S&P 500 Return Breakdown: Earnings, Valuations, Dividends (2015-2019)

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

The financial news industry loves to provide constant updates of the S&P 500 along with endless guesses as to why it blipped up or down. I like reading about finance and it still drives me crazy! It just makes people focus on the short-term and think of the stock market like a roulette wheel. If you step back and take a longer-term view, here is a basic model for explaining the total return of the stock market:

Total Stock Returns = Earnings Growth + P/E Valuation Changes + Dividends

Here’s a quick common sense explanation:

Earnings growth. If your earnings stay the same, then all other things equal, one would expect the value of your company to stay the same as well. If earnings go up, again all other things equal, your company should be worth more, right?

Price-to-earnings ratio shows how much people are willing to pay as a multiple of earnings. When people are optimistic, the P/E ratio is high. When people are pessimistic, the P/E ratio is low. However, the overall ratio has some natural resistance points. A P/E of 10 means a 10% earning yield (ex. $100 share price and $10 of earnings per share). A P/E of 25 means a 4% earnings yield (ex. $100 share price and $4 of earnings per share).

Dividends. Cash money! In the long run, dividends tend to grow roughly at the same rate as earnings.

The WSJ Daily Shot used Bloomberg data to break down the performance of the S&P 500 total return by these components:

You can see that the dividend contribution has been pretty consistent at about 2% a year. Earnings have been going up the last 5 years, which is good news. Finally, we see that the P/E ratio has been a big part of the swings back and worth.

In The Little Book of Common Sense Investing, Jack Bogle called the changes in P/E ratio the “speculative return”, as opposed to something based on fundamentals. He made the following prediction about the future 10-year average return that book (originally published March 2007).

This was not meant to be an exact prediction. The main point was a warning that the future long-term returns were going to be lower than the historical returns of the last 25 years due to a lower dividend yield and somewhat elevated valuations. The annual return of Vanguard Total US Stock Market ETF (VTI) from March 2007 to March 2017 turned out to be 5.7%. According to the most recent quote (10/4/19), the average annual returns over the last 18 years has been 7%, last 15 years has been 9%, and the last 10 years has been 13%.

Bottom line. It can be educational to see the stock market return broken down into its parts: earnings growth, valuation change, and dividends. Much of the roller coaster performance we see every year is just the P/E ratio swinging back and forth. If you take a step back, you might find it easier to ignore the short-term volatility and focus on the long-term drivers of returns.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Breaking Down the Components of Financial Advice

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Vanguard has been relatively quiet after an SEC filing revealed their plans for a new digital-only advisory service called Vanguard Digital Advisor Services (VDAS). They have yet to send out any press releases or direct announcement about their new service. However, Vanguard is definitely working hard in the background on their advisory practices.

Earlier this month, they released a whitepaper called Assessing the Value of Advice based on their Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, which includes human advisors. They introduced a framework for measuring value via three components: portfolio, financial, and emotional.

Vanguard also published this short article Behind our passion for advice: Better outcomes for everyone that shows they want to impact the advice industry in the same way they forever changed the mutual fund industry.

Now more than ever, we see investors’ long-term success tied not only to the funds they use but also to the advice they receive. For more than 40 years, we’ve been champions in the mutual fund industry for accessibility, affordability, and alignment with clients’ interests. This has enabled investors to keep more of what they earn and to more easily reach their financial goals. We aim to do the same for financial advice.

This chart explores what a digital-only financial advisor can provide as compared to a human advisor:

With technology as our tailwind, opportunities abound to improve the ease of use, quality, and affordability of advice. Activities that once required time and effort from investors can now be automated and simplified. Rebalancing a portfolio, executing a tax-efficient spending strategy, or determining an optimal cash position can be done using algorithms and artificial intelligence. Technology has automated the common portfolio management tasks (the blue and the orange in the chart below). These core advice building blocks are more accurately and easily implemented than ever before, and technology allows us to provide them for less than 20 basis points. Even the most experienced and disciplined investor can benefit from advisory services at that price.

It certainly sounds like a description of Vanguard Digital Advisor Services (VDAS). I also hope they will more clearly define the added benefits of their Personal Advisor Services.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Yes, Health Insurance Costs Impacted My Early Retirement (FIRE) Plans

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

health

When the topic of early retirement comes up, a common question is “Are you concerned about health insurance?” I could be a cheerleader and say “nah no big deal”, but to be honest it has impacted my early retirement plans. Not only are the costs high today, but imagine how much higher they will get in the future if current trends continue.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) released the results of their annual Employer Health Benefits Survey, and the cost of family health coverage in the U.S. now tops $20,000 a year. This is more than a 50% jump from just 10 years ago:

Here’s another chart (same data set) from this Bloomberg article that goes farther back.

If you are single or a couple without kids, here’s a state-by-state map breakdown of the average monthly premium for the lowest Silver plan (per person):

The premium prices listed above don’t include deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses, which are rising as well and add up to another $2,000 per year on average:

Deductibles are rising even faster than premiums, meaning that patients are on the hook for more of their medical costs upfront. For a single person, the average deductible in 2019 was $1,396, up from $533 in 2009. A typical household with employer health coverage spends about $800 a year in out-of-pocket costs, not counting premiums, according to research from the Commonwealth Fund. At the high end of the range, those costs can top $5,000 a year.

Obviously, budgeting another $15,000 to $20,000+ in healthcare costs is going to be a huge factor to consider. Here are the ways that I have seen folks deal with this cost.

  1. Use an Affordable Care Act (ACA) plan and get a subsidy if your income (MAGI) is low enough to qualify. KFF has a very handy ACA subsidy calculator that will help you estimate this. If you live in California, The Finance Buff has some helpful information on the California Health Insurance subsidy. The annoying part is you never know if the rules will change on you down the road.
  2. Plan ahead with a job that offers health insurance benefits after you retire and before Medicare kicks in. You’ll probably have to hunker down with the same employer for a number of years.
  3. Save enough money (or create enough income) to pay for health insurance premiums.
  4. Find a part-time job that you both enjoy and offers health benefits. Employers know that health insurance is expensive, but you can negotiate benefits as part of your total compensation.
  5. Run a part-time side business that earns enough profit to cover health insurance costs. Look for potential group discounts or tax breaks that are available as a business instead of a consumer.
  6. If it works for your situation, try a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) and fund a Health Savings Account (HSA) due to the tax advantages.
  7. Join a direct primary care arrangement or health care sharing ministry that is exempt from ACA.
  8. Extend your current employer coverage for up to 18 months through COBRA (check cost).
  9. Move to a foreign country with reasonable and transparent cash pricing.
  10. Some people have bought short-term health insurance plans, but these are not ACA-compliant “full insurance”. Beware the limitations. Read the horror stories first.
  11. Here’s a person who gave up a promotion and quit her job to qualify for Medicaid.

Right now, we are covered by employer-sponsored health insurance, but for us it is a negotiated part of the total compensation. You can’t expect an employer to keep your same benefits package when you work less than full-time, but you can agree to take less salary in exchange for health insurance. At other times, we have bought health insurance directly. The most recent cost was around $1,600 a month for our family, very close to that $20,000 number. Even if we could qualify for a partial ACA subsidy, we would still be looking at around $10,000 a year in healthcare costs.

The difference with healthcare costs is that once you qualify for Medicare, your costs should hopefully be much less than that $20,000 a year price tag. According to BI, the national average cost for Medigap Plan F is $1,712 annually, or just under $150 a month.

So the amount you have to save to retire early depends on how many years you have until age 65. For us, that’s 25 years so that’s a big number and I don’t see how that doesn’t extend the time you need to be ready for retirement. Health insurance was definitely a factor in us going the more gradual semi-retired route.

Now imagine the overall impact that healthcare costs have on businesses, both big and small. Services and products cost more to make when every employee costs more to insure. I was able to take risks as an entrepreneur because my spouse had health insurance that covered both of us. If I had to keep my family covered with health insurance, I might still be working at MegaCorp. As Warren Buffett has said, “medical costs are the tapeworm of American economic competitiveness”. In the coming years, I wonder how both the healthcare and student loan situations will change, because the current trajectories are unsustainable.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Vanguard Digital Advisor Services (VDAS) Initial Review: 0.15% Fee Robo-Advisor

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

The big news in financial advice world last week was that many details of Vanguard’s new portfolio management service were revealed when InvestmentNews reported this Vanguard SEC filing. Here are a few key differences between the new Vanguard Digital Advisor Services (VDAS) and their existing hybrid VPAS offering:

  • Vanguard Personal Advisor Services (VPAS) – Both human and online communications. $50,000 minimum. 0.30% annual advisory fee.
  • Vanguard Digital Advisor Services (VDAS). Online-only communication. $5,000 minimum for retail accounts ($5 minimum for 401k). 0.15% annual advisory fee.

The 0.15% fee would make it cheaper than the digital-only offerings of the first-mover robo-advisors Wealthfront and Betterment. After reading through the entire SEC filing brochure, I noted some important similarities and differences between their services and even Vanguard Target Retirement funds.

VDAS will conduct your trades for you across all your enrolled accounts. (Eligible account types include: individual, joint accounts with rights of survivorship, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, 401(k), and Roth 401(k) accounts authorized by plan sponsors). If you have a Vanguard-managed 401k, you could then move your taxable and IRA balances over to Vanguard and have them manage everything together. Betterment and Wealthfront have a relatively tiny footprint in the 401k space. I suppose you could also just buy the same Target Retirement fund across all your accounts.

VDAS takes advantage of tax-efficient asset location, prioritizing tax-inefficient assets into IRAs and 401k plans. Wealthfront and Betterment will also do tax-efficient asset location, but again they are unlikely to manage your 401k so you’ll still have to do some work yourself. With an all-in-one Target Retirement fund, it’s the same everywhere and you can’t separate the stocks from the bonds.

VDAS will provide online financial planning tools where you enter your personal details to create a personalized, goal-based financial plan. Wealthfront, Betterment, and every other robo-advisor will do the same thing (using their own algorithms of course). However, a Target Retirement fund won’t do that, for example telling you if you’re picking an inappropriate target fund based on your unique financial situation.

VDAS will build your portfolio using only these four Vanguard ETFs: Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, Vanguard Total International Stock Market ETF, Vanguard Total Bond Market Index ETF, and Vanguard Total International Bond Index ETF. (401k accounts will be more flexible, working within the available investment options.) Retail accounts will not include recommendations to purchase individual securities or bonds, CDs, options, derivatives, annuities, third-party mutual funds, closed-end funds, unit investment trusts, partnerships, or other non-Vanguard securities. When cash is recommended as part of the strategic asset allocation target (usually only for those close or in retirement), the Vanguard Prime Money Market Fund will be used.

That makes the basic ingredients of a VDAS portfolio the same as a Vanguard Target Retirement 20XX fund. It’s even possible that the asset allocation will be identical. However, it’s important to note for expense reasons (see below) that VDAS holds the cheapest ETF versions while the Target fund holds the most expensive Investor Shares.

VDAS is only about 0.05% more expensive than the equivalent Vanguard Retirement Fund. That amounts to $5 a year on $10,000 invested, or $50 a year on $100,000 invested. Why? DAS uses Vanguard’s cheaper ETF versions which results in an all-in fee (advisory + underlying expense ratios) of 0.20%. The all-in fee for the Vanguard Target Retirement fund currently varies from 0.15% to 0.12% because it holds the more expense Investor Shares of mutual funds. Vanguard has noted elsewhere that mutual funds are more expensive to maintain on their side, and so they charge more.

VDAS and VPAS both perform portfolio rebalancing within 5% bands. According to a previous article, VPAS checks your portfolio quarterly and then rebalances if a 5% threshold band is exceeded. According to this brochure, VDAS also rebalances only when an asset class (stocks, bonds, or cash) is off the target asset allocation by more than 5%. However, VDAS will check daily instead of quarterly. This isn’t a big deal to me, but an interesting difference to note. Rebalancing will be done in a tax-sensitive manner.

The Vanguard Target Retirement funds handle the rebalancing internally, and every other robo-advisor will have a similar rebalancing feature. Automated rebalancing is an important and sometime under-appreciated benefit of a managed portfolio over a DIY portfolio. Us DIY folks all think we’ll rebalance the same way without emotion, but sometimes… in times of stress… we don’t.

VDAS will only buy Vanguard ETFs, which means they won’t be doing any ETF tax-loss harvesting with similar pair of ETFs. (The legality of that practice has yet to be tested in court if its use becomes widespread.)

VDAS will not buy fractional shares of ETFs. A minor note, but an increasing number of brokers offer fractional shares, like M1 Finance. This can be helpful if you invest in smaller amounts, for example via dollar-cost-averaging with each paycheck.

Fee comparisons. The VDAS 0.15% advisory fee is very competitive. It’s cheaper than the base offerings of Betterment and Wealthfront of 0.25%. Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios says it is “free” but from a cash drag perspective the effective fee is an estimated 0.12% (others estimate 0.20%). Betterment and Wealthfront have the head start in terms of technology and a modern design interface, but can Vanguard close the gap?

I was a bit surprised at how little VDAS costs more than a Vanguard Target Retirement fund. I have been a fan of Vanguard Target Retirement funds because they are basically a robo-advisor rolled into a simple mutual fund. However, in my opinion they should be cheaper. Is it possible for Vanguard to make them any cheaper by using ETFs or Admiral Shares? Do they want to? It seems that the answer to at least one of those questions is no.

As DIY person, I would remind folks that you can always buy the “Big Four” ETFs yourself at any low-cost broker: Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF, Vanguard Total International Stock Market ETF, Vanguard Total Bond Market Index ETF, and Vanguard Total International Bond Index ETF. It’s really not that hard if you are so inclined. A new broker M1 Finance offers free commissions, free rebalancing, and fractional shares. Now you have the same portfolio at an all-in cost of 0.05%.

Bottom line. Vanguard Digital Advisor Services is definitely going to make a dent in the robo-advisor field. The competition is far from over.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

eccad.info Portfolio Income and Withdrawal Rate – September 2019 (Q3)

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

dividendmono225One of the biggest problems in retirement planning is making sure a pile of money lasts throughout your retirement. I have read hundreds of articles about this topic, and there is no single solution. My imperfect (!) solution is to first build a portfolio designed for total return using assets that have enough faith in to hold through an extended downturn. I do not look for the highest income – no specialized ETFs, no high-dividend-only stocks, no high-yield bonds.

Then, only after that do I check out how much it distributes in dividends and interest. Dividends are the portion of profits that businesses have decided they don’t need to reinvest into their business. The analogy I fall back on is owning a rental property. If you are reliably getting rent checks that increase with inflation, you can sit back calmly and ignore what the house might sell for on the open market.

I track the “TTM Yield” or “12-Month Yield” from Morningstar, which the sum of a fund’s total trailing 12-month interest and dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price (NAV) any capital gains distributed over the same period. I prefer this measure because it is based on historical distributions and not a forecast. Below is a very close approximation of my investment portfolio (2/3rd stocks and 1/3rd bonds).

Asset Class / Fund % of Portfolio Trailing 12-Month Yield (Taken 9/17/19) Yield Contribution
US Total Stock
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
25% 1.85% 0.46%
US Small Value
Vanguard Small-Cap Value ETF (VBR)
5% 2.35% 0.12%
International Total Stock
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
25% 3.05% 0.76%
Emerging Markets
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
5% 2.71% 0.14%
US Real Estate
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)
6% 3.29% 0.20%
Intermediate-Term High Quality Bonds
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury ETF (VGIT)
17% 2.20% 0.37%
Inflation-Linked Treasury Bonds
Vanguard Short-Term Inflation-Protected Securities ETF (VTIP)
17% 2.12% 0.36%
Totals 100% 2.41%

 

Here is a chart showing how this 12-month trailing income rate has varied over the last five years.

One of the things I like about using this number is that when stock prices drop, this percentage metric usually goes up – which makes me feel better in a gloomy market. When stock prices go up, this percentage metric usually goes down, which keeps me from getting too euphoric. I see it as a very conservative, valuation-based withdrawal rate metric due to our very long retirement horizon of 40+ years.

In practical terms, I let all of my dividends and interest accumulate without automatic reinvestment. I treat this money as my “paycheck”. Then, as with my real paycheck, I can choose to either spend it or reinvest in more stocks and bonds. This number does not dictate how much we actually spend every year, but it gives me an idea of how comfortable I am with our withdrawal rate.

I am a proponent of aggressively saving, and then using the potential income that brings to improve your daily lifestyle. Instead of sitting on a beach, we used our nest egg to allow us to work less hours in a more flexible manner as parents of young children. Others may use it to start a new business, travel around the world, do charity or volunteer work, and so on. The income from our portfolio lets us “work less and live more” now as I now fear running out of time more than running out of money.

(If you’re still in the accumulation phase, you don’t really need to worry about this number. I believe a 3% withdrawal rate remains a reasonable target for something retiring young (before age 50) and a 4% withdrawal rate is a reasonable target for one retiring at a more traditional age (closer to 65). If you are young, instead focus on your earning potential via better career moves, investing in your skill set, and/or look for entrepreneurial opportunities where you own equity in a business.)

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

eccad.info Portfolio Asset Allocation Update, September 2019 (Q3)

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

portpie_blank200

Here’s my portfolio update for the third quarter of 2019. Most of my dividends arrive on a quarterly basis, and this helps me determine where to reinvest them. These are my real-world holdings, including 401k/403b/IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts, and savings bonds but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a few side investments. The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings

I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my accounts, adds up my balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my asset allocation. I still use my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are my YTD performance and current asset allocation visually, per the “Holdings” and “Allocation” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market Fund (VXUS, VTIAX)
WisdomTree SmallCap Dividend ETF (DES)
Vanguard Small Value ETF (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets ETF (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index Fund (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt Fund (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury Fund (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities Fund (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index Fund (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond ETF (TIP)
Individual TIPS securities
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. Our overall goal is to include asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong.

I don’t hold commodities, gold, or bitcoin. While you could argue for each of these asset classes, I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith based on a solid foundation of knowledge and experience. That’s just not the case for me with certain asset classes.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 38% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 38% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 33% US Treasury Bonds, intermediate
  • 33% High-Quality Municipal Bonds (taxable)
  • 33% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds (tax-deferred)

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. (I allow it drift a bit either way.) With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. On the stocks side, somehow despite all of the various news stories stock prices have been resilient. I’m like a lot of other people and waiting for the next recession to come, but I also know to stay in the game. US stocks have beaten international stocks for a while, but I remain satisfied with my mix, knowing that I will own whatever successful businesses come out of the US, China, or wherever in the future.

On the bond side, my primary objective is to hold high-quality bonds with a short-to-intermediate duration of under 5 years or so. This means US Treasuries, TIPS, or investment-grade municipal bonds. I don’t want to worry about my bonds. I then tweak the specific breakdown based on my tax-deferred space available, the tax-effective rates of muni bonds, and the real interest rates of TIPS. Right now, it is roughly 1/3rd Treasuries, 1/3 Muni bonds, and 1/3rd TIPS. It looks like I need to redirect my dividends into more bonds.

Performance commentary and benchmarks. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio went up 13% so far in 2019. I see that during the same period the S&P 500 has gone up nearly 20%, Foreign Developed stocks up nearly 13%, and the US Aggregate bond index was up about 7%.

An alternative benchmark for my portfolio is 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +14.82% for 2019 YTD.

I’ll share about more about the income in a separate post.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Reminder: Nobody Can Predict Future Interest Rates (Especially the Experts)

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

The financial prediction industry is simply mind-boggling to me. There is zero long-term memory or accountability. You can make all the predictions you want about the stock market, gold prices, and interest rates, and nobody remembers your bad calls. You get a contrarian call right, and all of a sudden you’re on all the TV interviews and news articles.

Allow me to remind you of what the Wall Street Journal’s panel of economists predicted in January 2019 as to what interest rates would look like the rest of the year (WSJ source). I have updated the chart with the current rates (click to enlarge). This was less than 10 months ago!

Apologies for the sloppy graphics, but you can see that 10-year rates dropped down to 2% in July, down even further to 1.5% at the beginning of September, with a slight bounce up to around 1.75% today. Not a single prediction was even close to reality.

When I was stocking up on 4% APY 5-year CDs last year, I was reading comments like “Why lock in such a low rate? You’re going to see much higher rates soon!”. Now, all of the comments are “You better lock in that 3% CD before rates drop further!”

Predicting interest rates even only as far as the next 12 months, is incredibly hard. You can’t do it reliably. Nobody can do it reliably. You might get it right, but that is called luck and not skill.

Individual investors don’t have an advantage in predicting future rates, but they do have their own set of special advantages. As an individual investor, you can purchase certificates from any FDIC-insured bank or NCUA-insured credit union if the interest rate is better than the comparable US Treasury. Over the last couple of years, I was able to buy multiple 5-year CDs at 4% APY when the 5-year Treasury was well below 3%. You have to act decisively, but any individual can do it. Pension funds and other institutional investors can’t.

I have a ladder of 5-year CDs. Each year, I buy a 5-year CD when a compelling interest rate arises. I don’t care about the rate direction, as long as I get about 1% above US Treasuries. After 5 years of doing this, you will have a ladder of CDs such that each year one CD is maturing and you can simply reinvest the funds each year. If I managed to put one year of expenses into each rung of this ladder, I now have 5 years of expenses in the bank, fully-insured and ready to go in case of financial emergency. An extra 1% on each $100,000 is $1,000 a year. That’s real money.

If this sounds like too much trouble to open accounts at multiple banks, you can always still with a Total US Bond fund (like AGG or BND). You’re essentially buying an ladder of bonds. BND has an average effective maturity of 8 years and average duration of 6 years. You might also buy it automatically inside a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. Just keep buying it and ignore any talk about “The Fed”. Keep the chart above in your mind.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Causes of Wealth: Reality vs. News Coverage

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Our World in Data has a very in-depth page on Causes of Death from around the world. Then they asked: Does the news reflect what we die from? What if they compared what we read in the news and the raw data? Here is a chart that compares actual death stats against Google search data and the mentions of causes of death in both the New York Times and The Guardian newspapers (click to enlarge):

Two-thirds of us will die from either heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease. Meanwhile, over 70% of the causes of death you’ll read about in the news are either murder, suicide, or terrorism.

What about the disconnect between reality and what we read in the news about becoming wealthy? Here’s my quick take using a Google Spreadsheet (obviously not exact or based on actual data):

Most people probably realize that the news does not exactly reflect the real world. However, we can still unconsciously develop a “bias for single events”, even with financial topics. There’s also “social media bias” where what you see is only the highly-edited positive clips of their life. You see their #bestlife, but what you don’t see are their credit card debt, the downpayment from the Bank of Mom and Dad, or anxiety attacks about money.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Andrew Luck is Doing Early Retirement Perfectly

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

The big news in sports yesterday was the retirement of Andrew Luck from professional football at the age of 29. Here are two takes from The Ringer: Andrew Luck and the Afterburn of Early Retirement and Andrew Luck Gave Up Fame, Riches, and Football Because He Is Unapologetically Himself. He seems like a stand-up guy. The thing that struck me was the chorus of boos from Colts fans (some burning his jersey) and a few snarky remarks from some (supposedly) professional sports commentators.

That’s how I knew that Andrew Luck was doing justice to my definition of “retirement”. To me, retirement means:

  • You are NOT optimizing your time for money. Elite quarterbacks rarely retire early because they can make tens of millions of dollars just holding a clipboard as a backup until they are 40 years old. Luck is walking away from anywhere from $10 million to hundreds of millions.
  • You are NOT following other people’s expectations, and definitely not what random angry internet people think. I’m sure many Colts fans are disappointed, and even he admitted that the boos hurt. But Luck only gets one life and one body. The fans won’t be there when you can’t walk right for the rest of your life.
  • You may NOT be doing what you are most talented at. Sometimes things come easier to you than others, but that doesn’t mean you find joy in the act. I think it can be noble to keep working at something to support your family, but this is retirement. Retirement means that if you want, you can do the thing you are least talented at. He could switch to painting with boxing gloves.

That’s why I call myself “semi-retired”. Am I talented at raising small children? No. Probably below average. Am I good at it? No. Nobody would ever hire me to watch their kids. If I wanted to optimize for money, I would never have done this. If we both kept working full-time and paying for full-time daycare, we could have earned at least a million dollars more during their childhoods. I am spending half my time doing something that doesn’t make much sense, so I call that half-retired even though I am still exhausted at the end of every day. At the same time, I am grateful because I know that it took a lot of luck and the gracious support of my wife and family to even have this choice.

Let’s not forget why this is all possible. Luck combined his unique talents, hard work, family support, and some luck to earn over $100 million in his career. He is financially free, even if he hits a few bumps along the way. We don’t know all his struggles, and he never needs to explain it to us.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

The Other Side: Reasons Why You Might Not Want To Retire at 40

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Previously, I wrote about how you might consider retiring earlier if you have adequate flexibility to decrease your spending temporarily and/or earning additional money. If you have early good luck with market returns, you will gain many more years of freedom.

Now I’d like to present the other side of that argument. If you retire in your 40s or 50s, there are hopefully many years of fun times ahead of you. However, there is also a higher chance for events that significantly increase your expenses and decrease your ability to earn more money.

Let’s say you and your spouse/life partner are both 40 years old and have saved up $2 million and are pretty confident that you can live off of $60,000 to $80,000 per year. That’s may seem like a lot of money. However, here are some things that can throw a wrench into your plans.

Yourself

  • You may become disabled and become unable to work. Your daily healthcare expenses may also rise significantly.
  • Your spouse may have a health event or pass away prematurely, which will affect your household finances.
  • You may be the subject of a liability lawsuit.
  • There may be an expensive accident – Home fire, theft, fraud.

Many of these situations can be offset by proper insurance. Disability, life, homeowners, long-term car, and/or umbrella liability insurance.

Your spouse (Divorce)

A divorce can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. There are many articles about increasing divorce rates amongst those aged 40+ and 50+. Even if you split your assets equally into two parts, a couple can usually live more efficiently than two individual households. In addition, you may no longer be eligible for the full spousal portion of a pension, healthcare package, and/or Social Security.

Parents, Elderly Relatives and/or Siblings

  • You may have a perfect financial situation, but your parents (or other close family members) may not.
  • You can’t control your parents (or siblings) and their decisions. They may develop dementia, fall for fraud, have substance abuse issues, or simply be bad with money.
  • Some people may be able to easily separate themselves from the responsibility of taking care of their relatives, but many will find it very difficult. Every person’s sense of familial duty is different.
  • Fulfilling what you believe is your responsibility may require great deals of time, energy, and money.
  • Your parents’ ongoing health issues may permanently change your life for decades. See NYT: At 75, Taking Care of Mom, 99: ‘We Did Not Think She Would Live This Long’

Children

  • If you are in your 40s, your kid status is not set in stone. If you don’t have kids, you still might have some. If you already have some, you might have more. Even if you don’t want kids now, you might change your mind. I know of many friends who had at least one kid well into their 40s.
  • Even though kids don’t necessarily need everything they seem to get these days, kids do require significant time, energy, and money.
  • Your child may have special needs. Imagine a multiple of that time, energy, and money.
  • Your child’s special needs may permanently change your life. It may not stop after 18 years.
  • Your child’s special needs may not become apparent until they are 5 months old, 5 years old, or 15 years old.

I may be wrong, but my impression is that early retirees are more likely to be childless than the general population. Perhaps knowing that you have less people to be responsible for makes it easier to take the retirement leap. I strongly believe that you should only have kids if you want to have kids, not because your parents or society wants you to have them. I can’t imagine how I would get through a single day with my kids if I didn’t want to be a parent.

It may be my own personal situation coloring my view, but the 30s, 40s, and 50s feels like the “sandwich decades” where you are most likely to be responsible for both parents and children. Retiring very early may permanently impair your ability to earn any more money, which in turn may be a source of future regret. You can (and should) insure against certain things, but not everything.

My take. Retirement timing is a form of regret minimization. You want to minimize the regret of “I should have retired earlier and had more freedom time”, but also minimize the regret of “I wish I made more money so my limited freedom time is more enjoyable”. It’s hard to find that happy medium where you give yourself enough financial wiggle room while keeping an eye on your mortality.

I started down the path of “semi-retirement” in 2012 with the birth of our first child. “Semi-retirement” is a rather generous take on our reworking of the traditional one full-time working spouse and one full-time parent arrangement so that we were both 50/50. Since then, we have both had the urge to try to live solely off our investments, but we are also keenly aware of the large number of people that we are responsible for caring for. In the end, we’re still both working part-time as that seems to be the solution with most optionality for now.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

There Is No 100% Safe Portfolio: The Future May Not Look Like The Past

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

Last week, the yield on the 30-year US Treasury bond dropped below 2% for the first time in history. Many other articles will try to explain why this happened, and what this means for the future. Not me. I have no clue what’s coming and don’t think anyone else does either. Here’s the historical yield chart via Financial Times:

Reader skg recently shared that the original 1992 edition of Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez is now available online (partially to promote the new 2018 edition).

I rate this book a “must read” for those interested in a philosophical inspiration behind financial independence. However, the specific investing advice inside was to put all of your money into a ladder of 30-year US treasury bonds. Here an excerpt from the book on what they were looking for:

1. Your capital must produce income.
2. Your capital must be absolutely safe.
3. Your capital must be in a totally liquid investment. You must be able to convert it into cash at a moment’s notice, to handle emergencies.
4. Your capital must not be diminished at the time of investment by unnecessary commissions, “loads,” “promotional” or “distribution” expenses (often called “12b- 1 fees”), management fees or expense fees.
5. Your income must be absolutely safe.
6. Your income must not fluctuate. You must know exactly what your income will be next month, next year and twenty years from now.
7. Your income must be payable to you, in cash, at regular intervals; it must not be accrued, deferred, automatically reinvested, etc. You want complete control.
8. Your income must not be diminished by charges, management fees, redemption fees, etc.
9. The investment must produce this regular, fixed, known income without any further involvement or expense on your part. It must not require maintenance, management, geographic presence or attention due to “acts of God.”

That sounds pretty good, right? But then you have to remember that Joe retired about 1970 and this book was written about 1990. Look again at rates from 1970-1990 in the chart above. Another excerpt:

For most of this century, up until the late 1960s, interest rates were under 5 percent. Since their peak in 1981, long-term interest rates have been wending their way back down toward their historical norms. You did not need to catch the bond market at those abnormal highs in order to reach FI. Even at 5 or 6 percent, this program will work.

In 1969, when Joe reached FI, his capital was invested in bonds with interest averaging 6.85 percent and maturities extending into the 1990s. Through a few judicious bond swaps, and with no income other than the income from the bonds, his portfolio now has an average yield of 9.85 percent and maturities extending to the year 2007 on average.

Note that bolded quote “Even at 5 or 6 percent, this program will work”. Well, what about 2%? It probably wasn’t even on his radar as a possibility at that time. I’m sure something else will happen in the next 30 years that isn’t on my radar now.

Even buying the safest bonds in the world and locking them in for the longest period possible is not free from risk. Long-term bonds can still be one component of a diversified portfolio, assuming you understand when it will do well and when it won’t. However, it is important to realize that owning 100% long-term bonds at 2% leaves you very vulnerable to future inflation.

This is only a small part of the book, and there is additional discussion about being flexible in your own spending:

Your choices, attitudes, beliefs, habits, tastes, fears and desires have the ultimate effect on your bottom line.

Bottom line. Every time I see the line “for the first time in history”, I am reminded that no portfolio is 100% safe. We can look back at history as guide, but also accept its limitations. Even buying the safest bonds in the world and locking them in for the longest period possible is not free from risk. Preparing for retirement isn’t just about your investment portfolio, but also having adequte insurance coverage and your ability to be flexible in both spending and earning.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

Maximizing Retirement Time: Being Flexible in Both Work Income and Spending

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Thank you for your support.

When it comes to Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE), many people get turned off because they define retirement as “never, ever working again for money”. Financial independence fits better with my goal of spending the most of your limited time on Earth aligned with your values.

If the idea is to maximize your independent time, then you have to accept that luck matters. This chart from Michael Kitces explores equally likely scenarios from someone spending down a $1,000,000 portfolio of 60% stocks and 40% bonds.

Equally likely:

  • Ending up broke or feel alarmingly like you are headed towards broke.
  • Ending up with many, many times more money than you started with.

Is retiring as soon as you reach the 4% rule too risky because you might run out of money? Or is working longer for 3% too risky because you might have wasted years of your life working when you didn’t need to?

Let’s look again at some charts from Engaging Data. Here are sample results for the early retirement scenario at 4% withdrawal rate at age 40 ($40k from a $1m 65/35/5 portfolio, retirement horizon 50 years, female longevity table).

  • Red – Alive, but ran out of money.
  • Light green – Alive, with less money than you started with.
  • Green – Alive, with between 100% and 200% of what you started with.
  • Dark green – Alive, with over 200% of what you started with.
  • Grey – Dead.

Here is retired at 40 with a lower 3% withdrawal rate ($30k from a $1m 65/35/5 portfolio, retirement horizon 50 years, female longevity table):

Notice at even with the riskier 4% withdrawal rate, you have roughly a 60% chance that your portfolio never goes below the starting balance for as long as you are alive. That means you just spend your 4% every year and it just replenishes itself over and over. Sure, the 3% chart looks safer as there is no red “failure” area. But is that chance of failure worth working maybe another 10 years to go from 25x expenses (4%) to 33x expenses (3%)?

If your portfolio value drops early in retirement, flexible withdrawals are one important tool to improve your portfolio survival odds. However, what about flexible income as well?

What if you retired earlier so that if things go well, you get more retirement years, but if things go bad, then you fall back on some part-time back-up work? Your main risk is of poor returns in the first 10 years of retirement or so. You would accept the chance that you might have to do a little work again to prop your portfolio up during that time. A good part-time job would have the following characteristics:

  • Scales up and down easily. Ideally, you could spend 10 hours a week, 20 hours a week, or 40 hours a week on it as necessary. This could mean hourly shift work or flexible self-employment.
  • Higher-paid skilled work that is at least partially satisfying. Unskilled work will be the easiest to obtain, but the pay will be low. Uber/Lyft driver, food delivery, home health aide, retail, warehouse, etc. You want something where your special skills are compensated accordingly.
  • Minimal maintenance. For some jobs, if you aren’t constantly putting in hours, you’ll become obsolete and won’t be able to start back up again. There may be professional licenses to maintain, etc.

Here’s a brief list of ideas:

  • Healthcare. Many positions in the healthcare field can be part-time and hourly, from doctor to nurses to technician positions.
  • Elder care. This may be related to healthcare, but the overall aging population is another trend to consider.
  • Accounting. An accountant or someone with similar skills can usually find work during tax season, assisting other accountants.
  • Tech. There is often consulting or project work available, if you keep your s and skills up-to-date.
  • Passion work. Turn your hobbies into work. You could be a travel guide, taking people on hikes, tours, kayaking, etc. Carpentry projects could turn into an Etsy store. If you like to fix things, become the neighborhood handyperson.
  • Real estate. I tend to break up residential real estate investing into two parts – the actual ownership and the property management. Property management is basically a part-time job which you can do yourself, and the effective wage can be quite high if you are skilled at managing tenants. (The catch is that you can also lose money if you are unskilled at it.)
  • Teaching and kid-related. People are having fewer kids, but spending more on each one. Sleep training consultant. Potty training consultant. Academic tutoring at any age. Sports coaching at any age. Chess coaching. Language coaching. Musical coaching. These all command premium hourly rates.

I am a conservative person at heart, and I know that I would worry about my family’s finances if my portfolio dropped significantly from my retirement date. Therefore, I am both using a conservative withdrawal method and maintaining a semi-retired work schedule for the time being. I don’t have the luxury of a full traditional retirement, but I like the balance so far.

Bottom line. Living off of an investment portfolio of stocks and bonds depends a lot on luck. One way to deal with this is to be flexible with your withdrawals. Good luck means spending more, bad luck means spending less. This flexibility may allow you to retire earlier with a smaller portfolio balance. However, you could also plan for a little work income to offset early bad luck with portfolio returns. If you instead have early good luck with market returns, then you’ve just won many more years of free time.

Share this:

eccad.info has partnered with CardRatings for selected credit cards, and may receive a commission from card issuers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. Eccad.info is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.