February 26, 2016

Restoration Hardware: No Surprise RH Stock has Tanked

No surprise to me:  The Restoration Hardware chain of stores (symbol RH, based in nearby Corte Madera, California) lost 26% of its value yesterday after the company released its worse quarterly earnings report since going public in 2012.  RH stock, well, tanked and then some, closing yesterday at $38.49.  As noted below, RH is trading today in the $39 range.

Restoration Hardware (RH) closed down 26% yesterday after disastrous quarterly results.
This morning RH is currently trading up about 3% as shown in the stock price graph above.

No surprise to me.  I posted commentary last November about my experience with Restoration Hardware's 2015 Holiday Catalog, which earned my vote for the Retailer Flub of the Year.  Amazingly, the catalog sold a stocking stuffer for the grill enthusiast:  A hand-held meat tenderizer modeled after brass knuckles!

Restoration Hardware's 2015 Holiday Right-Hook Brass Knuckles-like Meat Tenderizer
No wonder the product quickly became "not available".

Foolish and reckless.  Perhaps just plain stupid.  Didn't Restoration Hardware know that brass knuckles and brass knuckle-like items are illegal in many states, including California?  In California, even the possession of brass knuckles can result in felony prosecution.  Did the company actually want to make their customers into a bunch of felonious grill enthusiasts?

And Restoration Hardware never publicly offered an explanation or apology for this major flub.

Years ago when the chain was privately held, Restoration Hardware stores were quirky and cool, an absolutely delight to shop in with merchandise found nowhere else including replicas of old fashioned items, quality furniture, and unique gadgets and tools.  But all that change after the company went public in 2012 and morphed into a Pottery Barn wannabe lookalike.  I've not shopped at my local Walnut Creek store since.

I stated on my November post that I thought Restoration Hardware had some 'splaining to do.  Now I really think the company has some serious 'splaining to do!

For information about my Insurance Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 25, 2016

Anyone else have a dog who picks garden-grown produce? Meet Sid!

Ok, Sid …

I “get” you are one of the most food motivated dogs to inhabit the Earth, including enjoying select food items from my gardens.

You carefully pick and eat the perfectly ripe strawberries from
my garden without damaging the plants.

And if I don’t pick the apples from our Fugi and Granny Smith Apple trees,
you’ll pick and eat those, too.

Same goes for my garden-grown  Crenshaw Melons, they are one
of your favorite foods.  I must admit I laugh and smile, as you lay in the
backyard grass, delightfully eating a melon you just picked.

But Sid, did you reallllly have to pick a
Meyer Lemon from the Meyer Lemon tree?

Sid proudly lounges by the Meyer Lemon he picked from a backyard Meyer Lemon tree.
And yes, Sid looks as if he is up to no good.  February 2016.

Sid, thanks for making every day a new, interesting adventure.  Love you buddy.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 24, 2016

Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016: Don't become a victim.

The Internal Revenue Service has released its list of Dirty Dozen Tax Scams for 2016.  This list is updated each year and identifies scams flagged as most prevalent by the IRS.  It's worth a read so that you become aware of these scams, including identify theft, IRS impersonator phone scams, fake charities, and other schemes.

Don't Become a Tax Scam Victim

Don't Become the Victim of a Tax Scam
And remember:  the Internal Revenue Service does not initiate contact with taxpayers via phone, text, or email.  Don't become a victim of the many tax scams that demand supposedly due tax money via phone, text or email.  If you receive this type of communication from someone accusing you of owing taxes to the IRS, please report it on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration's online IRS Impersonation Reporting Site.

I am an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury which allows me to provide tax services to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  Please contact me if you have questions about tax preparation, tax planning, or taxpayer representation (audit and collection) matters.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 23, 2016

Yes please. How about some wine infused jam for your PB&J?

Ah, yes ... You know you live in California when your favorite neighborhood grocer, Lunardi's Market, rolls out its own wine infused jams.  And no added sugars to boot.

Photo Credit Lunardi's Weekly Specials Ad, effective February 23, 2016.

You about that for a most awesome PB&J?  Perhaps a Creamy Peanut Butter and Strawberry Cabernet Spread Sandwich on Sourdough Bread?  Yes, please.

Now I need to decide what flavor to get when I go to Lunardi's later today.  Decisions, decisions.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 22, 2016

Yes, Financial Institutions Need your Physical Home Address. Blame the Good Ol' Patriot Act.

"Why is a credit card company demanding my physical home address?"  

I've been receiving calls and emails from clients regarding communication from credit card companies requesting a physical home address. The communication typically includes a stern warning similar to "provide a physical home address by XX-XX-XXXX or your card will be frozen."

Truth or scam?  Can credit card companies require this information?

Yes, they can.  Actually, they must.  Leave it to the

Good Ol' Patriot Act that we all admire and love.

The Feds want access to your physical home address.
And yes, you must provide it.

Although the Patriot Act was passed some 11 years ago in 2005, it's taken this long  for the law to be interpreted, followed by procedures put into place and implemented.  I know, nothing like speediness on the part of our Federal Government, right?

The Patriot Act requires that Financial Institutions (a broad category of companies including credit card companies) implement a Customer Identification Program ("CIP") which must include obtaining the physical home address of the customer. (Ostensibly so that Federal Investigators can more easily arrest you if you are suspected of money laundering.  No kidding.)

For privacy and security reasons, many of my clients (and also yours truly) have mail delivered to a private mailbox, post office box, or a business address.  If that description includes you, take a deep breath, because your current mailing address complies with CIP regulations as far as receiving correspondence from Financial Institutions.  However, you do need to provide your physical home address as an alternate address for the Financial Institution's records.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

February 17, 2016

Valentine's Day Love: Not just for humans

I had a wonderful Valentine's Day.  A gorgeous, productive quiet day in which I got a lot ... a lot! ... of things done around the house.

My wonderful Valentine's Day present from husband Jim and dogs Sid and Lexi.
The lined canvas baskets will be used to gather veggies, herbs, fruit, and flowers from my gardens.
I love to cook and bake, and can always use more dishtowels!

Canine Valentine's Day Compassion

My Faithful Canine Companions  Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi also shared some Valentine's Day togetherness and love.

Sid and Lexi enjoy their backyard:  Valentines' Day 2016.
The weather was absolutely gorgeous.

And who will argue that companion animals do not feel love and affection?

"Ahhhhhhhhhh!"  Happy Valentine's Day

If only all humans would treat one another with such kindness.  

I am grateful for my best husband-in-the-world Jim and our Faithful Canine Companions Sid and Lexi.  Ever so thankful for a wonderful career and my content, happy, and love-filled life, present not just on Holidays but on every day during the year.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 16, 2016

Are your Investment Return Expectations Realistic?

Investment and related planning decisions can hold an emotional aspect for people.  Emotions can, at times, facilitate unrealistic expectations, including those related to investment holdings.  One of my duties as my clients' consultant is to lend an objective viewpoint and guidance regarding prudent planning decisions.

Along those lines, here is yesterday's commentary column in the Wall Street Journal by E. S. Browning discussing why some money managers expect future bull stock markets to generate lower investment returns.  Always remember, what comes around, goes around; just as what comes up also comes down, including investment returns.  And as far as investment returns are concerned, past performance is certainly no indication of future results.

For information about my Insurance Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 12, 2016

Bring Sunshine to your Breakfast with my Good Morning Coffeecake

Good Morning Coffeecake

Even the most dreary gray morning turns into sunshine with a piece of Good Morning Coffeecake!  

A moist and tender sour cream streusel coffeecake with just the right amount of sweetness.  A staple in my home for breakfast with a dish of fruit.  Also delicious with cheese and fruit for a light lunch.

Cake Ingredients

1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sour cream

Streusel Topping

1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Frosting Glaze

2 Tablespoons melted butter
1 rounded cup powdered sugar
1/2 teasopoon vanilla extract or 1/4 teaspoon (or a bit more) of either almond extract or orange extract
About 2 Tablespoons milk

Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sour cream.  Mix until combined and smooth.  Batter will be thick.  Combine streusel topping ingredients in a small bowl.

Spray 9” x 13” baking pan with Baker’s Joy Baking Spray (or butter and flour pan).  Place a little more than half of batter  in pan, spread with metal spoon dipped in water.  Top with two-thirds of the streusel topping.  Place remaining batter on top in spoonfuls and sprinkle with remaining streusel topping.

Variation:  For a delicious variation, sprinkle a few semi-sweet chocolate chips on top of the streusel before baking.  Delish!

Bake at 350⁰F for 30-35 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Prepare frosting glaze using same small bowl used to make the streusel topping; any little bit of leftover streusel in the bowl adds flavor to the glaze.  Drizzle glaze on cake while cake is still a bit warm.

Store covered in refrigerator, warm pieces in microwave before eating.   (Recipe adapted by Mary Rae Fouts from King Arthur Flour’s Sour Cream Coffeecake recipe.)

Mary Rae Fouts

February 9, 2016

Bernie Sanders: Why his Health Care Plan is Doomed from the Start

Bernie Saners' Health Care Plan.

Josh Barro's "The Upshot" segment in today's New York Times is an absolute must read.  Both technically well written and objective, Mr. Barro examines Bernie Sanders' income tax plan and its relationship with his proposed single-payer health care plan.

End result?  Disaster.

I shook my head in utter disbelief upon reading that Mr. Sanders' health care plan is dependent upon tax receipts from high income taxpayers, yet he bases his funding strategy on the false premise that these same taxpayers will not change their behavior when burdened with a 73% or more tax rate.

Sanders and his naive team of advisors are flat out wrong.  

As an federally licensed Enrolled Agent with high income tax clients, I can assure you these high income taxpayers will undeniably adjust their behavior to counteract this drastically increased tax burden.  Mr. Sanders' health care plan is doomed from the start.
Sorry, Bernie.  I am not currently supporting any presidential candidate, but I emphatically am not feelin' The Bern with your unachievable proposals.
Tax Concerns?
About Mary Rae Fouts, EA

Mary Rae Fouts, EA is an Enrolled Agent licensed by the Department of the Treasury.  This license  allows Mary to provide tax preparation, planning, and audit representation to taxpayers in all 50 states and US territories.  For more information visit Fouts Financial Group.

February 5, 2016

Ouch! LinkedIn links out, trading down more than 42% today.

One word:

Networking website LinkedIn
stock (NYSE:LNKD) is currently trading down more than 42% after releasing earnings results far beneath analyst estimates.  That's a jaw dropping 11 billion or so dollars of the company's worth erased so far in today's trading session.

And you thought you were havin' a bad day.

LinkedIn appears to be suffering from, among other problems, the "Twitter Syndrome" I posted about in December.  Is LinkedIn truly a useful networking tool worthy of its still lofty valuation?

Frankly, I've yet to see the usefulness of LinkedIn as a professional networking tool (and clearly others share my opinion
), same as I've yet to find usefulness in Twitter as a communication tool.  Do people who use all of these social media platforms actually get anything done at work or in their daily personal lives?  And really, are the "Connections" some boast about on LinkedIn truly meaningful, or are they simply a faux statistic for social media horn blowing?  Time will tell if LinkedIn can recover and prove its usefulness.  In the meantime, I envision that volatility in tech stocks will continue in the near future as we see more disappointments and fall outs similar to those seen recently from Yahoo, Twitter, and today LinkedIn.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 4, 2016

Yahoo: CEO Marissa Mayer proves she doesn't get it. She needs to go. Pronto.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer needs to go.  
As in out the Yahoo door.  

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer needs to go.  Pronto.
I've posted about Yahoo before, including mention of frustrations some of my financial planning clients (as well as yours truly) have about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's ongoing inability to right the slowly sinking Yahoo ship.  (Disclosure:  I own Yahoo stock.)  Poking pieces of chewed bubble gum in the leaks ain't gonna work, Ms. Mayer, just as the tactic failed to work at the Hoover Dam in National Lampoon's Las Vegas Vacation movie.  (One of my favorite just-fun-to-watch movies, by the way.)  Yahoo needs to refocus and reinvent itself.  On Tuesday, Marissa Mayer proved she is incapable of the leadership, vision, and tenacity needed to tackle the task.

As reported in the San Jose Mercury News and elsewhere, on a Tuesday conference call Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced that Yahoo will shed an additional 15% of its work force and explore "strategic alternatives".  She neglected to define what she means by "strategic alternatives", but the alternatives are largely thought to be the sale or public stock spin-offs of some Yahoo divisions.

And then came the point in which my final tattered shred of confidence I had been grasping for Mayer was flushed down the toilet.  She stated:
"The vision for Yahoo isn't changing.  Digital content is our differentiation."
And therein lies the problem.  Ms. Mayer, how blind are you not to see that Yahoo's vision MUST change for the company to thrive, and for the company to perhaps simply survive.  Clearly today's Yahoo is failing; the company lost an eye popping $4.4 billion just last quarter. Yahoo's digital content may attract users and readers, but that is not equating to corporate financial success, and clearly has not for years.  Why can't you accept current failure and make the necessary changes to right the course?  Simply terminating employees and reducing payroll is not the single savior you need.

And there you have it.   Hopefully Yahoo's Board of Directors and Shareholders will have the sense to give Marissa Mayer the boot, and bring on a CEO with a bold hired gun mentality who is not afraid to act.  A person with the vision and focus necessary to right Yahoo's course.   Otherwise, I envision Yahoo becoming much like dial-up Internet connections and rotary telephones: a discarded relic of the past.

For information about my nationwide Consulting, Expert Witness, and Tax Services visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 3, 2016

Life Insurance Trusts: Are you fulfilling your fiduciary obligations as Trustee?

Life Insurance Trusts, including Irrevocable Life Insurance Trusts (“ILITs”), can be effective and suitable financial planning and estate planning tools in certain situations.  However, these trusts come with specific fiduciary obligations for the Trustee or Trustees overseeing the trust.

Among the fiduciary duties thrust upon the Trustee is ongoing monitoring of the trust’s assets (in this case, life insurance policies) and due diligence review of the issuing life insurance companies.  Pursuant to Title 12 of the Code of Federal Regulations
, National Banks acting as Trustee are required to perform (1) a pre-acceptance review before accepting a trust asset; (2) an initial post-acceptance review to determine if the trust asset is suitable for the trust; and (3) an ongoing annual review to determine if the trust assets remain suitable for the trust.

If you serve as the Trustee of a life insurance trust, are you fulfilling your fiduciary obligations? 

As a licensed Life and Disability Insurance Analyst, I provide consulting life insurance policy and insurance company due diligence review services to Trustees of life insurance trusts, as well as Expert Witness Services for related life insurance matters.   Please contact me if you have questions about these services.

For more information, visit Fouts Financial Group.

Mary Rae Fouts

February 2, 2016

A Forever Bond with my Faithful Canine Companions

I am thankful to live a very dog centered life with my Faithful Canine Companions, former "pound" dogs Husky-mix Sid and Chow-mix Lexi.   Sid was a stray found by a County Animal Control Officer, he had a red collar on but was never claimed by his owner.  Sid is a goofy, loving dog who craves human affection, is food obsessed, and takes great pride in grooming and roughhousing with Lexi.

 Lexi was terribly neglected and abused in a backyard puppy mill by her former owners.  She was seized for neglect and abuse by the Antioch, CA police; 1 of 7 dogs seized and the only to survive.  Lexi has grown into a healthy, confident, and loving dog since we adopted her in late October 2014; so proud of her.  Sid and Lexi are a very bonded canine pair, and wonderful loving companions to both my husband Jim and me.

Come Back Soon, Mommy!

Here is an example of the Good-by Mommy sendoff I often get through the front picture window when I leave via the front door.

When I observe the dogs contently watch the front yard world go by (in this case, Sid), I am once again reminded that we all need to take peaceful, unhurried moments and simply enjoy life.

Good Dogs!  And remember, when adding a canine companion to your family, please adopt, don't shop!

Mary Rae Fouts

February 1, 2016

Holy Drumsticks! Antioch, CA Besieged by Chickens!

Yes, one more wacky yet true news story from the San Francisco Bay Area.

My local Contra Costa Times newspaper recently reported that a situation in Antioch, CA is ruffling the feathers of some residents.  The problem you may ask?

Apparently, part of the city has been invaded by wild Chickens.  Yes, the creature of hard boiled eggs and fried chicken.  Apparently a flock of 60 to 70 birds is terrorizing a neighborhood and no one can agree what to do about this ... err ... problem.

Residents of San Francisco have lived in harmony with the Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill for decades.  Hopefully Antioch residents can learn to get along with the Chickens, or otherwise agree on a solution to trapping and relocating the birds.

In the meantime, fresh eggs, anyone?    

Mary Rae Fouts