In Part I of this article, I explained why I have issues with the traditional idea that individuals should provide for their required level of retirement income (beyond what is provided by Social Security and any pensions) entirely with assets with zero risk of loss of principal (e.g. Treasury bonds). In Part II, I discuss the alternative approaches.
There are two investments that have zero loss of principal: traditional Treasury bonds and Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS), which are Treasury bonds with embedded protection against inflation.
I agree with the notion that people need to save and invest so as to be able to provide a very reliable and consistent income stream in retirement. Zvi Bodie has presented a compelling argument that investments in stocks do not become less risky as you hold them for longer periods, so that investors cannot rely on stocks as part of their required income stream. I have performed detailed analysis of Bodie’s argument and I agree with his argument: the magnitude of loss that you can face with an equity-heavy portfolio increases the longer you hold the portfolio. As I noted in Part I, William Bernstein has recently advocated for a portfolio in which all of your required income is provided by Treasuries and annuities, largely consistent with Bodie. Continue reading →
The current economic environment is making it very hard for investors to generate reasonable levels of income through traditional means such as bond ladders. While it is always dangerous to suggest that ‘it’s different this time,’ I believe that we are facing some unprecedented conditions that require new approaches. Income-seeking investors with low risk tolerance—those who have traditionally favored government bonds—are in the most difficult situation.
The problem of low savings and investment rates in the U.S. is huge. I have written about this in the past, along with many others. Every study on retirement savings notes that Americans need to save more. Having the ability to support yourself from a portfolio of savings is not, however, just about the amount that you save. There is also the issue of how much income you can derive from each dollar in your portfolio. Today, with historically low yields on government bonds, retirees and others seeking to live on the income from low-risk investments are faced with an enormous challenge that compounds the savings rate problem. To be able to live on the income provided by very low-risk investments, the necessary savings rates increase dramatically relative to savings rates when investors are willing to bear some risk. Continue reading →