PA April 2012 Newsletter


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Monthly Newsletter on wealth Creation

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PA April 2012 Newsletter

  1. 1. “Judge no one happy until his life is over.” - Ancient Roman proverb Tax Deferral and The Sword of Damocles At first glance, especially from a distance, some arrangements may seem quite attractive. But when a fuller understanding is acquired, the same situation is not viewed so favorably. This is the theme embodied in The Sword of Damocles, a fable commonly recounted in ancient Greek and Roman literature. According to the story, Dionysius II was a fourth century B.C. ruler over Syracuse, a Greek city in what is now southern Italy. As befit a ruler in those days, Dionysius lived a luxurious and comfortable life, and even kept a group of adsentatores, or court flatterers, to amuse him and inflate his ego. One of the members of Dionysius’ court was Damocles. In his role as a court flatterer, Damocles was lavish and frequent in his praise of Dionysius’ wealth and power. One day, after hearing another recitation of his greatness, Dionysius turned to Damocles and said, “If you think I so fortunate, how m would you like to try out my life?” At first incredulous, a stunned Damocles agreed to be “king for a day.” The next day, Damocles was seated on the king’s throne, enjoying a fine feast,Richard Westall’s Sword of Damocles, 1812 wonderful entertainment, and the adoring attention of the court. But looking up,Damocles noticed a sharp sword hanging by a single horse hair, with its point aimeddirectly down on the throne. Startled, Damocles slid off the throne and asked Dionysiusfor an explanation. In This Issue… “This is the life of a ruler,” explained Dionysius. “I have great wealth and privilege,but every day there is always the threat that someone or something may cut the slimthread by which my prosperity hangs. One of my own advisors might try to kill me, or TAX DEFERRALspread lies and turn people against me. A neighboring kingdom could send an army to AND THE SWORDseize my throne. Or I might make an unwise decision that will bring my downfall. If youwant the life of a king, you must also accept these risks.” OF DAMOCLES Page 1 Shaken by the reality of Dionysius’ life, Damocles quickly ended his special day, andgladly returned to his much safer position as a member of the court. The Roman poet RETIREMENTCicero, in retelling this fable concludes, “Does not Dionysius seem to have made itsufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear INCOME DISTRIBUTIONalways looms?” METHODS Page 3The Sword of Damocles in Qualified Retirement Plans Over the years, the phrase “the sword of Damocles” has come to be used to indicate TAKING TURBULENCEany situation where there is a sense of foreboding because of a potential tragedy hanging OUT OF THEover one’s head. Almost four decades after being established in the tax code, a LONG-TERM CAREvariety of circumstances have come together to make the taxes American retirement INSURANCE ISSUEaccount owners must pay when they begin distributions a financial sword of Page 5Damocles. During the years when Baby Boomers were working and saving for retirement, it LOW NUMBERS =seemed like the format of pre-tax deposits and tax-deferred growth in qualified retirement OPPORTUNITY?plans was an ideal arrangement. Not only did participation lower one’s current income Page 6tax, but the consensus was that retirees would be in a lower tax bracket after they stopped© Copyright 2012 Page 1
  2. 2. working. In this paradigm, it made sense to push any tax table. If these increases occur, one of the ripple effects willobligations to the future. But now, as many Baby Boomers likely be more retirees paying a higher percentage of tax tocontemplate retirement, their looming taxes due from their withdraw their money compared to the break they received toretirement accounts may cast an ominous shadow over their deposit it.long-term financial stability. Furthermore, undistributed funds in qualified retirement As a financial strategy, the value of tax-deferral has always plans represent a significant source of future tax revenue forbeen dependent on whether the tax break received on the governments – the money has already been earned, but hasn’tdeposits will exceed the tax cost to be paid in the future. For yet been taxed. Given the size of the current federal deficit,the past 40 years or so, conventional thinking was that income and the unwillingness to impose higher taxes on a largetaxes in retirement would most likely be lower than income segment of the populace, there is a chance that the governmenttaxes during one’s working years. This assumption was based might attempt to collect some tax from these retirementon the premise that the typical retiree would be fortunate to accounts “early,” i.e., before the individual has either retiredaccumulate enough assets to provide an annual retirement or reached the Required Minimum Distribution age of 70 ½,income equal to 70% of their pre-retirement earnings. A 30% arguing these accounts are “taxable income in waiting.” (Indecrease in income would result in less income tax, and often the 1990s, the Clinton administration floated a proposal for adrop the retiree into a lower marginal tax bracket. one-time tax on all undistributed qualified retirement account Several factors – historic, economic, demographic and balances as part of a budget-balancing effort, but the idea waspolitical – may prove these assumptions in error. First, during never formally tendered or put to a legislative vote.) Anotherthe past four decades, marginal tax rates have actually possibility mentioned by policy makers is treating retirementdropped, by some measures distributions as a different form ofsubstantially. Data collected by the income, and imposing anon-profit Tax Foundation shows If tax increases occur, more different/higher tax bracket for it.that during the 1970s and early retirees will likely be paying a higher80s, there were 25 different percentage of tax to withdraw their What About a Roth IRA?income tax rates, ranging from a money compared to the break they The realization that tax rates havelow of 14% and a top marginal tax received to deposit it. been low and may be trending higherbracket of 70%. Even in 1982, has prompted some qualifiedwhen tax rates were “simplified,” retirement account holders tothere were 12 rates, running from 11 to 50%. consider alternative approaches, such Then simplification and reduction became drastic. From as redirecting new savings to Roth IRA or, if available, Roth1988 to 1990, there were only two rates, 15 and 28 percent. 401(k) accounts. With Roth accounts, the deposit does not This represented a low point in recent income taxation, but receive a tax deduction, but any earnings accumulate tax-free.the increases over the past 20 years have been modest. In More important, under most circumstances, a retiree incurs no1991, a new top rate of 31% was added. In 1993, the top income tax when a distribution is made.marginal income tax rate was bumped to 39.6%, which Consider the following comparison: One individual with aremained until 2001, when the top rate was lowered slightly. 15% marginal income tax bracket makes annual pre-taxSince 2003, the income tax table has featured six rates, deposits of $1,000 into an IRA, 401(k) or similar qualifiedranging from 10 to 35%. retirement account for 20 years. Another individual, also in the Here’s a generalization that can be derived from this 15% bracket, makes after-tax deposits of $850 to a Rothinformation: People who participated in qualified retirement account, reflecting the 15% of his $1,000 that is paid in taxes.plans and made pre-tax deposits in the 1970s and 1980s Both accounts are invested in the same financial vehicle,received potentially greater tax benefits than those who made which generates a 6% annual return.deposits in the 1990s and 2000s, simply because marginal tax At the end of 20 years, assume the IRA account holder willrates were higher in the 70s and 80s. However, given the liquidate this account for retirement, paying income tax at atypical progression of individual careers and earning potential, 15% rate. The Roth account holder will incur no tax uponmany Baby Boomers made the bulk of their retirement liquidation. Look at the numbers: (SEE TABLES, next page).account deposits during the later years when tax rates (and the If all the variables involved in a retirement account remaintax deduction for deposits) would have been lower. static for both individuals, the results of saving for retirement in a Roth account are identical to saving in a retirement planWill Future Taxation Be Higher or Lower that allows pre-tax contributions. But since there is almost nofor Retirees? chance that tax rates will remain the same for 20 years, Place this historical background on tax rates against projecting future tax rates becomes a critical factor of any taxtoday’s economic, demographic and political circumstances. A deferral decision. Higher taxes today? Maybe a 401(k) is best.fitfully recovering economy and a massive influx of Baby Higher taxes in retirement? Perhaps a Roth account is the wayBoomer retirees is wreaking havoc on the math of maintaining to go.government entitlement programs like Social Security and There is another way to evaluate this tax projectionMedicare. Despite an expressed reluctance to further burden dilemma: Pre- and post-tax retirement savings is the differenceAmerican citizens, many legislators and public policy makers between a known cost today and an unknown cost in thehave spoken of the necessity to raise taxes, specifically by future. If the choice is a Roth account, the tax is paid up-front,increasing the marginal tax rates at the upper end of the tax and while the current tax cost may be considered high, it is© Copyright 2012 Page 2
  3. 3. IRA - 6% ANNUAL RETURN ROTH - 6% ANNUAL RETURN Additionally, as part of a coordinated larger plan, there may be ANNUAL INVESTMENT ENDING ANNUAL INVESTMENT ENDING other ways to reduce the looming tax YR DEPOSIT EARNINGS BALANCE DEPOSIT EARNINGS BALANCE burden of retirement plans. For 1 $1,000.00 $60.00 $1,060.00 $850.00 $51.00 $901.00 example, if retirement distributions 2 $1,000.00 $123.60 $2,183.60 $850.00 $105.06 $1,856.06 were used to make house payments, $850.00 $162.36 $2,868.42 the tax cost might be offset by the 3 $1,000.00 $191.02 $3,374.62 interest deduction on the mortgage. 4 $1,000.00 $262.48 $4,637.09 $850.00 $223.11 $3,941.53 Of course, the effectiveness of many 5 $1,000.00 $338.23 $5,975.32 $850.00 $287.49 $5,079.02 of these strategies may also depend 6 $1,000.00 $418.52 $7,393.84 $850.00 $355.74 $6,284.76 on current tax regulations, which 7 $1,000.00 $503.63 $8,897.47 $850.00 $428.09 $7,562.85 leads back to the original thought… 8 $1,000.00 $593.85 $10,491.32 $850.00 $504.77 $8,917.62 Tax-deferral, while attractive in 9 $1,000.00 $689.48 $12,180.79 $850.00 $586.06 $10,353.68 the present, creates a future liability 10 $1,000.00 $790.85 $13,971.64 $850.00 $672.22 $11,875.90 that hangs over one’s finances. How 11 $1,000.00 $898.30 $15,869.94 $850.00 $763.55 $13,489.45 great is this future liability? No one $850.00 $860.37 $15,199.82 knows until it has to be paid. When it 12 $1,000.00 $1,012.20 $17,882.14 comes to retirement plans, the ancient 13 $1,000.00 $1,132.93 $20,015.07 $850.00 $962.99 $17,012.81 Roman proverb might be 14 $1,000.00 $1,260.90 $22,275.97 $850.00 $1,071.77 $18,934.57 appropriately modified to state, 15 $1,000.00 $1,396.56 $24,672.53 $850.00 $1,187.07 $20,971.65 “Judge no plan happy until its life is 16 $1,000.00 $1,540.35 $27,212.88 $850.00 $1,309.30 $23,130.95 over.” 17 $1,000.00 $1,692.77 $29,905.65 $850.00 $1,438.86 $25,419.80 18 $1,000.00 $1,854.34 $32,759.99 $850.00 $1,576.19 $27,845.99 IS RETIREMENT TAXATION 19 $1,000.00 $2,025.60 $35,785.59 $850.00 $1,721.76 $30,417.75 A “SWORD OF DAMOCLES” IN 20 $1,000.00 $2,207.14 $38,992.73 $850.00 $1,876.07 $33,143.82 YOUR FINANCIAL PROGRAM? 15.00% TAX DUE $5,848.91 (NO TAX 0) Net Proceeds $33,143.82 Net Proceeds $33,143.82 EVEN IF YOUR RETIREMENT IS A WAYS OFF, NOW MIGHT BEpaid; the account holder knows there is not a “sword of THE TIME TO RETHINKDamocles” in the form of taxation hanging over future YOUR POSITIONS,distributions. The certainty of no future taxation can be asignificant planning factor. AND PERHAPS The chance to “lock down” the tax cost in retirement INCREASE THEaccounts is also a driving force behind Roth conversions. FINANCIALCurrent tax law allows individuals to reclassify their pre-tax CERTAINTY OFretirement accounts as Roth accounts, as long as tax is paid at YOUR PLANS.the time of the change. This option gives the individual anopportunity to select a year when current income may be RETIREMENT INCOMElower, hopefully minimizing the tax cost of conversion. At thesame time, Roth conversions add tax dollars to the DISTRIBUTION METHODS:government treasury that normally wouldn’t have been paid When it absolutely, positively has to lastuntil retirement. your entire lifetimeGetting Out From Under the Sword ofFuture Taxes “Will your retirement income last as long as you In the context of tax certainty, there may be several factors do?” – 2011 TIAA-CREF bulletinwhich favor the Roth approach, but there are other “Retirement: Make your savings last as long as youconsiderations. First, one’s eligibility for making contributions do” – USA Today, December 12, 2011to a Roth account is dependent on adjusted gross income – themore you make, the more likely you would be disqualified “Make your nest egg last as long as you do” –from using a Roth account. Annual contribution limits are also Financial Finesse, October 12, 2011lower for Roth accounts in comparison with many pre-tax What is this retirement voodoo that “lasts as long as youqualified retirement plans. Matching contributions offered by do?”an employer for deposits to the company’s 401(k) plan might Retirement planning is a relatively new financial activity,also impact your decision. And as individuals get closer to one that has really only developed within the past two or threeretirement age, the shorter time-frame makes for better generations. The first generation (those born around theprojections of both the size of their retirement accounts and beginning of the 20th century) experienced longer life spans,what level of taxation will be applied. the first iterations of government-sponsored plans like Social© Copyright 2012 Page 3
  4. 4. Security and the rise of industrial employer pensions. The next income may not last as long as you do. And even if it does, ageneration (born in the 1920s through the onset of World War successful drawdown leaves no principal to pass on to heirs.II) retired in the heyday of generous Social Security and These challenges highlight two critical elements inMedicare benefits, along with stable pensions and the devising a drawdown plan: A projection of how longopportunity to supplement these retirement sources with payments will be made, and what rate of return can beprivately accumulated funds. expected from the invested principal. While there are many Presently, the Baby Boomers (those born between 1946- methods of arriving at a drawdown number, the following are1964) are approaching retirement age, and finding that the prevalent approaches today:retirement income resources of previous generations are The Four Percent Drawdown Rule. In the October 1994significantly altered. Because of changing demographics (a issue of the Journal of Financial Planning, William P.much larger cohort of retirees in proportion to workers), the Bengen, a certified financial planner and author, publishedactuarial premises of Social Security are unsustainable. For research on historical market behavior and concluded thesimilar reasons, company pensions are also fading from the following: A person who placed his retirement accumulationfinancial landscape. Now, the primary burden for providing in a hypothetical stock and bond portfolio, and started byretirement income rests squarely on individual savings. withdrawing 4% of the balance, then increased this withdrawal The following is an overview of several prominent by the current inflation rate each year, could expect hisretirement income strategies, emphasizing the philosophies accumulated nest egg to “easily last over 30 years” (per abehind them, and highlighting their perceived strengths and March 5, 2012, Wall Street Journal article), even withweaknesses. While each strategy has some unique features, all fluctuations in principal. For a retirement starting at the agesapproaches are attempts to address the of 65-70, this retirement income rule-of-thumb could likelymain issue in retirement: Sufficient last as long as a person does.income that lasts as long as you do. Over the past 17 years, Bengen’s projection has held up, and he told the WSJ he believes his rule still holds, even with STRATEGY #1: Live on some severe market fluctuations. Bengen has a few cautions:Earnings, Conserve Principal. This A long stretch of low returns and inflation could beincome distribution method is easy to problematic, especially for those just starting retirement.understand: Your retirement income is Go to Monte Carlo. Bengen’s 4-percent-drawdownthe profit – income, interest, dividends, approach is a very broad projection of returns and gains – that you receive from For a deeper analysis, retirees may want a Monte Carloyour retirement assets. Perhaps the oldest assessment of their retirement income plan. This approach,version of retirement income distribution, this simple named for the Monaco resort town renowned for its casinos,approach has several positive features. First, by never was first used in the 1940s by scientists working on the atomictouching the principal, you are assured the money will never bomb. A Monte Carlo program analyzes a range of possiblerun out. Second, conserving principal provides an inheritance outcomes and determines their probability of occurring. Itfor heirs, another important end-of-life financial issue. This shows the extreme possibilities—the outcomes of going forapproach can provide a high level of certainty, both to retirees broke and for the most conservative decision—along with alland heirs. possible consequences for middle-of-the-road decisions. But for many retirees, the principal required to generate a The strongest benefit of a Monte Carlo analysis is itsufficient income may be substantial. If the principal earns 5 provides a format for concisely comparing what might bepercent annually, a $100,000/yr. retirement income requires considered apples and oranges – different time frames,$2 million in principal. Conserving principal also means the different incomes, different investment risk levels. Retireesgreater portion of one’s wealth will not be enjoyed by the can weigh their financial priorities, such as security,owner during his/her lifetime; $2 million must be conserved to inheritance, income, etc.continue providing $100,000 each year. And remember: Most financial service companies have proprietaryAnytime principal is diminished, income will also be retirement income programs that incorporate Monte Carlonegatively affected. technology. Like any other computer-driven analysis, the STRATEGY #2: Devise a Drawdown Plan. value of the Monte Carlo method is dependent on the accuracyRecognizing that retirees will not live forever, some financial of the data used in analysis, and it must be noted that evenexperts recommend a strategy that systematically distributes events with the highest of probabilities are not guarantees.both earnings and principal. This approach, frequently called a STRATEGY #3: Annuitize. The simplest way to“drawdown” or “spend down,” delivers a significantly larger establish a secure retirement income is to pay someone else toannual income in comparison to a strategy that conserves assume responsibility for investment risk and the length ofprincipal. payments. Annuities are contractual agreements from Using the $2 million accumulation earning 5 percent from insurance companies that promise to deliver an income thatthe previous example, a retiree could receive $125,000 in will last as long as you want – even as long as you live.annual income for 29 years. That’s a 25 percent increase in One prominent advantage of an annuity is the lifetimeretirement income from the same accumulation. Selecting a income feature. Regardless of what happens to the economy,fixed drawdown amount also adds certainty to the retirement or how long one lives, a lifetime annuity is a contractualbudget, which helps other retirement planning. promise to continue delivering a regular income. This But there is a potential problem: About the fourth month of certainty not only stabilizes one’s finances, it also eliminatesthe 30th year, the money runs out. This means your retirement© Copyright 2012 Page 4
  5. 5. investment risk. Going back to the 1960s, economists have retirement. If anything, the demand for long-term care hasproduced studies asserting that annuitizing is the most increased. But based on a range of comments from insuranceefficient strategy for delivering retirement income. And unlike industry observers, insurance companies are rethinking how toother retirement income strategies, the longer one lives, the package and price long-term care coverage.better the return. Long-term care is a relatively new insurance product (the However, the greatest obstacle for most prospective first widely-marketed policies were issued in the 1980s), and aannuity purchasers, especially when considering a lifetime combination of economic, medical and consumer behaviorincome option, is the complete surrender of their principal. In assumptions have diverged from companies’ initial actuarialexchange for assuming all the risk of providing a retirement projections.income, the insurance company takes full control of the In order to maintain adequate reserves to pay claims,invested principal. Consider this example: insurance companies are required to invest a significant Using rates quoted in March 2012, a 65-year-old male portion of their assets in conservative, safe investments. In theretiree with a $2 million nest egg could secure a $139,000 current economy, these safe investments have been deliveringannual annuity income for life. If a retiree lived to 100, his $2 historically low yields.million investment would provide almost $4.9 million in According to a March 7, 2012, Bloomberg News article,income, delivering an annual rate of return of better than 6.6 the low returns exacerbate another issue: The costs andpercent. circumstances of long-term care are different than the On the other hand, if the retiree dies in an automobile projections of 20 years ago:crash two months after establishing the annuity, the insurancecompany does not refund the unused principal (unless the Not only did insurers not predict thatretiree included a return-of-principal provision in the annuity, Americans would be living longer when theywhich would decrease the monthly income payments). began writing long-term care policies in the 1980s, they also failed to project the cost andA Blended Approach scale of care around disabling maladies such Each of the retirement income strategies mentioned above as dementia. That in turn led to policies beinghas strengths and weaknesses, and each financial household severely underpriced for years, insurancehas unique retirement issues. It is impossible to make generic advisers say.recommendations that favor one income approach overanother. In reality, many retirees select a combination of these Most long-term care insurance policies include a provisionstrategies to address their income needs. With some competent that premiums may be increased to meet future long-term careassistance from your team of financial professionals, these claims. Typically, this provision applies only to policies thatapproaches give you options that can optimize both retirement have been in force for a specified number of years, usually 5income and financial certainty. to 10 years. In the recent past, some of the premium increases have been substantial (around 20 percent). HAVE YOU DEVELOPED A COMPREHENSIVE One of the possible responses to increased premiums that RETIREMENT INCOME PLAN? actuaries factor into their pricing models is that some policyholders will drop the coverage. But a high percentage of WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE PRODUCTS AND long-term care policyholders have maintained coverage in PROCESS TO HELP MAXIMIZE YOUR spite of premium increases. Why? As Malcolm Cheung, vice RETIREMENT. president of long-term care for Prudential told Bloomberg, ___________________ “People value the coverage and protection.” Cheung’s comments reinforce the conclusion that long-term care is a TAKING TURBULENCE significant financial challenge and the insurance is valuable; OUT OF THE having made the investment to obtain coverage, most policyholders do not want to forfeit it. LONG-TERM CARE For some insurance companies, these invalid assumptions INSURANCE ISSUE about the economy, medical history and customer behavior have prompted them to step away, and take a breather, and When Prudential Financial reassess the way they want to do business. And it may be announced on March 7, 2012 that the awhile before some clarity emerges about the most effective company would stop taking way for both customers and policyholders to deal with long- applications for individual long-term term care. But for many Americans, waiting for “clarity”care insurance on March 30, the news meant that 10 of the top about long-term care is not a reasonable approach; they need20 long-term care insurance companies by sales had left the to address long-term care now. So, despite the current turmoil,market in the past five years, according to a March 10, 2012 what actions can be taken today to provide financial certaintyWall Street Journal article. The insurance companies will in the face of what could be a serious shock to one’s standardcontinue to pay long-term care claims on policies currently in- of living and well-being?force, but many of these policyholders may encounter Apply for coverage now. It may seem counter-intuitive,premium increases in the future. but in the midst of this uncertainty, there can be advantages to These exits from the long-term care insurance market buying coverage now. As one brokerage company noted in itsmight seem curious, considering that long-term care is March 7, 2012, blog:becoming an increasingly important financial issue in© Copyright 2012 Page 5
  6. 6. When a large life insurance and long-term LOW NUMBERS = OPPORTUNITY? care insurance company decides to stop selling individual long-term care insurance because it does not view the sales as profitable, the 3.87 % 3.13% message is that the consumer is receiving 30-YR FIXED MORTGAGE 15-YR FIXED MORTGAGE significantly the best end of the bargain. According to recent data from Freddie Mac, the federally- Most industry analysts expect the underwriting criteria for sponsored mortgage lending corporation, the average rate for aLTC will eventually get stricter, making it harder to obtain 30-year fixed mortgage dropped to a record-low 3.87% incoverage. The reality: Younger, healthier applicants who February 2012. Rates for a 15-year fixed mortgage hit bottomapply under more generous guidelines have a much better in early March at 3.13%. Since then, the numbers have spikedchance of obtaining coverage on favorable terms. slightly, causing some observers to conclude that rates have Use a paid-up plan. Some insurers offer the option of finally bottomed out.paying higher premiums for a specified period of time, If this assessment is true, homeowners with positive loan-typically ten years. Once the paid-up period is fulfilled, no to-equity ratios may want to consider refinancing before ratesmore premiums are required, and the coverage remains in trend higher. In a depressed housing market, the primaryforce for the life of the contract. This feature eliminates the attraction in refinancing for most homeowners may bepossibility of premium increases and locks in the benefits, securing a lower interest rate and lower monthly paymentmaking long-term care costs a known quantity in your rather than extracting equity from the property. Some otherfinancial plans. homeowners may want to shorten the payoff period on the Make long-term care part of your life insurance policy. mortgage, switching to a 15-year loan from a 30-year one.Many life insurance policies now offer an accelerated benefit However, in coordination with other aspects of your financialrider, which permits a percentage of the death benefit to be program, refinancing may provide other advantages as well,paid in the event of certain long-term care events. While this such ascoverage is typically not as comprehensive as a true long-term − Making a greater portion of interest paymentscare insurance policy, it does have one advantage: If you don’t tax-deductibleneed long-term care, the premiums will be “recaptured” by − Improving monthly cash flowyour beneficiaries when the death benefit is paid. − Allowing more dollars to be directed to other investments − Consolidating other debt under more favorable terms HOW ARE YOU GOING If you are considering a refi, why not check all the options TO ADDRESS LONG-TERM CARE before you enter into a new mortgage agreement? Discover the RIGHT NOW? ways that low mortgage rates could provide a high- opportunity boost to your overall financial picture.__________________________________________________ _________________________________________________ ! " # # $ # # %© Copyright 2012 Page 6