to, it’s also expected to help the RMB appreciate. Based on recent data, the RMB has appreciated by three percent since September 2019.   

One noteworthy item that depends on a phase one deal being certified is the expectation that it will positively impact the global economy. The International Monetary Fund dropped its World Economic Outlook gross domestic product projection from 3.2 percent in July 2019, down to 3.0 percent, based on the current trade tensions.

Since there’s great hope for a phase one deal that will encourage mutual and global economic development, there’s confidence that both countries facing economic hardships will find a short-term resolution.

Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment – and Depreciation

When it comes to determining depreciation for Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment (FF&E), there are many considerations that exist for accountants and business owners.

Defining Furniture, Fixtures and Equipment

FF&E refers to expenses for business items that are not affixed to the building where that business operates. Real world examples of depreciable assets includes chairs, desks, phones, tables, cabinets, etc., which are used to perform business-related tasks, directly or indirectly. These types of items are associated with long-term use generally more than 12 months, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Understanding How It Works

When it comes to accounting for the expense of the item, it can be depreciated equally and discreetly over its useful life. According to the IRS’ General Depreciation System (GDS), these office items such as safes, desks and files, are expected to have a seven-year life.

While there are different approaches to calculate depreciation, a common way to do so is through straight-line depreciation. This method is used by many organizations, including The Federal Reserve, and it works by starting with how much the item cost to acquire or its adjusted basis. From there, the item’s cost is reduced by the salvage value, or the asset’s value after its useful life. The resulting figure is divided by the number of months of the asset’s useful life. Once the asset has exhausted this amount of time, it remains on the books as its salvage value until it’s sold or removed from service.

Using the straight-line method, a company might find the monthly depreciation charge for a truck purchase like this. The company purchases a new truck for $40,000; assuming a 60-month useful life allowable by the IRS and a 20 percent salvage value, the formula would be as follows:

  1. $40,000 – (20 percent x $40,000) / 60 months
  2. $40,000 – ($8,000) / 60 months
  3. $32,000 / 60 = $533.33 per month for monthly depreciation

Special Considerations

In addition to tangible property, some intangible property also can be depreciated under the right circumstances. Examples the IRS cites of this primarily intellectual property includes copyrights, patents and software. Conditions for depreciation of this type of intangible property include that it must be owned by the business owner, used within the business or for profit-related activities, have a useful life and can be used by the business for more than a year.

The IRS gives an example of an individual buying a patent for $5,100. Using the straight-line method, the IRS permits this type of non-section 197 intangible property to be depreciated under certain conditions. The owner then must reduce any salvage value from the non-section 197 intangible property’s adjusted basis and depreciate it over the patent’s useful life, prorating terms less than a year, if applicable.  

Eligible Intangible Property Example

Assume the individual bought a patent in May to be used starting June 1 of the same year. The patent was bought for $5,100, has a 17-year useful life and won’t have any salvage value.

The first year of depreciation must be prorated for six months, since it will be used from June to December of the first year. Taking these circumstances and rules from the IRS, the first year’s depreciation available is $150. Each subsequent year, the 16 remaining will be $300 each.

While there are many intricacies for depreciation, understanding how it applies to each business’ operations will help give a fair assessment of an equipment’s value.

Sources

https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p946.pdf

How to Defer, Avoid Paying Capital Gains Tax on Stock Sales

The markets are hitting all-time highs, so if you are thinking of selling stocks now or in the near future, there is a good chance that you will have capital gains on the sale. If you’ve held the stocks for more than a year, then they will qualify for the more favorable long-term capital gains tax (instead of being taxed at ordinary income rates for short-term sales). But the total tax due can still be enough to warrant some tax planning. Luckily, the tax laws provide for several ways to defer or even completely avoid paying taxes on your securities sales.

1. Using Tax Losses

Utilizing losses is the least attractive of all the options in this article since you obviously had to lose money on one security in order to avoid paying taxes on another. The real play here is what is often referred to as tax-loss harvesting. This is where you purposely sell shares that are at a loss position in order to offset the gains on profitable sales and then redeploy this capital somewhere else. You’ll need to carefully weigh where to put the money from the sale of the shares sold at a loss as you can’t just buy the same stocks back. This is considered a “wash sale” and invalidates the strategy.

2. The 10 Percent to 15 Percent Tax Bracket

For taxpayers in either the 10 percent or 12 percent income tax brackets, their long-term capital gains rate is 0 percent. The income caps for qualifying for the 12 percent income tax rate is $39,375 for single filers and $78,750 for joint filers in 2019 ($40,000 and $80,000, respectively in 2020). Also, keep in mind that the stock sales themselves add to this limit – so calculate carefully.

Aside from selling appreciated securities yourself, another way to take advantage of the 0 percent bracket is to gift the stock to someone else instead of selling the securities and then giving the cash. Beware, however, as trying to do this with your kids can disqualify the 0 percent treatment because the kiddie tax is triggered on gifted stock sold to children younger than 19 or under 24 if a full-time student.

3. Donate

Donating appreciated securities is where we start to get into the more beneficial strategies. This technique only makes sense if you were already planning to make charitable contributions. Say for example you are planning to donate $10,000 to an organization and are in the 25 percent tax bracket. In order to write a donation check for $10,000, you would have had to earn $13,333 in income to sell the same amount of stock in order to have $10,000 left after taxes to make a cash donation in that amount.

If you donate appreciated stock instead, you only need to donate securities valued at $10,000 and you get to deduct $10,000 as a charitable deduction. That avoids the capital gains tax completely. Plus, it generates for you a bigger tax deduction for the full market value of donated shares held more than one year – and it results in a larger donation.

4. Qualified Opportunity Zones

This is the newest and most complicated (as well as controversial) way to defer or avoid capital gains taxes. Opportunity Zones were created via the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to encourage investment in low-income and distressed communities. Qualified Opportunity Zones can defer or eliminate capital gains tax by utilizing three mechanisms through Opportunity Funds – the investment vehicle that invests in Opportunity Zones.

First, they offer a temporary deferral of taxes on previously earned capital gains if investors place existing assets into Opportunity Funds. These capital gains defer taxation until the end of 2026 or whenever the asset is disposed of – whichever is first.

Second, capital gains placed in Opportunity Funds for a minimum of five years receive a step-up in basis of 10 percent – and if held for at least seven years, 15 percent.

Third, they offer an opportunity to permanently avoid taxation on new capital gains. If the opportunity fund is held for at least 10 years, the investor will pay no tax on capital gains earned through the Opportunity Fund.

Again, the caveat here is that the details of Opportunity Zone investments can be extremely complicated, so it’s best not to attempt this one on your own. Consult with your tax advisor.

5. Die with Appreciated Stock

Unfortunately, while probably the least popular method for readers, this is certainly the most effective. When a person passes away, the cost basis of their securities receives a step-up in basis to the fair market value to the date of their death. As an example, if you purchased Amazon stock for $50 per share and when you pass away it is worth $1,700 per share, your heir’s basis in the inherited stock is $1,700. This means if they sell it at $1,700, they pay no tax at all.

Conclusion

None of the above methods are loopholes or tax dodges; they are all completely legitimate. However, your ability to take advantage of these techniques will depend on your income level, personal goals and even your age. As a result, it’s best to consult with your tax advisor to see what makes sense for your personal situation.

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