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Westward Advisors Group
It may seem a little early to think about filing taxes, but doing a few quick things now can make it easier when April rolls around.

Tiffany Crawford, tax supervisor at Rea and Associates, Inc., said it's important that people start tax planning in the last few days of the year, if they haven't already.

"We begin tax planning as soon as April 16th for many of our clients," Crawford said in an email. "There are many reasons for this, but the most important one is having enough time to implement the tax savings opportunities that make sense."


There's still time before the New Year to save money when paying taxes later.

Crawford said each taxpayer's situation is different, but "there are many ways to save tax dollars available to taxpayers each year."

Contributing to a retirement plan, making a charitable donation or making sure you have health insurance may save some bucks in the long run, said Randy Kaup, Certified Public Accountant with Moorman, Harting and Co., in Coldwater.

People can contribute up to $5,500 to an IRA, which is tax deductible, he said, or maximize a contribution to an employer's retirement account.

Contributing to a retirement plan or making a charitable contribution before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31 can reduce the amount of income that's taxable, Kaup said.

The new health insurance law also requires people to indicate whether or not they have health insurance on their tax forms or pay a fine of $95 or 1 percent of household income, Kaup said.

Crawford recommends talking to a professional about the best way to "make certain that you are taking advantage of every deduction and tax credit available to you."

She added that reviewing the prior year's return can help as well.


Another important tip Crawford offered is staying organized.

"A lot of my clients have a filing system of some sort," she said. "It doesn't need to be anything complicated; I see a lot of manila file folders labeled '20XX Taxes' each year."

Bob Sielschott, Certified Public Accountant and senior partner at Sielschott, Walsh, Keifer & Regula CPAs, Inc. in Lima, emphasizes good record keeping when it comes to taxes.

"Capture the material during the year, so you can compile it when it's time," he said.

The "material" to capture is tax documents from employers. Crawford said it's important to know which ones to expect from your employer, though they are usually the same type as the year before, she said.

"One of the major things they need to do is be very, very careful about watching their mail in January and early February," Sielschott said.

Important documents such as 1099s, Social Security forms, mortgage forms and more come in the mail, and sometimes people can misplace them, he said.

Those aren't the only documents to keep track of, he said. There are also receipts from charitable donations, mileage logs and child care information, Sielschott said.

The hope is that preparing now, before the new year, will help save time and money when people begin the process of filing taxes.

"It's all about record keeping," Sielschott said.

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MONROE - A recent review of companies that have received tax abatements from the city of Monroe found that they are all in compliance with the requirements, such as job creation, outlined in the agreements.

City Council Tuesday approved a resolution accepting the annual review of the city’s 16 community reinvestment areas, tax increment financing districts and residential improvement districts that certifies that all were in compliance to maintain their various tax abatement designations.

The Butler County Tax Increment Review Council is required by state law to review each agreement to determine if the property owners are in compliance with each of those tax exempted properties. Some require the creation of a specific number of jobs or other requirements to stay in compliance. The TIRC review submits a review to City Council to continue, modify or cancel each agreement and the law further requires council to approve the review within 60 days. The TIRC review was completed in November and on Tuesday council adopt a resolution to approve the review.

Among those areas approved for continuance were in the Monroe Logistics Center, IDI, Corridor 75, and the Monroe Commerce Center.

Liquor control hearing motion declined

Council opted not to request a hearing before the state Liquor Control Commission on a request for a D-5 permit being sought by Main Street LLC, the business taking over the space of the Red Onion.

A D5 permit will allow for spirituous liquor for on premises consumption only, beer, wine and mixed beverages for on premises, or off premises in original sealed containers, until 2:30 a.m.

Officials said the restaurant will reopen sometime in January.

Laid-off firefighter has a new home

Zachary Bernard received his badge and helmet as he was introduced to council.

Bernard was one of 11 Middletown firefighters who were laid-off due to budget constraints. Tuesday was his first day with the Monroe Fire Department and Fire Chief John Centers said he expects Bernard to become an asset to the department.

“I’m really excited in coming to Monroe and I’m looking forward to a long career here,” Bernard said.

He is also certified as an emergency medical technician and as a hazardous materials technician.


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Our weekly roundup of tax-related investment strategies and news your clients may be thinking about.

5 year-end tax tips for clients: As the year draws to a close, investors should keep in mind their financial obligations to avoid certain consequences such as tax penalties, according to U.S. News & World Report. Mutual fund owners could face a huge tax liability from returns accumulated before the fund was purchased. For seniors, the deadline for making minimum distributions for retirement plans becomes Dec. 31 after the initial year of taking such distributions. -- U.S. News & World Report

How to avoid capital gains tax on stocks: I just did it, and your client can, too: Long-term capital gains tax rates vary depending on the tax bracket, with taxpayers in the 10%-15% tax bracket paying no tax at all, according to Motley Fool. Those who are in the 15% tax bracket have a taxable income of $36,900 for singles, $73,800 for joint filers, and $49,400 for heads of households. To avoid paying long-term capital gains tax, taxpayers need to have a taxable income that won't exceed these figures, and may keep their income low by taking tax deductions, such as the standard deduction, personal exemptions, and the Child Tax Credit. -- Motley Fool

How to lower your client's tax bill: Clients are likely to face big capital gains tax as stocks soared this year, but they may reduce their tax by deferring their income and accelerating deductions, says Robert Willens, a CPA and president of Robert Willens. They may also consider donating the securities instead of selling them and donate the money, so they won't pay capital gains and still take a deduction amounting to the security's fair value, Willens says. Harvesting losses by disposing of assets with dwindling value is also another way for investors to lower the tax bill. -- Barron's

When your clients pay a higher tax rate: Rich people pay higher tax rates as their investment income undergoes double taxation, according to Forbes. Despite having lower taxes than labor income, investment income is still taxed in the corporate level, which makes tax burdens higher. -- Forbes

Year-end charitable tax tips: Taxpayers can donate tangible property or cash to charities to reduce their tax bills, according to Forbes. To get tax deductions, donations in the form of household items should be in good used condition or accompanied by a qualified appraisal, cash donations need to be proven by a written receipt from the charity or a bank record. Tax deductions for charitable gifts may be obtained by itemizing these donations on Schedule A of Form 1040. -- Forbes

7 smart year-end tax moves to prepare for 2015: Clients are advised to check if there are last-minute tax deductions and to take a financial inventory before the year ends to prepare for the tax season in 2015, according to Forbes. They also need to determine their effective tax rate, account for all Roth conversions, and act on any withholding issues for next year. Clients can also reduce their tax bill if they incurred investment losses, and use the remaining amount in their flexible spending account before Dec. 31. -- Forbes

9 rules for tax-smart charitable giving: People who intend to give to charities need to remember a few things to get tax benefits when filing their tax returns in April, according to Time Money. They are advised to itemize tax deductions instead of taking the standard deduction, donate to a legitimate charity, and make sure they make the donation by Dec. 31. They also need to have a receipt of the donation, make sure the donated goods are in good condition and valuated accordingly. If they opt to donate highly appreciated investments, they won't pay taxes on capital gains and deduct the full market value of these investments from their tax bill.  -- Time Money

More related topic issue and information? Just visit Westward Advisors. Westward's expertise is in designing, implementing and managing insurance-based tax and estate plans for high net worth individuals and owners of private companies. For more update, follow us on Twitter.


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5 Investing Resolutions for 2015

Consider rebalancing your portfolio in anticipation of the new year.

Westward Group for Tax and Estate Planning Advisors Tokyo Paris Review 5 Investing Resolutions for 2015

With the holiday season upon us, we should make time to reflect on the past year and think about our financial goals, milestones we hope to reach in 2015 and how we can better prepare for retirement.

It’s also important to remember tax season is around the corner. Therefore, now is also a great time to review your investments and your saving and spending behaviors. Next, you can determine resolutions that may be right for your financial situation.

As you plan your 2015 resolutions, here are five tips to consider that may help you enhance your investing and retirement planning strategies.

1. Give your portfolio a tuneup. Now is a great time to review portfolio holdings and performance, and to determine how to maintain an investing strategy to help reach your goals. Take a look at your investments. Does your portfolio align with your risk tolerance? You can find online tools through brokerages to help you understand your portfolio’s gains and losses. Investors can create a diversified portfolio with multiple ETFs, for example. Using dollar-based investing, you can streamline the asset allocation process.

2. Maximize retirement contributions. According to ShareBuilder's Financial Freedom Survey, released in March, which conducted 1,008 interviews of adults 18 and older from Feb. 13 to Feb. 16., 57 percent of working Americans are concerned they won’t save enough money in time for retirement. By taking advantage of your employer’s retirement plan, you can work toward growing your retirement nest egg.

Beginning in 2015, employees will be able to contribute up to $18,000 annually to their 401(k) plans. Determine how much you can comfortably contribute. If possible, you may want to max out your 401(k) contributions and your employer match if you have one. If you can swing it, setting aside the full amount can be a great way to maximize your long-term investments.

3. Think about putting that holiday bonus to work. Examine your personal financial situation, and determine how you can best use the additional funds from a work bonus or holiday gifts. You may want to consider starting an investment portfolio, building an emergency fund or using that money to help a reach milestone like a down payment for a car or home.

Once your account is established, you could continue to grow it through automatic contributions. Programs, including ShareBuilder’s automatic investing plan, enable you to invest a set dollar amount on a regular basis and at a low cost. Becoming accustomed to putting away money on a regular basis is a critical first step – and it may build over time. Read the full article here..


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Are you funding ready? Top 5 tips to get your company funding fit

2015’s a hair’s breadth away. As you start next year’s planning, here are 5 things you can do to give yourself the best chance of securing new investors in your business – either debt or equity.

1. Have your financials in order
The first thing any investor is going to ask for is your historic financials, so you should have them ready and in a useable format. At Lighter Capital, we like to see 24 months of historic financials for both the P&L and the Balance Sheet. Some investors may require less, but at the minimum, I would suggest having the quarterly financials for the last 12 months ready. You should know that any institutional lending source is going to require that you produce monthly financials so this is something to think about as you head to market.

- The easiest way to determine if your financials are ready to be seen by an outside financing source is to have someone with an accounting background take a quick look at them. This can be as simple as asking your tax accountant to review, and now is a good time to ask them before they get slammed by year-end tax returns. They’ll let you know if you are doing anything blatantly wrong from an accounting prospective. I won’t sweat the small mistakes but if you have negative revenue or assets that could be a liability, they can help you make those changes easily. If you run into bigger issues, you might want to consider getting outside help from a CPA or controller, like our friends at Early Growth Financials.

- There are a few different types of accounting methodologies: cash, accrual, and modified accrual. It’s good to understand the pros and cons of accrual and cash accounting of each methodology before choosing one to implement. For example, a common error we see with accrual accounting is that many entrepreneurs only make adjustments at year-end, where this methodology actually requires monthly adjustments. This makes for a confusing P&L. For small business, it’s easier to just do cash accounting if you can understand it, and it helps you become very familiar with your company’s cash situation. Don’t feel that you have to use accrual accounting because that is GAAP standard. Lots of investors deal with different types of accounting methodologies, so they can read whatever statements you give them as long as they are accurate.

2. Projections – know where you’re headed
As we enter the New Year, it’s good to have a sense for where you’re going and projections help you get there. The most helpful projections are not the ones that just take a growth percentage and apply it on a monthly or quarterly basis, but the ones that are based on your pipeline and historic performance.

- Things to keep in mind include seasonality: are you a seasonal business, and if so, do your projections reflect it? Do you have some big customer wins projected over the next 12 months and when do you expect them? Do you have big payments to vendors or debt sources? Be sure to include them in the projections, including any adjustments needed to reach these goals and how they’ll be layered in over the next year (i.e. additional employees, larger commissions for sales, advertising and technology spend, and product development plans, etc.).

- As if that wasn’t enough to consider in your projections, you might want to think about having two sets — a tortoise and a hare. Your ‘hare’ scenario is a high growth shoot-to-the-moon scenario for equity investors and the ‘tortoise’ is a more stable, plodding scenario for debt investors.

- If this seems like a lot, a basic set using growth percentages and margins works well and at least gives your investors a place to start when evaluating the outlook for the next year.

3. Explain your customer base
Everyone will want to know something about your customers. If you put together a basic chart (like the one below) for your top 10 customers, you’ll help fend off 90% of potential questions.

If you have customers that represent more than 10% of your annual revenue, expect some type of follow-up questions from interested investors who might ask to see copies of the contract, request reference checks, and review historic churn in your customer base.

4. Service / Product Elevator Pitch
Now that you have the boring (or if you’re me, exciting) financials portion out of the way, you’ll need to explain what your company does. Try to make your product pitch concise and easy for people to understand. In Lighter Capital’s 10-minute online application, we call it the elevator pitch and we limit it to 500 words. After you have investors hooked, you can get into more details like the market (i.e. “the white space”) and the details of your service or product and why it is unique.

5. White Space – highlight your competitive difference
You have to present where you sit within the marketplace. How is your product or service different from the others out there and why? Telling someone that you are the next Facebook or Instragram isn’t really the best explanation of your positioning, and honestly, most people are just going to roll their eyes and say, “Sure you are.” Instead, present the lay of the land, demo your product, tell your customer stories, and focus on the problem your product is addressing or solving. Be truthful with your plan! At the end of the day, investors who want to invest in your business also want to invest in you. So demonstrating your inspiration and ability to execute the plan will help differentiate you from your competitors. Continue reading…

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On top of holiday preparations and celebrations in December, there are some year-end financial tasks that require attention. Many of those tasks on the financial to-do list have a tax component – specifically, avoiding unnecessary taxes on your investments, or worse, incurring a penalty.

Here are some reminders of tax consequences to consider before the new year rolls around:

1.Watch taxes on mutual funds. Mutual fund managers regularly sell securities to rebalance or accommodate shareholder redemptions. That creates capital gains for shareholders, even those with an unrealized loss on their mutual fund investment. This is particularly true for actively managed mutual funds, which have greater turnover than index funds.

But even if you are the owner of a mutual fund with overall gains, you may have a tax consequence for gains that occurred before you purchased it.

2. Don’t forget about required minimum distributions. By April 15 of the year after you turn 70½, you are required by the Internal Revenue Service to take a minimum distribution from qualified retirement plans, such as a traditional individual retirement account.

However, after that first year, your deadline for taking your distribution becomes Dec. 31. If you forget to take the distribution, you face an IRS penalty of 50 percent. In other words, if your distribution amount is $5,000, you would be hit with a $2,500 penalty. That’s on top of the taxes you already pay on the distribution.

3. Don’t let tax considerations get in the way of your investing goals. While it’s imperative to have a tax strategy, always keep your investing objectives front and center. Jeanie Wyatt, CEO and chief investment officer at South Texas Money Management, headquartered in San Antonio, says decisions about when to buy or sell investments are often obscured by worries about tax consequences. 

“In those situations, where people don't sell because they are going to have a tax cost, that can be a bad decision,” she says. “You really have to know that the investment decision is No. 1 and the tax consideration is No. 2.”

4. Be cognizant of short-term capital gains consequences. A short-term capital gain is realized by the sale of a stock held for one year or less. These gains are taxed at the same rate as an individual’s ordinary income.

A short-term gain can be reduced by a short-term loss. As much as $3,000 per year can go toward reducing taxable income. Additional losses may be carried forward into subsequent years to offset $3,000 in ordinary income or capital gains.

5. Plan for future tax increases. Having a strategy for 2015 and beyond is crucial, says Beau Henderson, founder and CEO of the RichLife Group in Gainesville, Georgia. “One of the thieves that can steal your rich life is the real threat of future tax increases,” he says.

People who have accumulated a sizable nest egg in their qualified retirement accounts will likely face a hefty tax bill when they start taking distributions. Henderson says effective planning today could potentially mean a lower tax bill down the road. “What if instead of pulling money out at a 35 percent tax rate, when you actually need to retire, it's taxed at 60 percent? That would affect your plan,” he says.


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2014 is quickly coming to a close. Before ringing in the New Year, take December to round out some quick and easy tips to lower your tax obligations and even boost your tax refund. And who doesn’t want more money?

So before we put a cork in this year, get your tax to-do list ready — and let’s check off these 8 items.

1.       Start gathering forms, and receipts. Start gathering receipts for deductible expenses and sources of income for the past year so you don’t leave anything out when you sit down and prepare your taxes. Pro tip: Understand which tax forms you will need, and keep a checklist to keep everything straight. This will help keep your sanity when you sit down to file your taxes, trust me.

2.      Donate to charity. Take December to weed through your clothes, furniture, and household goods to give back to a qualified charitable organization. Donating to those in need will leave you with a warm feeling inside, as well as a possible deduction. For non-cash and monetary donations, make sure you keep your receipts from the charitable organizations. Mileage (14 cents of every mile) driven to charitable service is also tax deductible. TurboTax Its Deductible will accurately value and track your yearly-donated goods. Make these donations count on your taxes by donating by December 31st. Pro Tip: If you make a donation by credit card, you do not have to pay it off in 2014 to receive the tax deduction.

3.      Push back your bonus to January. You have put in some hard work this year and now comes time for your holiday bonus! Taxes will be applied here, and this extra income may bump you to a higher tax bracket. Pro Tip: If you do not need the money immediately and your boss is willing to pay it in January — it might be worth pushing your bonus off a year. You still get to enjoy your rewards come the New Year, but do not have to pay the additional tax until April 2016.

4.      Look to the future and max out your retirement savings. In some situations, employers will allow you to play catch-up on your 401(k) or 403(b) plans. Check to see if you can increase your deduction on your last paychecks of the year. Putting money towards retirement will help boost your tax refund and wealth. Pro Tip: If you have not started a retirement fund at your job, start one! It is a great way to reduce your taxable income and possibly increase your tax refund.

5.      Get Educated. School is in session, and paying for next quarter’s tuition by December 31st may give you a valuable tax credit. Taking a college course can boost your tax refund by up to2,000 with the Lifetime Learning Credit. Pro Tip: Take a course to advance your career skills and better your chances for promotion, all while getting a tax credit.

6.      Time to spend your FSA. If you set aside a portion of your income for tax-free spending with a flexible spending account, then listen up. Unlike years past, the “use it or lose it” rule may not apply. If you have unused money in your FSA account on December 31st, you may be able to carry over up to500 into your 2015 FSA or your plan may allow qualified medical expenses to be paid with funds in the account within 2-1/2 months after the end of the plan year. Pro tip: If you have more than500 in your account come year-end, make sure you are caught up on all your doctor visits.

7.      Tax advantage of credits & deductions up for vote this year. Typically Congress votes to temporarily extend or pass expired or expiring tax credits and deductions. This year, expired tax extenders affecting teachers, students, homeowners, and energy efficient homes are up for vote. Congress has not come to a decision yet - but listens in for what they decide. Pro Tip: If Congress makes a final decision by December 31 and passes the expired tax provisions check and see if you can take advantage of any expired tax credits or deductions if they are extended!

8.      Project your 2015 finances. Are you applying for a subsidy or discounted insurance in the Healthcare Marketplace this open enrollment season? If so, you will have to project your 2015 household income and family size when you apply. Start looking into any changes that may take place in 2015 (growing your family, job promotion, heading into retirement, etc.). These changes may affect the amount of subsidy you are given to help you pay for insurance. Pro Tip: If you received a subsidy for 2014 insurance and experienced changes in salary and family size, notify the Marketplace before year-end. You may get a bigger discount or premium tax credit to help pay for your coverage or may get an adjustment so you don’t have to pay back some of the premium tax credit.

Westward Group for Tax and Estate Planning Advisors Tokyo Paris Review has designed and implemented insurance plans for hundreds of high net worth Canadians. We developed The LifeStep Process® as a way for accountants and lawyers to help their clients grow and protect wealth, and manage the estate in the most tax efficient way possible. For more details follow us at Pinterest Page and Foursquare Page.

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4 tips for year-end charitable tax deductions
As year-end approaches, many taxpayers consider last minute donations; merging their desire to do good with their desire to lower their tax burden.

Generally, if you itemize your deductions, making charitable contributions can decrease your tax bill. Here are some important rules to know.

Charitable contributions of clothing and household items

Clothing and household items donated to charity generally must be in good used condition, or better, to be tax-deductible. If the value is greater than $500, you don't need to meet this requirement if you include a qualified appraisal of the property.

Get a receipt that includes the name of the charity, the date of the contribution, and a reasonably detailed description of the donation for all donations of property. If a donation is left at a charity's unattended drop site, keep a written record of the donation that includes this information. Records should include the fair market value of the property at the time of the donation and the method used to determine that value. Additional rules apply for a contribution of $250 or more.

Monetary donations

Donations of money include those made in cash or by check, electronic funds transfer, credit card or payroll deduction.

A taxpayer must have a bank record or a written statement from the charity to deduct any donation of money, regardless of amount. The record must show the name of the charity and the date and amount of the contribution. Bank records include canceled checks, and bank, credit union and credit card statements.

Bank or credit union statements should show the name of the charity, the date and the amount paid. Credit card statements should show the name of the charity, the date, and the transaction posting date.

For payroll deductions, the taxpayer should retain a pay stub, a W-2 or other document from the employer showing the total amount withheld for charity.

If you donate cash or property worth more than $250, you must get a written receipt from the charity and an acknowledgment which includes a description of the items contributed. One statement containing all of the required information may meet both requirements.

Eligible organizations

Only donations to eligible organizations are tax-deductible. The IRS has an online search tool which lists most organizations that are eligible to receive deductible contributions. Religious institutions and government agencies are generally eligible even if they are not listed in the IRS database.

Tax reporting

Contributions are deductible in the year made. That means donations charged to a credit card before the end of 2014 are deductible in 2014, even if the credit card bill isn't paid until 2015. Also, checks insurance mailed on or before Dec. 31, 2014 are deductible for 2014.

Individual taxpayers must itemize their deductions on Schedule A to claim deductions for charitable contributions. If the taxpayer chooses the standard deduction, they cannot claim a tax deduction for charitable gifts. A taxpayer will have a tax savings only if the total itemized deductions exceed the standard deduction.

Form 8323 is required if the taxpayer's total noncash gifts exceed $500. If a taxpayer donates an automobile, boat, or airplane with a value greater than $500, the amount of the deduction will usually be the amount received when the property is sold by the charity and the charity is required to provide Form 1098-C to the donor.


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Westward Group for Tax and Estate Planning Advisors Tokyo Tips – MIAMI – If you haven’t changed your approach to estate planning recently, you should.

“The status quo is stupid,” said John Scroggin of Scroggin & Co. at the recent FPA Retreat here. “Estate planning is a constantly changing environment.”

Click here to read the full content of this article.

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Westward Group for Tax and Estate Planning Advisors Tokyo Tips – International stocks make up the most poimagepular mutual fund flows by asset class, according to new research.

Cerulli Associates discloses this finding in “The Cerulli Edge: U.S. Asset Management.” Focusing at length on alternative investments, the report also offers insights into fixed income, private equity, customization and organizational alignment to enhance distributor relationships, marketing and sales plans.

For the trailing 12 months ended February 2014, the survey finds mutual fund flows of international stocks constituted $142.2 billion, a total that significantly outstrips other asset classes. The next three largest asset classes for the prior 12 months included:

  • Balanced funds ($94 billion);

  • U.S. stock ($60.1 billion); and

  • Alternatives ($41.3 billion).

“[P]ortfolio managers have tilted away from traditional domestic core equity and fixed income,” says Cerulli Director Cindy Zarker. “As economic signs of recovery heightened concerns of rising interest rates, many managers presented institutional and retail investors with investment options to hedge this risk.”

The report adds most institutional investors intend to maintain or increase their alternative asset allocations in 2014. Among the target sectors within this asset class are private equity, hedge funds, real estate and infrastructure.

The heightened focus on alternative investments has been an ongoing theme in recent months. Findings recently unveiled in “Investing Outside the Box,” a study on trends in nontraditional investing from MainStay Investments (a New York Life company and Barron’s Top Fund Family) reveal that high net worth investors on average have 22 percent of their portfolios invested in alternatives. One quarter of these investors (26 percent) see their exposure to alternatives increasing over the next five years by an average of 2.9 percentage points. Another 66 percent believe their level of exposure will remain the same.

And as reported by Cerulli last month in the “Cerulli Edge: Institutional Edition,” international equities remain the predominant focus of all new products under consideration or development (24.1 percent), followed by global equities (14.9 percent), world bonds (13.5 percent) and asset allocation/global tactical asset allocation strategies (10.6 percent).


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