Do the terms “upward sloping equity glide paths” and “bond tents” seem unfamiliar to you? They are terms that financial planning researchers are using to describe investment strategies designed to mitigate “sequence risk,” the risk that your portfolio returns will occur in the wrong order, thereby negatively impacting the amount of income your retirement account will generate. Pinnacle’s Director of Wealth Management, Michael Kitces, writes an interesting article on the subject in this month’s OnWallStreet, titled, “Avoid the Retirement Danger Zone.” (You can read the article by clicking here.) Since most Pinnacle clients fall in the age range of 50 to 70, where pre-retirement and early post-retirement risk is the highest, and since the recent election has clients questioning recent portfolio volatility (in this case, to the upside), it seems a good time to revisit the question of whether active portfolio management still makes sense.
Is a portfolio worth $500,000 a lot of money for retirement? How about $1 million? What if you’ve saved $5 million? I get asked this a lot, and I find it helps to reframe the question: Is $2,000 a month a lot of money? What about $5,000 a month? Or $10,000?
When you look at it this way, you probably already know your answer. That’s because we generally conceive of wealth in terms of current income and not assets. Think about it: We pay income taxes and see our tax withholding on every pay stub, and we routinely deal with monthly bills and expenses that must be paid with current income.
The S&P 500 Index is down over 12% from its high last May, which qualifies as a market correction but not a bear market. In fact, it’s been quite a while since we experienced our last bear, although it may not feel that way. From April to October of 2011, the stock market declined by 19.39% on a closing basis. While experts can debate whether this meets the definition of a bear market (which are typically defined as 20% declines), those who remember it will recall how scary it was. By the time the market bottomed in October, many were recalling the 2007–2009 bear market, which was gut wrenching for everyone. During that excruciating market decline, the S&P 500 Index fell by 55% and the economy tumbled into a deep recession. It is only in hindsight that we can see that both the market bottom in 2009 and the October low in 2011 marked important market bottoms. Since October of 2011, the S&P 500 Index rallied 94% to its eventual high set in May of last year.
The current bull market has been steaming ahead since the market bottomed in March 2009. Consumers of investment advice have noted that passive, buy and hold strategies have outperformed most active strategies over this time period, giving some the false impression that ‘risk management,’ in the context of tactically changing portfolio asset allocation to defend against bear markets, is a fools game.
NOTE: There is a 100% probability that bull markets will be followed by bear markets. This article is not a forecast about imminent market behavior. For our latest views on markets, clients should read our market review. Financial fire drills are all about testing your emotional response to a bear market, which you should be doing all the time. (And it’s not a bad idea to check your emotional reaction to bull markets, as well.)
When I was a kid, my family lived in a two-story colonial in South Jersey. Once each year, to the great excitement of all concerned, my parents had my brother, sister, and me conduct a fire drill. We got to climb out of our bedroom window onto the roof of the garage, and then down from there.
Our house never suffered a serious fire, and we never had to make a rooftop escape, but my parents were still glad that we’d practiced what we had to do, just in case. It was a very good idea.
If you are looking for a movie about power, money, sex, drugs, yachts, Lamborghinis, high-pressure sales tactics, stock manipulation, sex, and drugs (did I mention sex and drugs?) then go see the new Martin Scorsese movie, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The film is based on the memoirs of Jordan Belfort, the founder of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont, which functioned as a boiler room selling penny stocks in the 1990s. I don’t want to give away the ending, but I will say that if you enjoy watching unimaginable amounts of corruption and debauchery, you are going to love it.
All of which gets me thinking about the admittedly boring world of our Pinnacle investment analysts.
Actively managing a portfolio requires buying and selling securities with the goal of managing risk and outperforming passive benchmark portfolios. Clients are correct to question the number of trades that are being made in their portfolio in pursuit of this objective. After all, one trade can generate several trade acknowledgments from our custodians, and each trade acknowledgement shows the brokerage commission charged for each transaction. Clearly the cost of trading has a negative impact on total portfolio return. As we approach year-end and Pinnacle’s investment team continues to generate commissionable transactions in our managed accounts, it might be helpful to analyze the cost of brokerage commissions relative to our ability to implement our active management strategy.