10-12-2017 Columns

International investing: Still a journey to consider

Columbus Day was observed on October 9. And while it may be true that Leif Erikson and the Vikings beat Columbus to the New World, Columbus Day nonetheless remains important in the public eye, signifying themes such as exploration and discovery. As an investor, you don’t have to “cross the ocean blue,” as Columbus done, to find opportunities – but it may be a good idea to put some of your money to work outside the United States. So, why should you consider investing internationally? The chief reason is diversification. If you only invest in U.S. companies, you might do well when the U.S. markets are soaring, as has happened in recent years. But when the inevitable downturn happens, and you’re totally concentrated in U.S. stocks, your portfolio will probably take a hit. At the same time, however, other regions of the world might be doing considerably better than the U.S. markets – and if you had put some of your investment holdings in these regions, you might at least blunt some of the effects of the down market here.

Of course, it’s also a good idea to diversify among different asset classes, so, in addition to investing in U.S. and international stocks, you’ll want to own bonds, government securities and other investment vehicles. (Keep in mind, though, that while diversification can help reduce the effects of volatility, it can’t guarantee a profit or protect against loss.)

International investments, like all investments, will fluctuate in value. But they also have other characteristics and risks to consider, such as these:

Currency fluctuations – The U.S. dollar rises and falls in relation to the currencies of other countries. Sometimes, these movements can work in your favor, but sometimes not. A strengthening dollar typically lowers returns from international investments because companies based overseas do business in a foreign currency, and the higher value of the U.S. dollar reduces the prices, measured in dollars, of individual shares of these companies’ stocks. The opposite has happened in 2017, when the weaker dollar has helped increase returns from international investments.

Political risks – When you invest internationally, you’re not just investing in foreign companies – you’re also essentially investing in the legal and economic systems of countries in which those companies do business. Political instability or changes in laws and regulations can create additional risks – but may also provide potentially positive returns for investors.

Social and economic risks – It is not always easy for investors to understand all the economic and social factors that influence markets in the U.S. – and it’s even more challenging with foreign markets. U.S. markets are now worth less than half of the total world markets, and growth in the rest of the world is likely to keep expanding the number of global opportunities. You can take advantage of that global growth by putting part of your portfolio into international investments, including developed and emerging markets.

In any case, given the more complex nature of international investing, you’ll want to consult with a financial professional before taking action. If it turns out that international investments are appropriate for your needs, you should certainly consider going global.

This article was written by Edward Jones for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.

Breast Cancer

Each year, over 100 women in Berrien County are diagnosed with breast cancer.  While cancer can be deadly, early detection is key to survival. The five-year survival rate among women whose breast cancer has not spread beyond the breast at the time of diagnosis is 97%.  However, that rate drops to below 50% if the cancer has already spread.  There are many types of treatments available depending on how soon the cancer is discovered, so the important thing to remember is that the sooner the cancer is detected, the better the outcome.

To assure early detection, all women over 20 should perform monthly self breast exams and get yearly clinical breast exams, and women over 40 should have yearly mammograms.  All women are at risk of breast cancer, but some women are at a higher risk, including women after menopause, those with a family history of breast cancer, and those who have never given birth.

Fortunately, the Berrien County Health Department’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Program (BCCCP) provides clinical breast exams, mammograms, pelvic exams and pap smears to eligible women 50-64 years of age. You may be eligible for the program if you are a woman age 50 or over, do not have Medicare, HMO, or PPO insurance, and meet certain income limits.

You can lower your risk of breast cancer by taking care of your health in the following ways: Keep a healthy weight; Exercise regularly (at least four hours a week); Limit alcoholic drinks to no more than one per day; Breastfeed any children you may have, if possible.

Staying healthy throughout your life will lower your risk of developing cancer, and improve your chances of surviving cancer if it occurs.

For more information on breast cancer prevention, call the Health Department at (269) 926-7121 or visit www.bchdmi.org.

First bill signed into law

Being a freshman representative in the legislature has been full of firsts. The most important ‘first’ to date though, occurred last week when Governor Rick Snyder signed my first bill into law.

House Bill 4336, which I introduced in early March, is now Public Act 122 of 2017. It was part of a two-bill package seeking to stop out-of-state residents from taking advantage of a homestead exemption loophole when they purchase second homes here in Michigan.

By current law, you are not eligible to have a homestead exemption in Michigan if you have a substantially similar exemption in another state.

However, a ruling by the Tax Tribunal essentially made this an unworkable statute whereby an individual could actually hold a Michigan exemption and a similar foreign exemption at the same time, and simply retroactively rescind the foreign exemption at the time of denial here in Michigan.

As long as their out-of-state exemption was rescinded prior to their tribunal hearing, they would be entitled to the entirety of their Michigan exemption – even for the years they were in violation.

This is a serious issue in our county, where many out-of-state residents have second homes on lakefront property. Perhaps the most important reason being the entirety of the property taxes we weren’t able to collect would have gone to local K-12 education.

To put that into perspective, over the past two years alone, the Berrien County Treasurer’s office has denied nearly 30 properties for over $200,000 in property tax exemptions.

Now, all of that money and more will flow into our local school systems, helping our local classrooms and kids. That is easily the most rewarding thing about passing this law.

I look forward to passing more common sense legislation in the coming months and years, and I will always look for meaningful ways to help communities and schools across the state.

As always, residents can contact my office with any state or local issues by calling (517) 373-1403, emailing KimLaSata@House.mi.gov or visiting my website at www.RepLaSata.com.

Fall hunting season dates and information

Hunting remains a favorite tradition and pastime of many Southwest Michigan families, and I will continue to protect your hunting rights.

While regular firearm season on Nov. 15-30 is the most popular deer hunting season, it’s not the only one. Archery deer season runs Oct. 1 to Nov. 14 and Dec. 1 to Jan. 1; hunters with disabilities can hunt Oct. 19-22; muzzle loading deer season is Dec. 1-17 in southern Michigan; and late antlerless deer firearm season is Dec. 18 to Jan. 1.

Other hunting seasons in Michigan include: pheasant and quail from Oct. 20 to Nov. 14, turkey and ruffed grouse from Sept. 15 to Nov. 14, sharp-tailed grouse Oct. 10-31, and (in southern Michigan) duck and goose from Oct. 14 to Dec. 10.

This information and more is included in my 2017 Hunting Update, which is available on my Senate website at www.SenatorJohnProos.com; click on “Publications.”

Hunting guides, including all rules and regulations, can be found at www.michigan.gov/hunting.

Click on “Where Can I Hunt” to create and print customized maps on seven million acres of public lands.

On the site, visitors can also buy hunting licenses 24 hours a day.

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is a fatal, contagious neurological disease affecting deer and elk. Since a Michigan deer tested positive in 2015 for CWD, 10 more animals have tested positive in Michigan. The state has taken constructive steps to help contain this threat and protect our deer population. For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/cwd.

Happy hunting! I hope everyone has a safe and successful season.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments and feedback on the important issues facing Michigan. You can contact me at 517-373-6960.

Big step forward for middle-class tax reform

Last week we took a big step forward on our quest for middle-class tax reform and relief. The House advanced the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. The passage of this budget resolution makes our path to tax reform easier because the budget, once combined with the Senate, unlocks the reconciliation process that is key to passing tax reform.

We outlined our broad framework earlier this month, but there are some specifics on how we are aiming to help Michigan families keep more of their hard-earned money that we are excited about. One way is by doubling standard deductions and increasing the Child Tax Credit. Under current law, the standard deduction is $6,350 for individuals and $12,700 for families. Our plan proposes raising the standard deduction to $12,000 for individuals and to at least $24,000 for families. Importantly, by doubling the standard deduction many more low-income families will pay nothing in federal income taxes. On top of the increased standard deduction, our plan will also increase the Child Tax Credit – providing even more relief for Michigan middle-class families.

We also want to provide relief for families and business owners who spent too much time and money filing their taxes. Independent estimates show that taxpayers spend a combined $99 billion each year having their taxes done – money they could otherwise use on what is important to them and their families. Imagine the simplicity of a “postcard” tax filing for the vast majority of Americans. That’s our goal.

To learn more about this and other important legislative issues, please visit my website: upton.house.gov or call my offices in Kalamazoo (269-385-0039), St. Joseph/Benton Harbor (269-982-1986), or Washington, D.C. (202-225-3761).