Category Archives: financial ratios

How Much Do You Need to Save for Retirement?

In the financial advisory business, one of the most pressing and controversial topics is how much money people need to save during their working years in order to provide for long-term retirement income.  The research on this topic has evolved quite a lot in recent years, and a recent issue of Money magazine features a series of articles representing the current view on this critical topic.  These articles, based around interviews with a number of the current thought leaders on this topic, deserve to be widely read and discussed.

The series of articles in Money kicks off with perspectives by Wade Pfau.  Pfau’s introductory piece suggests a difficult future for American workers.  A traditional rule-of-thumb in retirement planning is called the 4% rule.  This rule states that a retiree can plan to draw annual income equal to 4% of the value of her portfolio in the first year of retirement and increase this amount each year to keep up with inflation.  Someone who retires with a $1 Million portfolio could draw $40,000 in income in the first year of retirement and then increase that by 2.5%-3% per year, and have a high level of confidence that the portfolio will last thirty years.  It is assumed that the portfolio is invested in 60%-70% stocks and 30%-40% bonds.  The 4% rule was originally derived based on the long-term historical returns and risks for stocks and bonds.  The problem that Pfau has noted, however, is that both stocks and bonds are fairly expensive today relative to their values over the period of time used to calculate the 4% rule.  For bonds, this means that yields are well below their historical averages and historical yields are a good predictor of the future return from bonds.  The expected return from stocks is partly determined by the average price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, and the P/E for stocks is currently well-above the long-term historical average.  High P/E tends to predict lower future returns for stocks, and vice versa.  For a detailed discussion of these relationships, see this paper.  In light of current prices of stocks and bonds, Pfau concludes that the 4% rule is far too optimistic and proposes that investors plan for something closer to a 3% draw rate from their portfolios in retirement.  I also explored this topic in an article last year.

Continue reading

Estimating the Real Costs of Investing

One of the least-understood aspects of investing among individual investors is the total costs associated with building and maintaining a portfolio.  In comparison to the huge rises and falls that we see in the market, the expenses associated with mutual funds or brokerage costs may sound small.  Over long periods of time, however, the ups and downs of the market tend to average out.  The effect of those costs  however is persistent and continuous. 

There are a range of costs associated with investing in funds beyond the stated expense ratio.  In a new article in the Financial Analysts Journal, John Bogle presents a new summary of the average all-in costs associated with investing in stock index funds and in actively-managed stock funds.  Mr. Bogle is a long-term and tireless advocate of the idea that actively-managed mutual funds are a mistake for investors, so the content of the article is not surprising.  He has written similar pieces in the past.  In this article, he provides updated numbers, backed up by a range of academic analysis.  His summary of costs is provided in Table 1 of his article:

 Image

There are three types of expenses, in addition to the standard expense ratio.  First are transaction costs, which are simply a fund’s trading costs.  This cost includes brokerage fees incurred by the fund, the impact of the bid-ask spread, and related expenses.  Mr. Bogle estimates this cost at 0.5% per year for active funds and at 0% for index funds.  He justifies the zero cost for index funds on the basis of the fact that the long-term returns of index funds are essentially identical to the performance of the index net of the index funds’ expense ratio.  The second source of additional cost for active funds is cash drag.  Many actively managed funds are not fully invested all of the time and carry a portion of their assets in cash.  To the extent that this cash does not accrue returns comparable to the equity index, this is a drag on performance.  Mr. Bogle estimates this lost return due to cash holdings at 0.15% per year.  The final additional cost that Mr. Bogle includes is sales charges / fees.  This cost is supposed to capture sales loads and any incremental costs associated with an investment advisor such as advisory fees.  Mr. Bogle freely acknowledges that this cost estimate is exceedingly open for debate. 

When he adds all of these costs together, Mr. Bogle estimates that the average actively-managed fund costs investors 2.27% per year as compared to the market index, while the index fund costs only 0.06% per year. 

The Investment Company Institute (ICI) estimates that the asset-weighted average expense ratio of actively-managed mutual funds is 0.92% per year, for reference.  The ICI also reports that the most expensive funds can have much higher expense ratios.  They find that the most expensive 10% of equity funds have an average expense ratio of 2.2%. 

Mr. Bogle, in his examples, assumes that stocks will return an average of 7% per year.  This number is highly uncertain.  The trailing 10-year annualized return of the S&P500 is 6.8% per year, but the trailing 15-year annualized return for the S&P500 is 4.2%.  A 2.2% total expense is more than 30% of the total return from investing in the stock market if the market returns 7%.  Because of compounding, the long-term impact of these costs increases over time. 

The average costs from Mr. Bogle’s article are not unreasonable.  There are probably many investors paying this much or more.  On the other hand, there are plenty of investors in active funds paying considerably less. 

Where does all of this leave investors?  First and foremost, it should be clear that costs matter a great deal.  There will always be expenses associated with investing, but they vary widely.  Over a lifetime, managing the expenses of investing can have a dramatic impact on your ability to build substantial savings.  Whether or not you believe that actively-managed funds are worth their cost, every investor should know their own asset-weighted expense ratio. 

Related Links:

Folio Investing The brokerage with a better way. Securities products and services offered through FOLIOfn Investments, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC.

Tried and True Money Advice from Warren Buffett

Guest post by Contributing Editor, Janet Al-Saad, Mint.com.

When it comes to financial wisdom, few people merit as much attention as Warren Buffett. The man renowned as the “Sage of Omaha” built a billion-dollar empire from scratch, all the while maintaining modest spending habits that are the envy of every frugal person everywhere. Liz Claman of the Fox Business Network spoke with Buffett recently, and shares some of his wisdom with Mint Life: Continue reading

Sector Watch: Low-Beta Stocks

Financial theory suggests that risk and return go hand-in-hand:

Small company stocks tend to be riskier and outperform large company stocks. Long-term bonds tend to be riskier and outperform short-term bonds. Corporate bonds tend to be riskier than Treasury bonds (with comparable terms) and outperform Treasuries over time.

However, there is one group of stocks that has consistently defied this risk/return relationship: Low-beta stocks. A low-beta strategy involves selecting stocks that have a lower-than-average beta value. (Beta is a measure of the stocks’ volatility and adding low-beta stocks to your portfolio can help investors build a diversified portfolio.) The good news for investors here is that Continue reading

Sell in May?

Guest Post by Contributing Editor, Kip Robbins, CFA, Zacks.com. 

This week, I bumped into a friend who remembered my article based on seasonal investing in which I suggested to buy around Halloween and sell in May (see “Goblins, Ghouls and the Halloween Effect“).  He reminded me that May is soon approaching, and asked me whether I still felt that way.  After I published the article in the Fall, I purchased one of the stocks I’d recommended.  Its price is up a modest 1% since then, has a 3.6% dividend yield, and lately I’ve been reading a lot of positive prose about the stock, so I’m a little uncertain if it’s really time to sell. Continue reading

When Market Volatility Returns with a Vengeance

Wall Street has a bad case of the downers lately. With triple-digit drops in the Dow one day and double digit jumps the next many investors chose to take shelter on the sidelines as they pried open a bottle of Pepto.

The picture is not pretty: As of August 10th, investors could only stand back and watch as the S&P 500 Index continued a 20-day trading sell-off resulting in a 14% loss. So what does it mean and what should we do about it when the market as a whole suggests that the value of a broad index of U.S. companies is 14% less today than a month ago?
Continue reading

Target Date Strategies Weather the Storm

Institutional Investor just published an article titled “Where Does The Market Chaos Leave Target Date Funds?”

I don’t need to tell you what you already know—that recent weeks, months and even the past few days have been highly volatile. The article, which came out on August 10th, raises an interesting point:  The main motivation for Target Date strategies is a long-term “buy and hold” approach that investors expect to be sufficiently diversified to weather any sharp declines in any particular asset class—just like we all saw just this week.

This is, in fact, the very definition of diversification. Continue reading