I was recently asked “How would you protect a soon to be retired investor against the inevitable market correction that will occur in the next couple of years?” It’s a great question and I think it’s very important that investors understand the risks they take when investing. Having not had a significant correction in six years, we may be well overdue. Of course, some forecasters have been calling for a correction for a couple of years, and yet the S&P 500 was up 13% last year and 32% the year before. That’s the problem with trying to time the market – it’s not possible to predict the future and it’s too easy to miss good returns by sitting on the sidelines. So, how should investors position their money if they’re a couple years from retirement?
The first thing is to frame the investment portfolio in a broader context. Someone who is four years from retirement does not have a four-year time horizon, but more likely, a 30-year time horizon, so we want to focus on finding the best solution for the whole 30-year period. That means we have to balance the desire for short-term safety with the long-term need to keep up with inflation and not run out of money. While retirement may be a one-time event, retirement planning is an on-going process.
In addition to withdrawals from accounts, retirees will have other, guaranteed, sources of income, such as Social Security, Pensions, or Annuity payments. These may cover a significant amount of fixed expenses, which allows the investment portfolio to be used in a somewhat discretionary manner during retirement. With corrections occurring every 5 to 6 years on average, a retiree could experience five or more corrections over the course of a 30-year retirement.
The reality is that we have to be willing to accept some level of volatility in a portfolio in exchange for the potential for a higher long-term rate of return. We start with a risk tolerance questionnaire to get to know each client and help select a target asset allocation that will be the most likely to accomplish their financial objectives with the least amount of risk. There’s no magic bullet to give investors a great return and no risk, so it truly is a decision of selecting an acceptable level of risk that will fulfill their planning needs. Almost everyone needs to have a mix of safer assets and assets which offer an opportunity for higher long-term growth. Some of my clients have 50 percent or more in bonds, and that may work for their situation.
With the portfolio construction, I am very focused on creating a strong risk/return profile for each of my models. We diversify broadly to reduce correlation of assets and systematically rebalance each portfolio on an annual basis. Rebalancing provides a discipline of selling assets which have run up and buying assets which are cheaper. We can eliminate some types of risk altogether, including company-specific risks (by owning the whole market rather than a handful of individual stocks), and manager risks. We know that typically 65-80% of equity managers under perform their benchmark over five years, but since we don’t know which managers outperform in advance, choosing managers is simply not a good bet to be making. That’s why we use index funds rather than selecting “five star” fund managers for our core holdings – it puts the odds in your favor.
We buy Low Volatility ETFs for some client portfolios, and I think many investors would be interested in learning about ways to reduce market fluctuations. Low Volatility funds select a basket of the least risky stocks from a larger index. They’re designed to offer a return similar to traditional indexes over time, but with a noticeably lower standard deviation of returns. They’re fairly new strategy (available the last three years or so), but I think are one of the more compelling ideas in portfolio management today. Read more here: http://www.ishares.com/us/
Lastly, when working with a new client, we can dollar cost average over six months, so if we do have a pullback in the fall (as we did last October), we would have cash to put to work. The key is that even someone who is planning on retiring in the next couple of years needs to have a clear plan that addresses both their accumulation needs and a retirement income strategy. That’s our focus at Good Life Wealth Management and we’d be happy to meet with you and discuss how to accomplish your retirement goals.