Should I add more Bonds?

Should I Add More Bonds?

Yields have risen on bonds this year and for many investors it may now make sense to increase their bond exposure. Eleven months ago, I wrote how bond yields had actually crossed above the expected return for stocks. At that time, we could find A-rated bonds with a 6 percent yield. And that compared favorably to the 5.7% expected return of stocks, as projected by Vanguard over the subsequent 10-years ahead.

This past month, we bought some new 10-year government agency bonds with a 7% yield. Now it looks even better to be adding bonds and maybe even reducing some of your stock market exposure. Last November, the Vanguard Capital Markets Model suggested a 5.7% expected return for US stocks over the next 10 years. As of mid-year 2023, they have reduced that to 4.7%.

Even though stock predictions are usually very inaccurate, I do think it is worthwhile to look at these projections. While the historical returns of US stocks may have been 9-10% over the long haul, returns can be above or below average for an extended period. There have been many 10 year periods which have done better or worse than the “average”. There are many factors which can help us estimate returns, including starting equity valuations (such as the Price/Earnings ratio), corporate earnings growth, or productivity gains. It should not come as a surprise that when stocks are expensive (like in 2000), the following 10 years are below average. Or when stocks are beaten down and cheap (like in 2009), the next 10 years are often above average in return.

Portfolio Models

We manage a series of investment portfolios for our clients with an approximate benchmark blend of stocks and bonds. Our Premiere Wealth Management Portfolio Models include:

  • Ultra Equity (100% stocks / 0% bonds)
  • Aggressive (85/15)
  • Growth (70/30)
  • Moderate (60/40)
  • Balanced (50/50)
  • Conservative (35/65)

In the 4th quarter of each year, we analyze our portfolio models and make tactical adjustments based on where we perceive relative value. We overweight the segments or categories which have better expected returns and we reduce the categories which have a lower expected return. In addition to our Core holdings of Index Funds and investment grade bonds, we consider satellite investments in alternative categories.

But this year is different. We are now looking at bond yields that are above the expected return of US stocks. I think it may make sense for a lot of my clients to consider a healthy increase in their bond holdings. For the last 15 years, since the 2008 global financial crisis, bond yields have been absurdly low. Today, we have a chance to lock-in longer yields at a time when the stock market looks potentially mediocre for the next several years of returns.

I have thought for a long time about how to increase bond holdings. If we move a 60/40 portfolio from 40% to 50% bonds, we probably shouldn’t still call it a 60/40 model. So, instead of making large changes on the model level, I will be discussing with each client if we now want to consider reallocating from the 60/40 to the 50/50 model, for example.

Pro / Con of Adding Bonds

The hope, by adding more bonds, is to reduce volatility and have a smoother, more consistent return each year. If the 4.7% expected return of stocks is correct, bonds could out-perform stocks and improve the return of the overall portfolio. For investors close to retirement, adding bonds could reduce the impact of a large drop in stocks, right before income was needed. And for retirees taking distributions, the now high income from bonds means we can better meet your need for cash flow versus selling shares of stocks.

Of course, there is no guarantee stocks will under-perform as projected. The 10 year projection from Vanguard is an annualized average – the stock market will undoubtedly have years with very different performance than the annual average. Investors with FOMO may be unhappy in bonds, even 7% coupons, if stocks are up 20% in one year. Young investors who are making monthly deposits may prefer dollar cost averaging and not worry as much about stock market fluctuations.

Understand Callable Bonds

Many of the Agency, Corporate, and Municipal bonds available today are “callable” bonds. That means that the issuer has the right to pay off the debt early. “Calls” happens when interest rates fall and the issuer can replace their 7% debt with a lower yield bond. It’s just like refinancing a mortgage to a lower rate.

We don’t necessarily have to hold a 10-year bond to maturity. Here is how past economic cycles worked: Eventually, the economy will slow and fall into recession. At some point, the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates and we often see both short and longer term interest rates drop. At that point, the issuer of the 7% bond may be able to refinance down to 6% or 5%. So, they will call their bonds early and redeem them at full value.

If we are in a recession, it’s also possible that the stock market could be down 20% or more in that period. And that may be a good time to rebalance – to take the proceeds from the called bond and invest it back into a stock market that is beaten up. That certainly worked well in March and April of 2020. If interest rates drop, we are likely to get called and might not be able to find another 7% bond. But that may be okay, if we are willing to rebalance the overall portfolio and buy other investments when they are on sale. And of course, regardless of when a bond is redeemed, we made 7% a year, since we bought these bonds at Par.

Reducing Call Risk

Why not just buy non-callable bonds? I would if they were more available and at the same yields. Most bonds today are callable, with the main exception being US Treasury bonds. But the yield on the 10-year Treasury is 4.7%, not 7%. So, I am willing to take some call risk for the extra 2% in return. Still, there are some things we are doing:

  • Buying discount bonds. Older bonds with a lower coupon often trade at a similar yield to maturity as new issue (and high coupon) bonds. These are less likely to be called. And if we buy a bond at 90 and they call it at 100, that is great.
  • Preferred Stocks are also now trading at sizable discounts, often 60-70 cents on the dollar. If we are comparing a bond from Wells Fargo versus their Preferred Stock, there may be advantages of the Preferred. While they may have similar current yields, the preferred has upside to its $25 price. The bonds, trading near Par, have no price appreciation potential.
  • Fixed annuities (multi-year guaranteed annuities or MYGAs) generally are not callable. And since there is no 1% management fee on the annuity, a 5.5% 5-year annuity may net the same return as a 6.5% 5-year corporate bond. Except the annuity is guaranteed, unlike a corporate bond. So, if you aren’t needing flexible liquidity, MYGAs can reduce your call risk and lock in today’s interest rates.

Your Bond Strategy

We’ve waited 15 years to have bonds with these juicy yields. I think now is not a time to be too defensive with a money market or short-term T-Bills. Those are fine for your immediate needs. But at some point in the future, rates could drop. The risk is that when today’s 5.5% T-Bills mature, the new T-Bills might only yield 3% or 2%. Then we will regret not locking in the longer duration yields available to us now at the end of 2023.

These last four years have been quite a roller coaster for investors. A huge crash in March of 2020, followed the fastest recovery of stocks ever. Then unprecedented inflation. A Bear Market in 2022 brought a 20% drop. A recovery in 2023 that was limited only to a handful of tech stocks. A lot of stock funds have little or almost no gains to show for all this commotion. Stocks have been disappointing.

Bonds today offer a higher yield than the 4.7% expected return of US stocks over the next decade. That’s quite a shift and investors should pay attention – yields will not stay at these levels forever! We are always cautious in making large changes, but would generally prefer bonds over stocks if they had the same return.

Stocks are supposed to have an Equity Risk Premium to compensate you for their added risk and volatility. Not today. Bonds offer lower volatility, a more predictable return of “yield to maturity”, and current income. For retirement planning, these are very desirable qualities that can improve the outcomes of our planning simulations both before and during retirement years. These are the reasons will are looking to add more bonds today.

US and French Social Security

US and French Social Security

We are in Paris and several clients have reached out to make sure we are doing okay, given the demonstrations and riots regarding France’s retirement system. Yes, we are fine and actually never saw any of these events other than on the news. Day to day life in Paris is normal, and thankfully the garbage strike is over. It has been perfectly tranquil in our neighborhood and we are enjoying life in the city.

Why are the French upset? Currently, if you are 62 and have worked for 42 years, a French citizen can receive their full retirement benefit of 50% of the average salary of their highest paid 20 years of work. If you don’t have 42 years of contributions, you will receive less than 50%, or you can work for longer to increase your benefit up to 50%. So, if you had been making $60,000 (Euros actually), you could potentially retire at 62 with a $30,000 pension. Under the new rules, the full retirement benefit will not become available until age 64 with 43 years of work. There are some interesting parallels between US and French Social Security.

The French Connection

In a recent interview, France’s President Macron defended the changes, which have been enormously unpopular. Macron explained that the program has always been an entitlement program, where current benefits are paid by current taxes. It is not a personal savings or investment account. When Macron took office, there were 10 million retirees receiving benefits, out of France’s 67 million population. Today, there are 17 million retirees and that number will grow to 20 million by 2030. 20 million pensioners out of a total of 67 million people. There are 1.7 workers in France for each retiree.

1.7 workers cannot provide an average monthly benefit of 1300 Euros for each retiree. There are only two options, increase taxes or decrease benefits. France already has high taxes, 20% just for social programs (this also includes health insurance, unemployment, maternity benefits, and other programs). 14% of France’s GDP is just retirement pensions. France compared their program and expenditures to similar countries and recognized that their retirement age was too low, given how much longer people are living today.

Macron tried to work with representatives in their Parliament on a solution. But when no agreement could be reached, he issued an executive order to make the changes without a vote. He noted that he had to do what was in the country’s best interest in the long term and preserve the program for their children and grandchildren, even if it was not the most popular thing to do. I was impressed by his directness, intelligent explanation of a complex problem, and courage to do the right thing even when it is not easy or popular.

The US Conundrum

I’ve been writing about the problems facing US Social Security since 2008. Back then, the 2036 projected collapse of the Social Security Trust Fund seemed like a lifetime away. Today, Social Security projects that the Trust Fund will be depleted by 2033. At that time, taxes will only cover about 70% of promised benefits. And every year, the Social Security Trustees report tells us how much we need to increase taxes or decrease benefits to keep the program solvent for 75 years.

Unfortunately, over the last 15 years no changes have occurred. It has been political suicide for any politician to suggest reforming Social Security. The easiest attack ad has always been to say that your opponent wants to “take away your Social Security check”. So we keep on marching towards that cliff with no change in direction. Shame on our politicians for not being willing to save the foundation of our retirement.

When Social Security started, there were 16 workers for every retiree and the average life expectancy was 65. Today, there are 2.8 workers for every retiree and that ratio continues to shrink. The typical 65 year old, in 2023, will live for at least 20 years. Like in France, it doesn’t matter what “you paid into Social Security”. That’s not how the program ever worked. Current taxes pay current beneficiaries. Your past contributions were spent on your parent’s or grandparent’s check.

No Easy Solution

Compared to France, the US demographics may look better. However, France actually is running a smaller deficit on their retirement program – only a 10 Billion Euro average annual shortfall for the next decade. They actually ran a surplus in 2022 and are proactively making these changes looking forward to the decade ahead. They’re making changes before there is a deficit! (Social Security spent only $56 Billion of the Trust Fund last year, but this will accelerate and deplete the whole $2.8 Trillion over the next 10 years.)

For the US, if we we wait, it will magnify the size of the changes needed. It would be better to start today to save Social Security. We can either increase taxes or reduce benefits. Those are the only two options. No one wants to do either, so we have to reach a compromise.

Thankfully, there are actuaries at Social Security who study all proposals. Their annual report estimates how much of the shortfall could be reduced for each change. Here are some of their calculations, looking at the improvement of the long-range actuarial balance. (We should be looking for some combination which equals at least 100%.)

Impact of Possible Changes to US Social Security

  • Reduce COLAs by 1% annually: 56%
  • Change COLA to chained CPI-W: 18%
  • Calculate new benefits using inflation rather than SSA Average Wage Index: 80%
  • Reduce benefits for new retirees by 5% starting 2023: 18%
  • Wage test. Reduce SS benefits from 0-50% if income is $60k-180k single/$120k-360k married: 15%
  • Increase Full Retirement Age from 67 to 69 by 2034, and then increase FRA by 1 month every 2 years going forward: 38%
  • Increase the Payroll Tax from 12.4% to 16% in 2023: 103%
  • Eliminate SS cap and tax all wages: 58%
  • Eliminate SS cap, tax all wages, but do not increase benefits above the current law maximum: 75%
  • New 6.2% tax on investment income, for single $200k / married $250k: 29%

I don’t have an answer for what Washington will do. But we can look at what will actually work. And what is perhaps even more interesting is what doesn’t work. It is shocking, for example, that wage testing SS only improves the shortfall by 18%. Or that Reducing COLAs by 1% every year only will cover half the shortfall. Unfortunately, we may need to increase taxes. Moving to 16% payroll tax would fully cover the shortfall. That would be a relatively small increase from 6.2% to 8%, each, for an employee and the employer. But that is a regressive tax, which would impact low earners more than high earners. For reforms to work, it might require a combination of both increased taxes and reductions in the way benefits increase.

Kicking The Can Down The Road

Will the US take action to save Social Security, or will the reaction in France scare US Politicians? It’s hard to imagine our divided Congress reaching a compromise on an issue as difficult and controversial as changing Social Security. But any politician who is still talking about the other side as “trying to take away your Social Security” is now part of the problem and not part of the solution. Kicking the can down the road is not going to help America.

What is certain is the need to save Social Security. It is the largest source of retirement income for most Americans. And the lower your income, the more Social Security is needed to cover retirement expenses. We can’t keep ignoring the future of Social Security, it’s not going to get better on its own. The status quo is not an option.

I hope the US won’t see the same riots as Paris. But I also hope US politicians will do their job and have the courage to make the tough choices that are in the best interest of the public. US and French Social Security are both in the same precarious state. Let’s hope Winston Churchill was right: “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” That day is coming soon.

Inflation Investments

Inflation Investments

With the cost of living on the rise in 2021, many investors are asking about inflation investments. What is a good way to position your portfolio to grow and maintain its purchasing power? Where should we be positioned for 2022 if higher inflation is going to stick around?

Inflation was 5.4% for the 12 months ending in July. I share these concerns and we are going to discuss several inflation investments below. Before we do, I have to begin with a caveat. We should be cautious about placing a lot of weight in forecasts. Whether we look at predictions of stock market returns, interest rates, or inflation, these are often quite inaccurate. Market timing decisions based on these forecasts seldom add any value in hindsight.

What we do know for sure is that cash will lose its purchasing power. With interest rates near zero on most money market funds and bank accounts, it is a frustrating time to be a conservative investor. We like to consider the Real Yield – the yield minus inflation. It would be good if bonds were giving us a positive Real Yield. Today, however, the Real Yield on a 10-year Treasury bond is negative 4%. This may be the most unattractive Real Yield we have ever seen in US fixed income.

Let’s look at inflation’s impact on stocks and bonds and then discuss three alternatives: TIPs, Commodities, and Real Estate.

Inflation and Stocks

You may hear that inflation is bad for stocks. That is partially true. Rising inflation hurts companies’ profitability and consumers’ wallets. In the short-term, unexpected spikes in inflation seem correlated to below average performance in stocks.

However, when we look longer, stocks have done the better job of staying ahead of inflation than other assets. Over five or ten years, stocks have generally outpaced inflation by a wide margin. That’s true even in periods of higher inflation. There are always some down periods for stocks, but as an asset class, stocks typically have the best chance of beating inflation over a 20-30 year horizon as an investor or as a retiree.

We can’t discuss stocks and inflation without considering two important points.

First, if there is high inflation in the US, we expect that the Dollar will decline in value as a currency. If the Dollar weakens, this would be positive for foreign stocks or emerging market stocks. Because foreign stocks trade in other currencies, a falling dollar would boost their values for US investors. Our international holdings provide a hedge against a falling dollar.

Second, the Federal Reserve may act soon to slow inflation by raising interest rates. This would help slow the economy. However, if the Fed presses too hard on the brake pedal, they could crash the economy, the stock market, and send bond prices falling, too. In this scenario, cash at 0% could still outperform stocks and bonds for a year or longer! That’s why Wall Street has long said “Don’t fight the Fed.” The Fed’s mandate is to manage inflation and they are now having to figure out how to keep the economy growing. But not growing too much to cause inflation! This will prove more difficult as government spending and debt grows to walk this tightrope.

Inflation and Bonds

With Real Yields negative today, it may seem an unappealing time to own bonds, especially high quality bonds. Earning one percent while inflation is 5% is frustrating. The challenge is to maintain an appropriate risk tolerance across the whole portfolio.

If you have a 60/40 portfolio with 60% in stocks and 40% in bonds, should you sell your bonds? The stock market is at an all-time high right now and US growth stocks could be overvalued. So it is not a great buying opportunity to replace all your bonds with stocks today. Instead, consider your reason for owning bonds. We own bonds to offset the risk of stocks. This gives us an opportunity to have some stability and survive the next bear market. Bonds give us a chance to rebalance. So, I doubt that anyone who is 60/40 or 70/30 will want to go to 100% stocks in this environment today.

Still, I think we can add some value to fixed income holdings. Here are a couple of ways we have been addressing fixed income holdings for our clients:

  • Ladder 5-year Fixed Annuities. Today’s rate is 2.75%, which is below inflation, but more than double what we can find in Treasury bonds, Municipal bonds, or CDs.
  • Emerging Market Bonds. As a long-term investment, we see attractive relative yields and improving fundamentals.
  • Preferred Stocks, offering an attractive yield.

TIPS

Treasury Inflation Protected Securities are US government bonds which adjust to the CPI. These should be the perfect inflation investment. TIPS were designed to offer a return of inflation plus some small amount. In the past, these may have offered CPI plus say one percent. Then if CPI is 5.4%, you would earn 6.4% for the year.

Unfortunately, in today’s low yield environment, TIPS sell at a negative yield. For example, the yield on the Vanguard short-term TIPS ETF (VTIP) is presently negative 2.24%. That means you will earn inflation minus 2.24%. Today, TIPS are guaranteed to not keep up with inflation! I suppose if you think inflation is staying higher than 5%, TIPS could still be attractive relative to owning regular short-term Treasury Bonds. But TIPS today will not actually keep up with inflation.

Instead of TIPS, individual investors should look at I-Bonds. I-Bonds are a cousin of the old-school EE US Savings Bonds. The I-series savings bonds, however, are inflation linked. I-bonds bought today will pay CPI plus 0%. Then your investment is guaranteed to keep up with inflation, unlike TIPS. A couple of things to know about I-bonds:

  • You can only buy I-bonds directly from the US Treasury. We cannot hold I-Bonds in a brokerage account. There is no secondary market for I-bonds, you can only redeem at a bank or electronically.
  • I-Bond purchases are limited to a maximum of $10,000 a year in electronic form and $5,000 a year as paper bonds, per person. You can buy I-bonds as a gift for minors, and the annual limits are based on the recipient, not the purchaser.
  • I-bonds pay interest for 30 years. You can redeem an I-bond after 12 months. If you sell between 1 and 5 years, you lose the last three months of interest.

Commodities

Because inflation means that the cost of materials is rising, owning commodities as part of a portfolio may offer a hedge on inflation. Long-term, commodities have not performed as well as stocks, but they do have periods when they do well. While bonds are relatively stable and consistent, commodities can have a lot of volatility and risk. So, I don’t like commodities as a permanent holding in a portfolio.

The Bloomberg Commodities Index was up 22% this year through August 31. Having already had a strong performance, I don’t think that anyone buying commodities today is early to the party. That is a risk – even if we are correct about above average inflation, that does not mean we are guaranteed success by buying commodities.

Consider Gold. Gold is often thought of as a great inflation hedge and a store of value. Unfortunately, Gold has not performed well in 2021. Gold is down 4.7% year to date, even as inflation has spiked. It has underperformed broad commodities by 27%! It’s difficult to try to pick individual commodities with consistent accuracy. They are highly speculative. That’s why if you are going to invest in commodities, I would suggest a broad index fund rather than betting on a single commodity.

Real Estate

With home prices up 20% in many markets, Real Estate is certainly a popular inflation investment. And with mortgage rates at all-time lows, borrowers tend to do well when inflation ticks up. Home values grow and could even outstrip the interest rate on your mortgage, potentially. I’ve written at length about real estate and want to share a couple of my best pieces:

While I like real estate as an inflation hedge, I’d like to remind investors that the home price changes reported by the Case-Schiller Home Price Index do not reflect the return to investors. Read: Inflation and Real Estate.

Thinking about buying a rental property? Read: Should You Invest In Real Estate?

With cash at zero percent, should you pay off your mortgage? Read: Your Home Is Like A Bond

Looking at commercial Real Estate Investment Trusts, US REITs have had a strong year. The iShares US REIT ETF (IYR) is up 27% year to date, beating even the S&P 500 Index. I am concerned about the present valuations and low yields in the space. Additionally, retail, office, apartments, and senior living all face extreme challenges from the Pandemic. Many are seeing vacancies, bankrupt tenants, and people relocating away from urban development. Many businesses are rethinking their office needs as work-from-home seems here to stay. Even if we do see higher inflation moving forward, I’m not sure I want to chase REITs at these elevated levels.

Inflation Portfolio

Even with the possibility of higher inflation, I would caution investors against making radical changes to their portfolio. Stocks will continue to be the inflation investment that should offer the best chance at crushing inflation over the long-term. Include foreign stocks to add a hedge because US inflation suggests the Dollar will fall over time. Bonds are primarily to offset the risk of stocks and provide portfolio defense. We will make a few tweaks to try to reduce the impact of inflation on fixed income, but I would remind investors to avoid chasing high yield.

As satellite positions to core stock and bond holdings, we’ve looked at TIPS, Commodities, and Real Estate. Each has Pros and Cons as inflation investments. At this point, the simple fear of inflation has caused some of these investments to already have significant moves. We will continue to evaluate the inflation situation and analyze how we position our investment holdings. Our focus remains fixed on helping clients achieve their goals through prudent investment strategies and smart financial planning.

Preferred Stock Dividends

Preferred Stock Dividends

As part of our Core and Satellite portfolio models, our investors have received Preferred Stock Dividends for several years. Preferred Stocks are different from Common Stock as they are a hybrid security which combines the features of a stock and a bond. Like a stock, preferreds trade on an exchange and pay a quarterly dividend. Like a bond, preferreds are issued at a Par Value ($25) and can be called or redeemed by the issuer in the future for $25.

If you’d like a primer on Preferred Stocks, check out my previous article, Preferred Stocks Belong In Your Portfolio. Or check out Forbes, What is Preferred Stock?

The Role of Preferreds

The preferreds we own have yields from 4-6% or more. Today, with the yield on 10-year Treasury Bonds around 1.25%, preferred stock dividends offer a nice rate of return compared to bonds but without all of the volatility of common stocks. And with the current high valuations on US Stocks, Preferred Stocks offer us an alternative that complements our stock and bond holdings. It’s a nice way to diversify our holdings, but preferreds remain a small, niche investment that most people have never owned.

Presently, our Premiere Wealth Portfolios have between 7-11.5% in Preferred Stocks. In our Defensive Managers Select portfolio, we have a 20% position in Preferred Stocks. Those are significant weights for a satellite position, but it remains a small piece of our overall allocation.

We buy a basket of individual Preferred Stocks. For each client, we will own a minimum of 5 and as many as 15 individual Preferred Stocks. As of today, our largest holdings include Capital One, Wells Fargo, Regions Financial, JP Morgan, and Brookfield Finance. Most preferreds are issues by financial companies, although there are some issued by real estate and utilities, too.

I prefer to own individual preferreds to have better control over the portfolio and keep costs down. Generally, I like to buy Exchange Traded Funds. And there is an ETF for preferreds: PFF from iShares. Two problems. First, the ETF owns many preferreds trading at a very large premium to Par. That means you would be buying a preferred at $27 that could be redeemed at $25 within 5 years. We have to look at the Yield to Call to understand this. Second, the ETF has an expense ratio of almost half a percent (0.46%), and that would reduce investors’ return. In a sector where the expected return is only 4-5%, that expense ratio would be a big drag on returns.

Managing Preferreds

Within our baskets of preferreds, we’ve had quite a few trades this summer. Generally, for most of my clients, we own preferreds in IRAs, since they create taxable income. In an IRA, we can trade without any capital gains impact. With yields falling this year, there has been a high demand for Preferred Stock Dividends. And this has pushed up the price of many Preferred Stocks. This is not a good time to just blindly buy any Preferred Stocks – many are very expensive.

So, we have been rotating from preferreds with higher prices to those with lower prices. In some cases, a Preferred with a high dividend payment actually has a low Yield to Call. If you are paying $27 for a preferred that is callable for $25, you are paying an 8% premium. And that premium will decline to the call date, creating a loss of capital that will eat into your total return. I am finding opportunities to improve our preferred stock dividends with some careful trades.

Trading and Upgrading

There are a couple of scenarios where we have placed trades to replace one preferred with another.

  1. Price comparison. Here are two preferreds with the same coupon of 4.45% and similar credit ratings and call dates. The Schwab (series J) is trading at $26.57, while Regions Financial (series E) is at $25.60. This is an opportunity to sell an expensive share and use the proceeds to buy more shares of the lower priced preferred.
  2. Same company, different series. Capital One’s series L has a coupon of 4.375% and the series N is at 4.25%. Both have the same call date of September 2026. There is a one-eighth of a percent difference in coupon. So, when the L’s were trading for 2.5% more than the N’s, that is too big of a difference. We sold the L’s and bought the N’s. Then this week, the prices swapped and we were able to sell the N’s and buy back the higher yield L’s for less. Many companies have multiple series of preferred stocks. Sometimes one is more expensive and the other is less expensive, for no logical reason. We’ve also swapped between the Goldman Sachs series C and D, which both have a 4% coupon.
  3. New issues. We can buy IPOs of Preferred Stocks. We’ve bought a new JP Morgan preferred at $25 this summer and it is now up to $25.56. Other times, we have been able to buy preferreds for below $25 for a few days after the IPO, when the issue was undersubscribed. We’ve bought shares of Regions Financial and Texas Capital Bancshares at a discount this way. Over a few weeks, new issues usually move to where similar preferreds are priced.

Long-Term Outlook

I’ve been looking at all types of income securities for the last 17 years. Not just Preferred Stocks, but Closed End Funds, MLPs, REITs, and individual corporate and municipal bonds. It’s a lot of time to manage individual securities correctly, and it takes skill and knowledge that takes years to develop.

I like the idea of Preferred Stock Dividends to add income to our portfolio models. And that’s the purpose behind our Alternatives sleeve to the portfolio: to seek investments with a better return than bonds, and lower correlation and volatility compared to stocks.

For now it’s working as I had hoped. What might change this? If we see the Federal Reserve start to raise interest rates and see the long-end of the yield curve move up, this would be negative for preferreds. That’s why this is a Satellite holding and not a Core. There may well come a day that we liquidate the preferreds for another asset class with better prospects. Even though we are buy and hold, long-term investors, by no means is the approach a purely passive portfolio. Rather than looking in the rear view mirror, we construct portfolios looking forward at the challenges we see facing markets today.

Have a question about Preferred Stock Dividends? Curious about your Retirement Income? Let’s talk about our portfolios and how they might work for you. Click Contact on the top of this page to get in touch!

What Percentage Should You Save

What Percentage Should You Save?

One of the key questions facing investors is “What percentage should you save of your income?” People like a quick rule of thumb, and so you will often hear “10%” as an answer. This is an easy round number, a mental shortcut, and feasible for most people. Unfortunately, it is also a sloppy, lazy, and inaccurate answer. 10% is better than nothing, but does 10% guarantee you will have a comfortable retirement?

I created a spreadsheet to show you two things. Firstly, how much you would accumulate over your working years. This is based on the years of saving, rate of return, and inflation (or how much your salary grows). Secondly, how much this portfolio could provide in retirement income and how much of your pre-retirement salary it would replace.

The fact is that there can be no one answer to the question of what percentage you should save. For example, are you starting at 25 or 45? In other words, are you saving for 40 years or 20 years? Are you earning 7% or 1%? When you change any of these inputs you will get a wildly different result.

10% from age 25

Let’s start with a base case of someone who gets a job at age 25. He or she contributes 10% of their salary to their 401(k) every year until retirement. They work for 40 years, until age 65, and then retire. Along the way, their income increases by 2.5% a year. Their 401(k) grows at 7%. All of these are assumptions, not guaranteed returns, but are possible, at least historically.

In Year 1, let’s say their salary is $50,000. At 10%, they save $5,000 into their 401(k) and have a $5,000 portfolio at the end of the year. In Year 2, we would then assume their salary has grown to $51,250. Their 401(k) grows and they contribute 10% of their new salary. Their 401(k) has $10,475 at the end of Year 2.

We continue this year by year through Year 40. At this point, their salary is $130,978, and they are still contributing 10%. At the end of the year, their 401(k) would be $1,365,488. That’s what you’d have if you save 10% of your 40 years of earnings and grow at 7% a year. Not bad! Certainly most people would feel great to have $1.3 million as their nest egg at age 65.

How much can you withdraw once you retire? 4% remains a safe answer, because you need to increase your withdrawals for inflation once you are in retirement. 4% of $1,365,488 is $54,619. How much of your salary will this replace? The answer is 41.7%. We can change the amount of your starting salary, but the answer will remain the same. With these factors (10% contributions, 2.5% wage growth, 7% rate of return, and 40 years), your portfolio would replace 41.7% of your final salary. That’s it! That could be a big cut in your lifestyle.

What percentage should you replace?

41.7% sounds like a really low number, but you don’t necessarily have to replace 100% of your pre-retirement income. To get a more accurate number of what you need, we would subtract the following savings:

  • You weren’t spending the 10% you saved each year to your 401(k)
  • 7.65% saved on FICA taxes versus wage income
  • Some percentage saved on income taxes, depending on your pre- and post-retirement income.
  • Your Social Security Benefit and/or Pension Income
  • Have you paid off your mortgage, or have other expenses that will be eliminated in retirement?

Many people will only need 75% to 80% of their final salary in retirement income to maintain the same standard of living. If their Social Security benefit covers another 20%, then they would only need a replacement rate of 55% to 60% from their 401(k).

Time Value of Money

The biggest factor in compounding is time. In our original example of 40 years of accumulation, the final portfolio amount was $1,365,488. However, what if you only save for 30 years? Maybe you didn’t start investing until 35. Perhaps you want to retire at age 55 and not 65? Either way, at the 30 year mark, the portfolio would have grown to $666,122. By saving for another 10 years, your accumulation will more than double to $1.365 million.

Here’s a chart that is perhaps a more useful answer to the question of what percentage you should save. It depends on how many years you will save and what percentage of your income you want to replace.

Income Replacement50%60%70%
in 40 Years12.0%14.4%16.8%
in 35 Years15.7%18.8%22.0%
in 30 Years20.9%25.1%29.2%
in 25 Years28.5%34.2%39.9%
in 20 Years40.3%48.4%56.4%

How do you read this? If you want to replace 50% of your income in 40 years from now, starting at zero dollars, you need to save 12% of your income. Actually, this is pretty close to the 10% rule of thumb. But no one says “If you are starting at age 25 and are planning to save for the next 40 years, 10% is a good rule of thumb”. What if you are starting later? Or, what if you want to have your portfolio replace more than 50% of your income.

As you reduce the accumulation period, you need a higher contribution rate. For example, at the 50% replacement level, your required contribution increases from 12% to 15.7% to 20.9% as you go from 40 to 35 to 30 Years. And if you are planning to retire in 20 years and have not started, you would need to save 40.3%.

Similarly, if you want your portfolio to replace more than 50% of your income, the percent to contribute increases as you stretch to 60% or 70%. These figures are quite daunting, and admittedly unrealistic. But one thing that may help slightly will be a company match. If you contribute 10% and your company matches 4% of your salary, you are actually at 14%. Don’t forget to include that amount!

What can you do?

We’ve made some conservative assumptions and perhaps things will go even better than we calculated. For example, if you achieve an 8% return instead of 7%, these contribution requirements would be lower. Or if the inflation rate is lower than 2.5%. Or if you can withdraw more than 4% in retirement. All of those “levers” would move the contribution rate lower. Of course, this cuts both ways. The required contribution rate could be higher (even worse), if your return is less than 7%, inflation higher than 2.5%, or safe withdrawal rate less than 4%.

If you want to consider these factors in more detail, please read the following articles:

If you’d like to play around with the spreadsheet, drop me an email ([email protected]) and I’ll send it to you, no charge. Then you can enter your own income and other inputs and see how it might work for you. While our example is based on someone who is starting from zero, hopefully, you are not! You can also change the portfolio starting value to today’s figures on the spreadsheet.

The key is this: Begin with the End in Mind. The question of What percentage should you save depends on how long you will accumulate and what percent of income you want to replace in retirement. Saving 10% is not a goal – it’s an input rather than an outcome. Having $1.3 million in 40 years or $2.4 million in 35 years is a tangible goal. Then we can calculate how much to save and what rate of return is necessary to achieve that goal. That’s the start of a real plan.

You don’t have to try to figure this out on your own. I can help. Here’s my calendar. You are invited to schedule a free 30 minute call to discuss your situation in more detail. After that, you can determine if you’d like to work with me as your financial advisor. Sometimes, it isn’t the right fit or the right time, and that’s fine too. I am still happy to chat, answer your questions, and share whatever value or information I can. But don’t use a Rule of Thumb, get an answer that is right for your personal situation.

retirement buckets

Retirement Buckets

Our fifth and final installment of our series on retirement income will cover the strategy of five-year retirement buckets. It is a very simple approach: you maintain two buckets within your portfolio. Bucket 1 consists of cash and bonds sufficient for five years of income needs. Bucket 2 is a long-term growth portfolio (stocks).

We could start with up to a 5% withdrawal rate. Let’s consider an example. On a $1 million portfolio, we would place $250,000 in Bucket 1. That is enough to cover $50,000 in withdrawals for five years. Bucket 1 would be kept in cash and bonds, for safety and income. Each year, you would take withdrawals from Bucket 1.

Bucket 2, with $750,000, is your stock portfolio. The goal is to let this money grow so that it can refill Bucket 1 over time. In years when Bucket 2 is up, we can refill Bucket 1 and bring it back up to five years worth of money. At $750,000, a 6 2/3% annual return would provide the $50,000 a year needed to refill Bucket 1.

Addressing Market Volatility

When the market is flat or down, we do not take a withdrawal from Bucket 2. This addresses the big risk of retirement income, having to sell your stocks when they are down. Instead, by having five years of cash in Bucket 1, we can wait until the market recovers before having to sell stocks. That way, you are not selling stocks during a time like March of 2020, or March of 2009! Instead, we hold on and wait for better times to sell.

Historically, most Bear Markets are just for a year or two, and then the market begins to recover. Sometimes, like this year, the recovery is quite fast. The goal with our Retirement Buckets is to never have to sell during a down year. And while it is always possible that the stock market could be down five years in a row, that has never happened historically.

Retirement Buckets is different from our other withdrawal strategies, such as the 4% rule or the Guardrails strategy. Those strategies tend to have a fixed asset allocation and rebalance annually. The Retirement Buckets Strategy starts with a 75/25 allocation, but that allocation will change over time. Our goal is not to maintain exactly 25% in the cash/bonds bucket, but rather to target the fixed amount of $250,000. If the market is down for two years, we may spend Bucket 1 down to $150,000.

Stocks for Growth

For most people, having five years of cash and bonds in reserve should be sufficiently comfortable. However, if you wanted to increase this to 7 years, a 65/35 initial allocation, that would also work. But, I would suggest starting with at least a 60% allocation to stocks. That’s because when Bucket 2 is smaller, you need an even higher return to refill the $50,000 a year. If you started with 60/40 ($600,000 in Bucket 2), for example, you’d need a return of 8 1/3%.

Retirement Buckets can work because you are creating flexibility around when you are going to sell stocks. When you maintain any fixed allocation, you run into the problem of selling stocks when they are down. Rebalancing is good when you are in accumulation – it means you are buying stocks when they are low. But for retirement income strategies, selling stocks when they are down is likely going to be a bad idea.

Selling Bonds First

Somewhat related to a Buckets Strategy is another income strategy, the Rising Equity Glidepath. In this approach, you sell your bonds first. So, if you started with a 60/40 allocation at retirement and withdraw 4% a year, your bonds would last you 10 years (actually a little longer, with interest). If you avoid touching your stocks for 10 years, they are likely to have doubled in value, historically, with just a 7% annual return. I see the Rising Equity Glidepath as being related to the buckets strategy because both approaches focus on not selling stocks. This reduces the Sequence of Returns risk that market losses impact your initial retirement years.

However, most investors become more conservative as they age, so they aren’t going to like the Rising Equity Glidepath. If they retire at 65, that puts them on track to be at 100% equities at age 75. That’s not what most want. So, even though the strategy looks good in theory, it’s not going to make sense in practice.

What’s Your Plan?

The Retirement Buckets approach can provide a strategy that is logical and easily understood by investors. We maintain five years of cash and bonds, and can replenish the cash bucket when the market is up. This gives you a flexible process for how you are going to fund your retirement and respond to market volatility.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our series on retirement income approaches. It is so important to understand how to create sustainable withdrawals from your portfolio. Whether you are already retired or have many years to go, we are here to help you find the right strategy for you.

guardrails withdrawal strategy

Guardrails Withdrawal Strategy

After looking at Bengen’s 4% Withdrawal Rule last week, today we turn to the Guardrails Withdrawal Strategy created by Guyton and Klinger in 2006. Bengen’s 4% Rule is a static withdrawal strategy – he tested various fixed withdrawal rates over 30-year periods to calculate a safe withdrawal rate for retirement income. This is a static approach because he did not attempt to adjust withdrawals based on market performance.

As a result, one criticism of the 4% Rule is that it is too conservative and is based on the historical worst case scenario. In many scenarios, retirees could have taken much more income than 4%. Or they could have retired years earlier! In bad market scenarios, it also seems unlikely that a retiree would continue to increase their withdrawals every year for inflation if it risked depleting their assets.

A Dynamic Withdrawal Strategy is one which adjusts retirement income up or down based on market performance. Guyton’s Guardrail approach establishes a framework for retirees to adjust their income if necessary. The benefit is that you could increase your withdrawals if performance is above average. It also means you may need to reduce withdrawals during a bad stretch. A dynamic approach means you could start with a much higher withdrawal than just 4%. The guardrails creates an ongoing process to know if your withdrawal rate is in the safe zone or needs to change.

Guyton’s Guardrail Rules

Like Bengen’s framwork, Guyton looked at historical market performance over a 30-year retirement. Here are the main points of his Guardrails Withdrawal Strategy:

  • Your initial withdrawal rate could be 5.4%.
  • You increase withdrawals for inflation annually, EXCEPT in years when the portfolio has fallen in value, OR if your withdrawal percentage exceeds the original rate of 5.4%. In those years, you keep the same withdrawal amount as the previous year.
  • If a market drop causes your current withdrawal rate to exceed 6.48%, then you need to cut your withdrawal dollars by 10%.
  • If market gains cause your withdrawal rate to fall below 4.32%, then you can increase your withdrawal dollars by 10%.
  • This strategy worked with allocations of 65/35 and 80/20. With a 50/50 portfolio, the safe withdrawal rate drops from 5.4% to 4.6%.
  • After a year when stocks were down, withdrawals should only come from cash or bonds. On years when the market is up, he would trim stocks and add to cash to meet future withdrawals.

On a $1 million portfolio, the Guardrails approach suggests you could safely withdraw $54,000 in year 1. That’s significantly higher than the $40,000 under Bengen’s static 4% rule. And while you might forgo annual inflation increases if the market does poorly, you were already starting at a much higher income level. Even if you had a 10% cut in income, from $54,000 to $48,600, you are still getting more income than if you were using the 4% Rule.

Dynamic Withdrawal Range

The Guardrails approach establishes an ongoing withdrawal range of 4.32% to 6.48%. That is a 20% buffer from your original 5.4%. If your withdrawal rate goes outside of this range, you should decrease (or can increase) your withdrawals. The static 4% rule only focused on your initial withdrawal rate and then just assumes you make no changes regardless of whether your future withdrawals are high or low. The 4% rule is an interesting study of market history, but I think retirees want to have a more strategic approach to managing market risk.

The benefit to a retiree for implementing a Guardrails approach is significant. If you need $40,000 a year, you would only need an initial nest egg of $740,740 with the guardrails, versus $1 million under the 4% rule. And you now have a clear process each year to evaluate the sustainability of your current withdrawals. You are responding to markets to aim for an effective retirement strategy.

Calculating a sustainable withdrawal rate for retirement income will always be an unknown. We’ve talked about the challenges of sequence of returns risk, inflation, and longevity. While we can’t predict the future, having a dynamic approach to retirement withdrawals is appealing and intuitive. Is a Guardrails Withdrawal Strategy right for you? Along with portfolio management, our retirement planning process can offer great peace of mind that you are taking a prudent, well-thought approach to managing your wealth.

You only get one retirement. If you are retired or will be retiring within three years, you need a retirement income plan. Find out more:

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The 4% Withdrawal Rule

The 4% Withdrawal Rule

Many retirement income projections are based on the work of William Bengen, a financial advisor who created the 4% withdrawal rule. Today, in part three of our five-part series on creating retirement income, we look at Bengen’s 4% Rule and what it can mean for your retirement.

Bengen’s Research

Twenty-five years ago, there had been little research done on how to create retirement income from a portfolio. Thankfully, most people had pensions which guaranteed their payments. However, with the rise of 401(k) plans, the responsibility for retirement income shifted from the employer to the employee and their investment portfolio. We needed a more rigorous framework for retirement planning.

Bengen looked back at the history of the stock and bond returns and considered a 30-year retirement period. Since inflation increases your cost of living, he assumed that retirees would need to increase their retirement withdrawals annually. He then calculated, for every period, the maximum withdrawal rate that would have lasted for the full 30 years, adjusting for inflation.

He examined this for every 30 year period with available data. For example, 1930-1960, and then 1931-1961, 1932-1962, etc. all the way up to the present. In the all 30-year periods, retirees were able to withdraw at least 4% of their initial sum. In the worst case scenario, retirees with a $1 million portfolio could withdraw $40,000 in year 1, and increase it every year with inflation. This is the Safe Withdrawal Rate, or SAFEMAX as Bengen called it.

Interestingly, Bengen did not name this the 4% Rule. In interviews with reporters, they started calling it the 4% Rule and the name stuck.

Portfolio Implications

Bengen originally used a simple two asset portfolio using one-half US Large Cap Stocks and one-half US Intermediate Treasury Bonds. He assumed annual rebalancing, which helped with stock market volatility. He found that the 4% Rule would work with about one-half to three-quarters invested in stocks. With higher allocations to stocks, the portfolio became more likely to implode during bear markets. And with higher allocations to bonds, the portfolio could not keep up with the inflation-adjusted withdrawals. So, the sweet spot for a retirement allocation seemed to be from 50/50 to 75/25.

In the majority of 30-year periods, the potential withdrawal rate was much higher than 4%. In a few periods, it even exceeded 10%. The 4% rate was the worst case scenario. 4% worked for all of the 51 different 30-year periods starting in 1926 that Bengen considered in his original paper. At a 4% withdrawal rate, your money actually grew in most of the periods. If you started with a $1 million portfolio and took 4% withdrawals, your portfolio would have actually exceeded $1 million, 30 years later, in the majority of cases.

Later, Bengen added Small Cap stocks to the mix, with a portfolio of 30% large cap, 20% small cap, and 50% bonds. With this portfolio mix, he found that the safe withdrawal rate increased to 4.5%. Bengen considers this work to replace his initial 4% Rule. Unfortunately, the name had already caught on and Bengen will forever be known as the creator of “The 4% Rule”, but he would rather it was called “The 4.5% Rule”.

There is definitely room for higher withdrawals than 4%. The problem is that we don’t know what future returns will be and we don’t know the sequence of returns. So, the safest bet remains to start at only a 4% withdrawal. For people who retire before age 65, we may want to plan for a longer potential horizon than Bengen’s 30 year assumption. A longer retirement might require a lower rate than 4%.

Summary

The 4% Withdrawal Rule is a good rule of thumb for retirement income. When we use other analytical tools, such as a Monte Carlo evaluation, it often generates results similar to Bengen’s rule. If you want to use a 4% rate, your nest egg needs to be 25-times your annual needs. This is a very high hurdle for most people. It’s incredibly challenging for most Americans to save 25 times their annual expenses during their working years.

So while it is a conservative way to calculate retirement income, the 4% rule may make people over-prepared in most periods. As a result, people could have spent more money in retirement. Or they could have retired years earlier, but waited to accumulate enough assets to meet the 4% Rule. That’s a flaw with the 4% Rule.

The other weakness is that it is based on history. Just because it worked in the past century is no guarantee that it will work in the future. For example, if we have very low bond yields, poor stock returns, or higher inflation, it’s possible that a 4% withdrawal fails. One researcher, Wade Pfau, tried to apply the 4% Rule to investors in other countries. He found that it didn’t work for every country. We have had a really good stock market, and low inflation, here in the US and that’s why it worked historically.

Bottom line: the 4% Withdrawal Rule is a good starting place to understand retirement income. But we can do better by having a more dynamic process. We can adjust withdrawals based on market performance. Or you can delay or reduce inflation adjustments. We can avoid selling stocks in down years. All of these strategies can enhance the 4% rule and potentially enable you to start with a higher withdrawal rate. We will consider two such strategies in the next articles, considering Guardrails and a 5-year Bucket Approach.

Bengen is retired now, but still writing and continuing his research. He realized that his initial research left a lot of money on the table for retirees. Two months ago, he produced a new article looking at stock market valuations and inflation to refine the initial withdrawal rate. If you are retiring when stocks are expensive, future returns are likely to be lower, and you should start with a lower withdrawal rate. If stocks are cheap, you might be able to start with a higher withdrawals than 4%. Bengen believes this new process could calculate a safe-withdrawal rate of 4.5% to 13%. (The present calculation using his new method is 5.0%.) Time will tell if his new research gains wider acceptance, but for now, he will be best known as the father of the 4% withdrawal rule.

Guaranteed Retirement Income

Guaranteed Retirement Income

Guaranteed Retirement Income increases satisfaction. When you receive Social Security, a Pension, or other monthly payment, you don’t have to worry about market volatility or if you will run out of money. You’re guaranteed to receive the payment for as long as you live. That is peace of mind.

Research shows that people prefer pension payments versus taking withdrawals from an investment portfolio. When you were working, you had a paycheck show up every month and you didn’t feel bad about spending it. There would be another paycheck next month. Unfortunately, with an investment portfolio, retirees dislike spending that money. There is “range anxiety” that their 401(k) or IRA will run out of money. There is fear that a market drop will ruin their plans. After spending 40 years building up an account and it’s not easy to reverse course and start to spend that nest egg and see it go down.

Corporate and Municipal pensions have been in decline for decades. As a result, most of us have only a Social Security benefit as guaranteed income. That’s too bad. 401(k) plans are a poor substitute for a good pension. You need to accumulate a million bucks just to get $40,000 a year at a 4% withdrawal rate. It places all the responsibility on American workers to fund their own retirement, and this has led to wildly disparate retirement readiness between people. Even those who accumulate significant retirement accounts still have the worries about running out of money. Sequence of Returns, poor performance or mismanagement, cognitive decline, or longevity are all risks.

The solution to create guaranteed lifetime income is a Single Premium Immediate Annuity, or SPIA. A SPIA is a contract with a life insurance company in which you trade a lump sum in exchange for a monthly payment for life. For as long as you live, you will get that monthly check, just like a Pension or Social Security. When you pass away, the payments stop. For married couples, we can establish a Survivor’s Benefit that will continue the payout (sometimes reduced at 50% or 75%) for the rest of the survivor’s life, if the owner should pass away.

How much would it cost? For a 65-year old man, a $100,000 premium would establish a $537/month payment for life. That is $6,444 a year, or a 6.4% rate on your premium. For a 65-year old woman, it would be $487, a month, or $5,844 a year (5.8%) For a couple, if the wife was also 65, that same premium would offer $425/month for both lives (100% survivors benefit). That’s $5,100 a year, or 5.1%. The greater the expected longevity, the lower the monthly payment.

There are some fairly obvious advantages and disadvantages of a SPIA.

Pros

  • Lifetime income, fixed, predictable, and guaranteed
  • No stock market risk, no performance concerns, no Sequence of Returns risk

Cons

  • Permanent decision – cannot reverse later
  • Some people will not live for very long and will get only a handful or payments back
  • No money leftover for your heirs
  • No inflation protection – monthly payout is fixed

I’ve been a financial advisor since 2004 and I have yet to have a client who wants to buy a SPIA. For some, the thought of spending a big chunk of money and the risk that they die in a year or two, is unbearable. However, the payout is fair, because some people will live for much longer than the average. The way insurance works is by The Law of Large Numbers. An insurance company is willing to take the risk that someone will live for 40 or 50 years because they know that if they sell thousands of annuities, it will work out to an average lifespan across the group. Some people live longer than average and some live less than average.

Two Ways to Use a SPIA

Although they remain unpopular, SPIAs deserve a closer look. Let’s immediately throw away the idea that you should put all your money into a SPIA. But there are two ways that a SPIA might make sense as part of your retirement income plan.

  1. Use a SPIA to cover your basic expenses. Look at your monthly budget. Assume you need $3,000 a month to cover all your expenses. If you have $2,200 in Social Security benefits, buy a SPIA that would cover the remaining $800 shortfall. For the 65-year old couple above, this $800/month joint SPIA would cost $188,235. Now you have $3,000 a month in guaranteed lifetime income to cover 100% of your basic expenses. Hopefully, you still have a large investment portfolio that can grow and supplement your income if needed.

The nice thing about this approach is that it takes a bit less cash than if you follow the 4% rule. If you needed $800 a month ($9,600 a year), a 4% withdrawal rate would require you have a portfolio of $240,000. The SPIA only requires $188,235.

Let’s say you have a $1 million portfolio. You could (a) put it all in the portfolio and start a 4% withdrawal rate, or (b) put $188,235 into the SPIA and keep the remainder in the portfolio. Here’s what that would look like for year one:

  • a. $1 million at 4% = $40,000 potential income
  • b. $188,235 SPIA = $9,600, PLUS $811,765 portfolio at 4% = $32,470. The combined income from the SPIA and portfolio is now $42,070

You have increased your income by $2,070 a year and you have established enough guaranteed income to cover 100% of your monthly needs. Then, you are not dependent on the market to cover your basic expenses each month.

2. The second way to think of a SPIA is as a Bond replacement for your portfolio. Instead of buying Treasury Bonds and worrying if you will outlive them, you can buy a SPIA, and the insurance company will buy very safe bonds. The insurance company then assumes your Longevity risk.

Back to our example above, let’s say your $1 million portfolio is invested in a 60/40 allocation (60% stocks, 40% bonds). Just consider the SPIA as part of your fixed income sleeve. If you had a target of $400,000 in bonds, rather than letting them sit in 10-year Treasuries earning 0.7% today, go ahead and put $188,235 in the SPIA and keep $211,765 in bonds. Your $600,000 in stocks remains the same. Now, on your SPIA, you are getting a withdrawal rate of 5.1% to 6.4%. And although you are eating your principal with a SPIA, you have no longevity risk, it’s a guaranteed check. You have reduced the withdrawal requirement from your equities and can better weather the ups and downs of the stock market.

Is a SPIA Right For