Category Archives: Finance

Target Date Funds: What’s Under the Hood?

Source: Edwin J. Elton, Martin J. Gruber, Andre de Souza and Christopher R. Blake, Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, IB#17-2, January 2017

The brief’s key findings are:
• While nearly 60 percent of new 401(k) participants have savings in target date funds (TDFs), little research has looked under the hood of this investment vehicle.
• This analysis uses a unique dataset with extensive information on the underlying mutual funds that TDFs hold.
• The results show that TDFs:
• often invest in specialized assets (e.g., emerging markets and real estate);
• charge fees that are only modestly higher than if an individual investor assembled a similar portfolio on his own; and
• earn returns that are broadly in line with other mutual funds.
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Private Equity Wins Even When It Loses, Thanks to Debt Markets

Source: Nabila Ahmed and Sridhar Natarajan, Bloomberg, March 20, 2017

The Payless shoe company was already on its way to becoming another retail victim of the internet when the private equity guys showed up.

That the firms — Golden Gate Capital Inc. and Blum Capital Partners — weren’t able to turn Payless around after acquiring them in 2012 isn’t so surprising. That they’ve still made out so handsomely is.

As Payless shutters hundreds of stores and struggles to repay $665 million of debt, Golden Gate and Blum turned a profit on the deal. How? By having Payless borrow millions in the financial markets, a move that’s pushing the company to the brink. The firms have collected $350 million from Payless through debt-funded special dividends. Golden Gate and Payless declined to comment and Blum didn’t respond to requests.

Private equity firms have always borrowed to buy companies. But now, with debt so cheap, they’re layering on subsequent borrowing at an unprecedented clip to pay themselves, putting an additional, and at times fatal, financial strain on their newly acquired companies. From the start of 2013, private equity owners have taken out more than $90 billion in debt-funded payouts, according to data compiled by LCD, part of S&P Global Market Intelligence…..

The Role of Constituency, Party, and Industry in Pennsylvania’s Act 13

Source: Bradford H. Bishop, Mark R. Dudley, State Politics & Policy Quarterly, OnlineFirst, First Published December 1, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
While a large body of research exists regarding the role of industry money on roll-call voting in the U.S. Congress, there is surprisingly little scholarship pertaining to industry influence on state politics. This study fills this void in an analysis of campaign donations and voting during passage of Act 13 in Pennsylvania during 2011 and 2012. After collecting information about natural gas production in state legislative districts, we estimate a series of multivariate models aimed at uncovering whether campaign donations contributed to a more favorable policy outcome for industry. Our findings indicate that campaign donations played a small but systematic role in consideration of the controversial legislation, which represented one of the first and most important state-level regulatory reforms for the hydraulic fracturing industry.

Refinanciang Student Loans

Source: Dustin Weeden, LegisBrief, Vol. 25 no. 8, February 2017

Increasing numbers of students are borrowing money to pay for higher education, incurring historically high levels of debt. Policymakers are concerned about the amount students are borrowing, their ability to repay, and the broader economic impacts of student debt. Refinancing existing loans at lower interest rates is one solution, and at least 12 states currently operate their own refinancing programs for students.

Rising Economic Inequality and Campaign Contributions from Very Wealthy Americans

Source: Adam Bonica, Stanford University and Howard Rosenthal, Scholars Strategy Network, Key Findings, November 2016

From the introduction:
…..In our research, we explore the relationship between wealth disparities and campaign contributions, documenting the growing concentration of campaign contributions among a small sliver of very wealthy U.S. donors. Despite an explosion in the number of citizens donating to campaigns in recent decades, we find that in recent decades the total share of campaign contributions has risen sharply from the wealthiest donors, the top 1% of the 1% of the voting age population. Mass participation has failed to counterbalance this trend.

Although recent changes to the legal and regulatory environment have contributed to the trend, they are at best a partial explanation. Contributions were becoming more concentrated long before the 2010 Citizens United and the 2014 McCutcheon cases were decided by the Supreme Court. To fully make sense of the rise of big money, its causes and consequences, we must examine broader economic trends and understand how the political behavior of the super rich has changed over time. Our research examines donation patterns of the super-rich – and explores their broader implications…..

Pro-Trump Group Blew by Basic Campaign Finance Laws

Source: Robert Faturechi and Derek Willis ProPublica, December 9, 2016

The America Comes First PAC did not disclose its donors before Election Day. And its top funder is banned from the securities industry. ….

….As federal regulators continued to wait for the required disclosures, the group posted a photo two days after the election showing Trump meeting with America Comes First secretary David Schamens. It wasn’t until this week that the group finally began filing the disclosure forms. The filings show that the bulk of individual donations to the group came from Schamens. In the early 1990s, Schamens was accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of securities fraud. In a settlement, he did not admit to the allegations but agreed to be barred from associating with investment companies or securities brokers. Schamens currently is director of a New Jersey technology company that caters to financial institutions and securities traders……

Dark Money

Source: OpenSecrets.org, 2016

Dark Money Groups spend millions influencing our elections without reporting where the money came from. Learn more about their growing influence below. ….

From the blog post:
…. OpenSecrets.org is excited to announce a major new expansion of DarkMoney.org to better help journalists, watchdogs and the public track the IRS forms of thousands of groups and see how what appears on those filings meshes with what actually happened in the 2016 election cycle. This new, vastly larger set of tools adds to the suite of functions and information already available on the site.

Beginning today, OpenSecrets is providing downloadable financial information for over 20,000 nonprofit organizations — up from less than 500 — in the largest, cleanest and most detailed free resource for people researching the activities and networks of non-charity nonprofits and dark money organizations. Getting the data previously had been a difficult, very 20th-century process: We had to manually collect the 990 reports directly from the groups themselves, or get them in costly, convoluted batches from the IRS. Now, thanks to a generous grant from the Knight Foundation and additional funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, we have integrated digitized data on organizations, provided by Guidestar, with the rest of OpenSecrets’ data resources.

For the first time, visitors to OpenSecrets can see all grants made by 501(c)4, 501(c)5 and 501(c)6 organizations. If a grant was made to another politically active nonprofit – transfers between groups are common – visitors can easily see that group’s financial information, too, as well as whether it spends money on political activity.

This information goes far beyond other data sets made public to this point. The IRS’s own e-file data, released over the summer, is messier and less comprehensive. The new OpenSecrets.org data set uniquely does not depend on a group having electronically filed its tax returns with the IRS or having received approval as tax-exempt from the agency; all filings are there, with digitized, standardized data. Where applicable, the data has been matched with Federal Election Commission filings showing political activity, going back years further than the IRS e-file data. ….

Trends in College Pricing 2016

Source: The College Board, 2016

From the summary:
Trends in College Pricing provides information on changes over time in undergraduate tuition and fees, room and board, and other estimated expenses related to attending colleges and universities. The report, which includes data through 2016-17 from the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, reveals the wide variation in prices charged by institutions of different types and in different parts of the country. Of particular importance is the focus on the net prices students actually pay after taking grant aid into consideration. Data on institutional revenues and expenditures and on changing enrollment patterns over time supplement the data on prices to provide a clearer picture of the circumstances of students and the institutions in which they study.
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Waiting for the Payoff: How Low Wages and Student Debt Keep Prosperity Out of Reach

Source: Allyson Fredericksen, People’s Action Institute, Job Gap Economic Prosperity series, People’s Action Institute, October 2016

From the summary:
Education is often lauded as the great equalizer and a solution to the growing income gap. But, as the cost of college breaks family budgets and requires students to take out thousands of dollars in educational loans, wages, even for those with a degree, have not kept pace, and have even declined in many occupations.

Though campaigns to increase the minimum wage have been won in cities and states across the country, current minimum wage rates do not provide a living wage for even a single adult. Research on living wage rates produced by People’s Action Institute shows that, nationally, a living wage for a single adult is $17.28 per hour. For those with student debt, that living wage rises to $18.67 per hour.

Increasing the minimum wage to a living wage and abolishing the tipped subminimum wage will help more workers make ends meet, but student debt forgiveness is also vital. And, because systemic barriers mean women and people of color are disproportionately impacted by low wages and student debt, more must be done to strengthen and enforce equal opportunity statutes.

At a minimum, working full-time should ensure financial stability, including the ability to pay off student loan debt. It’s time for elected officials to take action to make that a reality.
Table 1: Single Adult Living Wage vs Minimum Wage by State
Table 2: Median Student Debt and Monthly Payment for Graduates by State
Table 3: Traditional Single Adult Living Wage vs Student Debt Living Wage by State
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