BRAVE Family Advisors Announcement – 1.28.22

Angelica RamosDear Clients and Friends,

We are excited to let you know that Angelica Ramos recently started working with us in our Summit office.  Angie will be working closely with Suzie to continue to provide excellent service to our clients.

Angie most recently worked for seven years at the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP, in Manhattan as a conference services coordinator and executive receptionist.  

She lives in Roselle Park, NJ, with her husband, Richard, and their two-year-old son, Sylas. In her spare time Angie enjoys spending time with her family and traveling, trying new foods, fishing, and singing karaoke.  

You can reach Angie at or (908) 522-8822.    

BRAVE Letter – Q2 2021

Dear Clients and Friends,

What a difference a year makes! We hope you and your family are happy and healthy as we continue to exit one of the most challenging periods of our lifetimes.  In this letter we share an update on BRAVE, some thoughts on potential tax changes and what you may want to think about doing with your portfolios and other assets in light of those, a discussion on ROTH conversions, the continued current expensive state of U.S. equity markets, and how we are managing our client portfolios.

BRAVE Family Advisors Update

As the COVID fog continues to lift, operations at BRAVE have continued to return to a bit more normalcy.  The Summit office reopened earlier this year and Suzie, Jamie, and Lisa are back in the office most days.  We are in the process of doing and planning some client meeting travel this summer.  This is the first long distance business travel for us in almost eighteen months.

We moved into a new office in Tiverton this month.  We are at the same address but have moved into a larger and even more attractive space.  The new office has sufficient room for additional employees and will allow us to have a conference room.  

We are excited to have our first summer intern this year! Will Swart, who is a rising senior at Bryant University, is working in our Rhode Island office for ten weeks helping with a number of projects.  Will is studying international finance and is Bryant’s starting goalie on their Division One soccer team.  Welcome Will!

Update on Potential Tax Policy Changes

Despite tax policy changes being a significant feature of President Biden’s proposed economic policy during his campaign, the proposals that have been announced by his team in recent weeks seem to have surprised many people.  Whether you support them or not, they will clearly result in a significant increase in income, capital gains, and estate taxes for the “investor class” if they are enacted.

To summarize the four major changes that have been proposed so far: 

1.) Raising the top marginal ordinary income rate back to the Obama-era 39.6% from the current 37.0%.  

2.) Increasing the tax rate on long-term capital gains and dividends to 39.6% from the current 20.0% for taxpayers with annual income in excess of $1 million.  When the 3.8% Medicare surtax on high levels of unearned income is included the tax on capital gains for those taxpayers will be 43.4% versus the current 23.8%.  State income taxes (where applicable) would be in addition to that.

3.) Cutting the lifetime Federal estate tax exemption to $5.0 million or $3.5 million per person (or $10.0 million or $7.0 million per couple).  The current exemptions are $11.7 million per person and $23.4 million per couple.  He also proposed increasing the estate tax rate to 45% from the current rate of 40%.  

4.) Taxing unrealized gains at death.  The current policy “steps-up” the cost basis on appreciated assets at death to the value at the time of death thus eliminating the potential capital gains tax for the heir(s).  Under Biden’s proposal the unrealized gain would be taxed.

We do not know at this time whether any or all of these proposals or alternative policies will make their way through the narrowly divided houses of Congress and get signed into law.  If changes are made that are retroactive to January 1, 2021, then there will be little that can be done to mitigate the potential impact of them.  However, if the changes take effect prospectively, then we will communicate strategies to try to “get ahead” of their becoming effective.  

These could include:

A.) Realizing long-term capital gains: Since your capital gains tax rate may nearly double if you make more than $1 million per year, locking in a gain at the current rate could represent a significant tax savings.

B.) Gifting assets: You can take advantage of the current $11.7/$23.4 million exemption to move as much as that amount of value out of your taxable estate to heirs or irrevocable trusts before the exemption is possibly cut in at least half.

C.) Making charitable contributions from your IRA: The IRS allows direct charitable contributions from IRAs of up to $100,000 per year.   Using IRA funds to make charitable donations this year that you would otherwise make from other sources could provide a benefit if the top marginal ordinary tax rate is increased.  The tax write-off at current tax rates could very well be less than the tax you will pay on the future IRA distributions that you and your heirs will be required to take at future higher tax rates.

D.) Converting 401(k) contributions to after-tax from pre-tax:  Unlike with IRAs, there is no income limit on making ROTH contributions in a 401(k) plan.  If the tax benefit of making a tax-deferred contribution is reduced, then high earners may get a greater benefit of making an after-tax contribution at current tax rates and having the money grow tax free for the rest of their lifetimes.

Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions and look for further communications from us as tax policy changes become clearer.

Do ROTH Conversions Make Sense for You?

With the increased focus on the likelihood of higher income taxes over time and the elimination of the “stretch IRA” by the SECURE Act, we have been spending a lot of time in the last few months working with clients to help them understand whether converting traditional IRA and 401(k) assets to ROTH accounts makes sense.  In some cases, the amount of tax savings over their and their children’s lifetimes can be shocking.

Tax-deferred retirement savings accounts are a very popular tool for Americans to save for retirement and defer income taxes on those savings.  However, paying the tax is only delayed; it is not eliminated.  The IRS requires that a minimum amount is withdrawn every year once an account holder reaches the age of 72.  The annual percentage begins at about 3.9% the first year, but rises each year as remaining life expectancy declines.  The required minimum distribution (RMD) reaches almost 6% at age 82 and 10% at age 92.  Once the account owner dies and someone other than a spouse inherits it, then the government requires that the entire balance be withdrawn within 10 years and ordinary income taxes be paid on the entire balance.

In some situations, converting tax-deferred accounts into ROTHs during years in which the account owner’s marginal tax rate may be lower than it will be in later years can be a very effective tax planning and estate planning strategy.  For example, we recently reviewed the situation for a couple who are both 60 years old, have household income of around $190,000, plan to retire at 62, have tax deferred retirement assets in excess of $2 million, and much smaller taxable investment account balances.  If we assume that they only take the required minimum distributions from the retirement accounts and then leave the balance to their children when they pass 30 years after retirement, the potential Federal income tax that they and their family might owe on the retirement assets could be over $3.6 million dollars due to the potential growth in those assets.  This couple has an opportunity to possibly manage their income over the next several years before they must take Social Security benefits and RMDs to allow them to convert proceeds from the tax-deferred savings into ROTH savings and pay the tax while they are in a lower marginal tax bracket than they and their children may be in the future.  Based on one set of assumptions, the tax savings over the next 40 years for this family would be approximate $3.0 million!

Please let us know if you would like us to analyze your family’s situation to see whether ROTH conversions and/or making ROTH contributions to your 401(k) may make sense.

Market Thoughts

U.S. stock market remains at an interesting juncture.  There are a number of positives: the major uncertainties of the last year, political- and COVID-related, have largely been eliminated; additional fiscal and monetary stimulus will likely be provided; and corporate earnings news should remain favorable.  However, valuations by most measures remain stretched suggesting that much of the positive news may have already been discounted.  We strongly expect that equities will continue to provide the best long-term returns, but would also suggest that the present is a good time to pare back risk profiles at the margin.    

Despite earnings estimates having risen faster than stock prices in recent months, U.S. stock prices remain at historically expensive valuation levels and signs of speculation have become common place.  By many long-term measures, the U.S. equity market is as highly valued as it was at the peak of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and the high in 1929; by some measures it has even exceeded those historical peaks.  The primary valuation support remains stocks’ attractiveness relative to bonds, although that gap has begun to shrink.  Developments such as the recent gyrations in “meme” stocks, the tidal wave of initial public offerings in SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) earlier this year, and the unprecedented speculative activity in options suggest that animal spirits are once again reaching a frenzied level.  

There are several measures that illustrate the current largely unprecedented valuation levels for U.S. stocks.  The S&P 500 is currently trading at 21.5 times forward earnings which is well above average in absolute terms; this multiple has declined slightly in recent months from a high in excess of 22.0 times as the economic recovery has been stronger than expected.  The U.S. total market capitalization as a % of GDP is at a new modern high (Chart 1).  The current CAPE ratio (Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings ratio) of 37 indicates that stocks are at among their most expensive levels in the last 100 years only exceeded just before and just after the 2000 peak (Chart 2).  U.S. stocks also remain expensive relative to those in other regions trading more than four standard deviations above their 50-year valuation mean relative to European stocks (Chart 3).  Within the U.S. market, growth stocks have seen some underperformance relative to value stocks in recent months but remain at levels above those seen at the peak of the dot com bubble twenty years ago (Chart 4).  


Chart 1: Wilshire 5000 Total Market Capitalization to US Annual GDPWilshire 5000 Total Market Capitalization to US Annual GDP


Chart 2: Long-term Historical Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio with RecessionsLong-term Historical Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio with Recessions


Chart 3: MSCI United States Index vs. MSCI Europe Index

MSCI United States Index vs. MSCI Europe Index


Chart 4: Russell 2000 Growth Index vs. Russell 2000 Value Index  Russell 2000 Growth Index vs. Russell 2000 Value Index

The biggest valuation support for the current U.S. stock market continues to be “TINA” (There Is No Alternative).  The dividend yield of 1.35% for the S&P 500 is still attractive relative to interest rate levels available in the U.S. fixed income market and even more so relative to the trillions of dollars of negative yielding debt around the world (Chart 5).  The impact of extreme liquidity and low available interest rates can be seen in record M&A activity and margin debt, a recovery in share buyback activity, and very high levels of retail equity purchases.  We expect this support to diminish over time as rates maintain their gradual move higher due to the likely potent combination of further massive fiscal and monetary stimulus, the additional reopening of the economy as vaccinations and herd immunity reduce the virus’ impact, and the growing signs of a pick-up in inflation.  For the time being, though, liquidity may very well continue to overwhelm valuation.

We remain of the belief that the high valuation of U.S. stocks doesn’t necessarily mean that disaster lies ahead; however, it does suggest that future equity returns are likely to be well below historical averages.  There is a strong correlation between current valuation levels and future returns.  Typically, the cheaper stocks are, the higher future returns will be and vice versa.  This relationship can be seen in Chart 6 which illustrates the relationship between the beginning CAPE ratio and stock market returns over the next 10 years.  A beginning CAPE ratio of around the current level of 37 has yielded 10-year future annual average returns in a range of -1% to +4% over the last 94 years.  Due to the limited experience with valuations at this level there is not a lot of historical data; however, what is available suggests that investors may need to adjust their expectations to something less than the historical average equity return of close to 10% per year.


Chart 5: S&P 500 Dividend Yield and 10 Year Treasury YieldS&P 500 Dividend Yield and 10 Year Treasury Yield

Chart 6: Next 10 Year Annualized Returns of S&P 500 Index (Vertical Axis) vs. Beginning CAPE Ratio (Horizontal Axis)
Next 10 Year Annualized Returns of S&P 500 Index (Vertical Axis) vs. Beginning CAPE Ratio (Horizontal Axis)

Portfolio Management

We have not made any major changes in client portfolios in recent months.  We continue to be a bit overweight value and international stocks due to their more attractive valuations compared to growth and U.S. stocks, respectively.  After exiting a large gold position last fall, we have added some exposure to metal again as we believe that it provides diversification from expensive U.S. stocks and should benefit over time from the low real interest rates and growing government debt levels. 

In our fixed income portfolios, we have maintained relatively short duration since early spring of last year as we believe a potential generational low in interest rates has been seen.  We have been including the iShares Preferred and Income Securities ETF (Ticker: PFF) and a Nuveen national municipal bond closed-end fund (Ticker: NEA) in many portfolios to increase yields on a tax-advantaged basis.  The former fund holds preferred securities that have characteristics of both stocks and bonds.  Importantly, the fund pays an approximate 5% yield that is primarily taxed as a dividend rather than as corporate interest.  The latter fund holds municipal bonds and uses some leverage to increase the yield.  It currently pays interest at an approximate 4.5% rate and is Federal tax free and trades at a 3% discount to its net asset value.

Administrative Items

As always, we welcome your comments and questions.  Please don’t hesitate to call, visit, or email at any time.

Letter from Scott 04.03.23

Dear clients and friends,

First of all, I want to thank all of you for the incredible outpouring of support for me and my kids these last few weeks. As you know, we changed the name of the company three years ago to reflect our focus on helping our clients’ families. I had no idea that at the darkest time of my life that the BRAVE family of our clients and friends and my colleagues would be such a help to my family!

At the end of this letter are several examples of the love that my kids and I have been surrounded by which hopefully will also give you a sense of who Marion was for those of you who did not know her.

I have been giving thought as to what my future holds in the wake of what has happened and have decided that my priorities going forward are going to be 1.) my kids; 2.) my health; and 3.) BRAVE.

My kids have been extraordinarily mature and strong; however, the loss that they have endured is going to continue to affect them immensely. I will be spending a lot of time with them and the four of us will find opportunities to be together as a family. They all came home within hours of Marion being stricken and we were together for the subsequent two weeks. Jacqueline is still with me and will be returning to Florida tomorrow. I am travelling to Montana later this week to spend time with our son, Anthony, and will be in New York City later in the month to be with our daughter Alexandra. The four of us will be together in early May for Jacqueline’s college graduation. Marion and I were planning to take Jacqueline to Paris as a graduation present in May or June which I will be doing with my sister.  

I am in reasonable physical shape, but that isn’t going to be good enough from now on. I am now a single parent and I have to do everything I can to make sure my kids do not become parent-less anytime in the next 20+ years. I will be exercising more and eating better and am working to get down to my ideal weight. I have a full-day executive physical scheduled this month which includes bloodwork and various scans to detect calcification in your arteries and cancers among a number of other tests. 

BRAVE is an extremely important part of my life. I expect that will only be more so now. I am not emotionally ready to start regularly interacting with clients. I am working with the team to manage portfolios and I am going to fill quiet time with writing additional content for the website. I am hoping that as I move through April I will be able to ease back into my full role. I just don’t know at this time how things are going to go with the healing process. Please rest assured that I will eventually be spending even more time and energy on BRAVE than I did prior to 3/11 once things are more normal and am looking forward to that!

Finally, I urge all of you to not take your health for granted and make sure that you have an up-to-date estate plan in place. What happened to Marion was preventable had we and her doctors known what was her actual physical situation. The fact that she had a healthcare proxy and a living will made the management of her care smooth and took some of the burden off me and our kids when the extremely difficult end-of-life decision had to be made. 

With warm regards,


BRAVE Letter – Q1 2023

Dear Clients and Friends,

Happy 2023! 

Looking out over the next twelve months we are not bullish overall on market prospects, but, rather than a year ago when virtually all markets were overvalued, we believe that there are pockets of opportunities in both the stock and bond markets. In this letter we share an update on BRAVE, some recent changes that affect retirement savings and gifting, our current nuanced view on the markets, how we are implementing that view in managing our client portfolios, and a few administrative items.


BRAVE Family Advisors Update

BRAVE had a strong year of growth in 2022. We increased our employee count by one-third with the addition of Angie and Will to the team. We moved into larger and more modern office space in Summit (albeit across the hall from our former office!). Despite the market declines we experienced one of our best years for new business in the firm’s thirty-year history. 

Later this month our team will be holding a day-long offsite meeting. We’ll be reviewing the year that was, setting goals for the future, and working with an expert on client experience in an effort to continue to improve ours.

A big “THANK YOU” to those of you who referred family members and friends to BRAVE last year. Our increased capacity allows us to continue working with additional individuals and families who can benefit from our services.


Increased IRS Limits

One of the few positives of the current high inflation rate is that the Internal Revenue Service again increased the 2023 limits on gifting and the annual contribution limits on certain types of retirement savings plans.



Annual per person gifting limit $16,000 $17,00
Lifetime gifting limit $12.06 million $12.92 million
401(k) plan contribution limit $20,500 $22,500
Catch-up 401(k) contribution limit over 50 years of age   $27,000 $30,000
Catch-up 401(k) contribution limit over 50 years of age  $6,000 $6,500
Catch-up IRA contribution limit over 50 years of age $7,000  $7,500



A number of enhancements to retirement savings were signed into law just before the end of last year. The package, titled SECURE Act 2.0, included numerous changes with the most significant to our clients likely being:

  • Raising the age at which RMDs from retirement accounts begin to 73 in 2023 and 75 in 2033.
  • Catch-up contributions to 401k plans will be increased beginning in 2025 for workers turning 60, 61, 62, or 63.
  • Catch-up contributions for workers earning in excess of $145,000 will need to be ROTH contributions which may have adverse tax consequences.
  • Up to $35,000 can be rolled over from a 529 plan that has been open for at least 15 years into a ROTH IRA account for the 529 plan beneficiary.


Market Thoughts: Cheaper But Not Cheap

Our current outlook for markets is significantly more nuanced than it was this time last year as the recent declines have begun creating pockets of opportunity. In our 2022 Outlook letter we described our approach to markets at that time as KISS, which is an acronym for Keep It Simple, Stupid. We believed that markets were historically expensive and the primary factor that justified those valuations, massive government stimulus, was in the process of being taken away and that would result in increased volatility and lower returns. That obviously was exactly what played out in most financial markets. 

This year is not so simple. Equity markets have gotten cheaper but are not cheap at a time when most companies are likely facing increased headwinds in the areas of slowing demand and higher capital costs. Growth stocks and international stocks have begun to unwind their historical overvaluation relative to value and U.S. shares, respectively, but likely have further to go. The Federal Reserve appears unwilling to heed increasingly clear signs of economic weakening which may mean that the yield curve will invert further creating divergent performance within different parts of fixed income.

Last year U.S. markets arguably had their worst performance in at least 100 years. The combined returns of the stock market and the bond market were the lowest since 1931 (Chart 1). This chart is a scatterplot of the annual returns of the S&P 500 (horizontal axis) and the 10-year U.S. Treasury note (vertical axis). However, what set 2022 apart was that there was virtually nowhere to hide. In two of the worst years in modern stock market history, 1931 and 2008, bonds suffered only a small decline or were a positive offset. Last year, bonds performed nearly as poorly as stocks. This was because both markets had been driven to overvaluation by low inflation and extreme levels of government stimulus. When those influences reversed, both markets felt the pain.


Chart 1: Scatterplot of Annual U.S. Stock and Bond Returns

 Chart 1: Scatterplot of Annual U.S. Stock and Bond Returns
U.S. stocks are significantly less overvalued than they were a year ago, but are still a long way from being cheap. In most cases the market only looks attractively valued relative to other peak periods such as a year ago or the peak of the Dotcom bubble in 2000 or 1929. The S&P 500 is currently trading at 17.0 times forward earnings which is marginally above average; this multiple has declined in recent months from a high in excess of 22.0 times during late 2021. The risks in declaring equities fairly valued on this basis are 1.) earnings estimates for 2023 have only recently begun to be revised lower and may have significantly further to go and 2.) the interest rate environment has become much less supportive than it had been in recent years.  The U.S. total market capitalization as a % of GDP has declined by over 25%, but is still above the level reached at the peak in 2000 (Chart 2).  The current CAPE ratio (Cyclically Adjusted Price to Earnings ratio) of 27 is down by almost one-third from the recent peak, but is still higher than almost all modern periods other than just before and just after the 2000 peak and 1929 (Chart 3).  U.S. stocks also remain very expensive relative to those in other regions of the world still trading about three standard deviations above their 50-year valuation mean relative to European stocks (Chart 4).  Within the U.S. market, growth stocks have finally begun unwinding their extreme overvaluation relative to value stocks, but are only slightly below their previous peak and are significantly above the long-term average (Chart 5)


Chart 2: Wilshire 5000 Total Market Capitalization to US Annual GDP

Chart 2: Wilshire 5000 Total Market Capitalization to US Annual GDP


Chart 3: Long-term Historical Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio with Recessions

 Chart 3: Long-term Historical Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio with Recessions

Chart 4: MSCI United States Index vs. MSCI Europe Index

Chart 4: MSCI United States Index vs. MSCI Europe Index

Chart 5: Russell 1000 Growth Index vs. Russell 1000 Value Index  

 Chart 5: Russell 1000 Growth Index vs. Russell 1000 Value Index

Bonds on the other hand appear to offer value relative to stocks after their significant declines last year. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note is at the widest premium to the yield on the S&P 500 index in fifteen years (Chart 6). This is happening at a time when the likelihood of a recession seems to be very high based on historically reliable indicators such as the inversion of the yield curve and the downturn in the Index of Leading Indicators (Charts 7 and 8). An economic slowdown should be positive for bonds as inflation would likely slow more quickly while being negative for stocks as corporate earnings would come under more intense pressure.