Balance Funds are not on Target for Default KiwiSaver Investors

Personally I am not convinced with the suggestion of moving KiwiSaver Default Fund Investors into a Balance Fund is the right solution, as was recently promoted in a Stuff article.

It is certainly a bit of a stretch to claim it is a radical idea. Nor is it really something materially different, it is a variation on a current theme – what equity allocation should be targeted.

 

The Balance Fund solution would result in a higher equity allocation, which in theory, and observed in practice over the longer term, will “likely” result in higher savings account balances. This is not guaranteed of course.

On this basis, a higher allocation is more likely to be appropriate for some Default Fund investors but not all. Conceivably it may be more appropriate for more than is currently the case.

Albeit, it is far from an ideal solution.

As noted in the article, it would not be appropriate for those saving for a house deposit, a high equity allocation is not appropriate in this situation. Therefore, there is still a need to provide advice as suggested. Unfortunately, whether it is a Conservative or Balance Fund a level of advice will be required.

A higher equity allocation may not necessarily result in a better outcome for KiwiSaver investors, what happens if an investor switches out of the higher equity weighted fund just after a major market correction as they cannot tolerate the higher level of market volatility. It may take years to get back to their starting position. Over the longer term, they may have been better off sticking with a more Conservative Fund. This is a real risk given a lack of advice around KiwiSaver.

This is also a real risk currently given both the New Zealand and US sharemarket have not had a major correction in over 10 years and both are currently on one of their best performance periods in history.

A higher level of volatility may result in pressure on the Government to switch back to a more conservative portfolio at a later date. A variation on the above individual situation which would likely occur at exactly the wrong time to make such a change in an equity allocation.

 

A more robust investment solution is required.

 

A possible Solution?

Perhaps the solution, and some may argue a more radical and materially different approach, is to introduce Target Date Funds as the Default Fund KiwiSaver solution.

Target Date Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds or Life Cycle Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement. Administratively it is more complex for the Providers, as many different Funds are required, as is a higher level of oversight.

Target Date Funds adjust the equity allocation on the premise that as we get older we cannot recover from financial disaster because we are unable to rebuild savings through salary and wages. These Funds follow a rule of thumb that as you get closer to retirement an investor should be moved into a more conservative investment strategy. This is a generalisation and does not take into consideration the individual circumstances of the investor nor market conditions.

Target Date Funds are becoming increasingly popular overseas e.g. the US and Australia. Particularly in situations where the Investor does not want or cannot afford investment advice. The “Product” adjusts the investor’s investment strategy throughout the Life Cycle for them, no advice is provided.

 

All good in theory, nevertheless, these products have some limitations in their design which is increasingly being highlighted.

Essentially, Target Date Funds have two main short comings:

  1. They are not customised to an individual’s circumstances e.g. they do not take into consideration future income requirements, likely endowments, level of income generated up to retirement, or risk profile.
    • They are prescribed asset allocations which are the same for all investors who have the same number of years to retirement, this is the trade-off for scale over customisation.
  2. Additionally, the equity allocation glide path does not take into account current market conditions.
    • Risky assets have historically shown mean reversion i.e. asset returns eventually return back toward the mean or average return
    • Therefore, linear glide paths, as employed by most Target Date Funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:
      • Delays in pace of transitioning from risky assets (equities) to safer assets (cash and fixed income);
      • Stepping off the glide path given extreme market risk environments

The failure to not make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions is inconsistent with academic prescriptions and common sense, both suggest that the optimal strategy should display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.

The optimal Target Date Fund asset allocation should be goal based and multi-period:

    • It requires customisation by goals, of human capital, and risk preferences
    • Some mechanism to exploit the possibility of mean reversion within markets

 

To achieve this the Investment Solution requires a more Liability Driven Investment approach: Goals Based Investing.

Furthermore, central to improving investment outcomes, particularly most current Target Date Funds and eliminating the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement, is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a Target Date Fund.

From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a Target Date Fund are risky when it comes to generating a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement. These risks are not widely understood nor managed appropriately.

The conservative allocations within most Target Date Funds can be improved by matching future cashflow and income requirements. While also focusing on reducing the risk of inflation eroding the purchasing power of future income.

This requires moving away from current market based shorter term investment portfolios and implementing a more customised investment solution.

The investment approach to do this is readily available now and is based on the concept of Liability Driven Investing applied by Insurance companies, called Goal Based Investing for investment retirement solutions. #Goalbasedinvesting

 

Many of the overseas Target Date Funds address the shortcomings outlined above, including the management of the equities allocation over the life cycle subject to market conditions.

This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. This knowledge is helping make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

 

As we know, holding high Cash holdings at retirement is risky, if not scandalous.

We need to be weary of rules of thumb, such as the level of equity allocation based on age and the 4% rule (which has been found to be insufficient in most markets globally).

We also need to be weary of what we wish for and instead should actively seek more robust investment solutions that focus on meeting Clients investment objectives.

 

This requires a Goals Based Investment approach and an investment solution that displays “flexicurity”. This is an investment solution that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products.

This is not a radical concept, as discussed above the investment frameworks, techniques, and approaches are currently available to achieve better investment outcomes for Default KiwiSaver investors.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Further growth expected for an Alternative future – Prequin

The outlook for Alternative investments continues to look bright according to the recent Prequin Global Alternatives Report.

Prequin note investor’s motivations for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

Private equity and venture capital, motives = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns

Infrastructure and real estate, motives = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream

Private debt, motives = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream

Hedge Funds, motives = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

Natural Resources, motives = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

Prequin comment “Set against these objectives, it becomes clear why investors have not only consistently increased their allocations to alternative assets over the past decade, but also why they are planning to continue to do so in the years ahead (not to mention the growing number of investors that come into alternatives each year – i.e. growing ‘participation’).”

Interestingly, investors are expressing an increasing allocation not only to those alternatives that have exceeded expectations recently (Private equity and venture capital, private debt, infrastructure, real estate), but are also looking to increase allocations to areas where recent performance has disappointed – notably hedge funds and natural resources. As they note “the diversification and low correlation offered by these assets may be especially attractive in a challenging returns environment.”

 

Importantly, the Prequin survey is set against a backdrop where investors “see a challenging environment ahead for returns.”

They also note that continued growth is expected despite alternative assets having enjoyed a “tremendous decade of growth” and “becoming ever more vital in investors’ portfolios worldwide;”

 

With regards to expected growth, “Preqin is sticking with its forecast for further growth of alternative assets to 2023: from $8.8tn in assets under management in 2017 to $14.0tn in 2023.”

 

The full Prequin report is available and covers each of the Alternative strategies outlined above.

The Preqin-Alternatives-in-2019-Report, for example, provides some interesting facts and figures on Hedge Funds:

  • 59% of Surveyed investors believe we are the top of the equity cycle, 40% intend to position their portfolios defensively
  • 79% of surveyed investors intent to maintain or increase their level of allocation to hedge funds over the next 12 months

 

For further articles on Alternatives by Kiwi Investor Blog:

  1. An Alternative Future for Kiwisaver Funds
  2. Alternatives Investments will improve the investment outcomes of Target-Date Funds
  3. Future’s Hedge Funds
  4. Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2
  5. Perspective of the Hedge Fund Industry
  6. Adding Alternatives to and Investment Portfolio – Part 3 – Investing Like an Endowment Fund
  7. Adding Alternatives to and Investment Portfolio – Part 2
  8. Adding Alternatives to and Investment Portfolio

 

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

 

High cash holdings a scandalous investment for someone in retirement

Arguably a primary goal of retirement planning is to provide a stable and secure stream of replacement income in retirement. Such income should be sufficient to support a desired standard of living in retirement.

Therefore a key risk is uncertainty about how much spending (consumption) can be sustained in retirement.

Fundamental to this approach is measuring risk relative to the spending/consumption goals. As a result, the focus should not be on the size of the account value (Super pot). Nor is volatility of capital and returns a true measure of risk.

The size of the super pot, Kiwisaver account balance, does not tell someone the level of income that can be generated to support a desired standard of living in retirement.

As a result, strategies that focus on capital preservation, such as holding high levels of cash and short-term fixed income strategies, are more risky and volatile relative to the investment goal of generating a stable and secure stream of replacement income in retirement.

Therefore, holding high levels of cash at the time of retirement could potentially be a very poor investment decision, as is proposed by a number of Target Date / Life Stages investment products.

 

The Analysis

Dimensional Funds Advisors (DFA) undertook analysis comparing two investment strategies relative to the goal of generating a stable and secure level of income in retirement:

  1. Goals based strategy that looks to generate sufficient income in retirement to match expected spending (consumption). This is called a liability-driven investment strategy or “LDI”.
  2. Capital preservation strategy that is invested in Cash as a means to manage the volatility of the account balance.

 

The following conclusions can be drawn from the DFA analysis:

  • The LDI strategy provides a stable stream of replacement income in retirement
  • The LDI strategy provides greater clarity and confidence to plan for retirement
  • The Cash strategy results in a high level of volatility relative to the goal of generating a stable level of income

 

The DFA analysis highlight that, relative to the Income goal, the LDI’s estimated volatility relative to this goal was 2.9%, compared to 20.7% for Cash strategy.

As far as range of outcomes, DFA compared the LDI and Cash strategy over a number of 10-year periods between 1962 and 2015, 44 overlapping 10-year periods.

“The pattern was clear. In all 10-year periods, the LDI strategy is relatively stable”. Meanwhile the Cash strategy “is a rollercoaster”.

If we assume the Investment goal was to deliver $1 of income every year, the analysis showed that annual income from the LDI strategy ranged between $0.97 and $1.09.

Conversely, the Cash strategy generated retirement income outcomes from $0.35 to $2.09. The median outcome was $0.67, this is well below $1 desired and the $1.01 LDI median.

 

Why?

In simple terms, the LDI strategy is a long-term bond portfolio that matches the expected retirement spending/consumption goal. Effectively, the LDI strategy generates cashflows to match future expected spending. This reduces volatility relative to the retirement spending goals. This is exactly the same approach insurance company’s implement to pay out future expected liabilities (insurance claims).

DFA conclude that “any strategy that attempts to reduce volatility using short- to intermediate-term fixed income, when the goal is a long-term liability like retirement consumption, will not be as effective as the LDI strategy.”

Although cash is perceived as low risk, it is not low risk when it comes to generating a steady and secure stream of replacement income in retirement. Short term fixed income securities, while appropriate for capital preservation, are risky if the goal is meet future spending/consumption.

 

This is not a fantasy, the portfolio construction techniques are available today to implement LDI strategies, which should not be beyond the capability of any credible fixed interest team to implement.

 

Goals Based (LDI) Strategy Benefits

  1. More stable level of income in retirement
  2. More efficient use of capital – potentially need less retirement savings
  3. Better framework to make trade-off between allocation to equities and LDI fixed income portfolio in improving the likelihood of reaching desired standard of living in retirement.

 

If an investor runs with a Cash strategy, where the goal is primarily capital preservation, they will need additional precautionary savings to meet their retirement income requirements.

 

Therefore, an LDI strategy increases the likelihood of reaching the retirement income objectives. It also achieves this with a more efficient allocation of capital. This additional capital could be used for current consumption or invested in growth assets to potentially fund a higher standard of living in retirement, or used for other investment goals e.g. endowments and legacies.

 

Lastly, the LDI strategy provides a better framework in which to access the risk of not meeting your retirement income goals.

 

Holding a large allocation to Cash does not tell you if you are able to generate a sufficient level of income to support a desired standard of living in retirement.

 

The approach outlined here is consistent with EDHEC Retirement Income Framework. Furthermore, such an approach applied to the Income assets of the Target Date Fund would greatly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of such products.

 

Dimensional conclude”

“If one of the primary goals of retirement savings is to provide for consumption in retirement, the investment approach should be aligned with the investment goals. This means that it is important to manage the risks that are relevant to the goal. In the case of retirement income, two primary risks are inflation and interest rate risk, both of which can be addressed with an LDI approach to risk management. Not having the right risk management in place leads to unnecessary uncertainty about how much income one can afford. Additionally, investors may sacrifice returns unnecessarily. As investors shift away from growth assets, they tradeoff some expected return to gain risk reduction. So, it’s imperative that the investments reduce the risks that matter to make this a good tradeoff. We show that a blended LDI and equity solution may be able to achieve a better balance of growth vs. risk reduction—…………………”

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

Risk Measure of Wealth Management

Risk is not the volatility of your investment portfolio, or volatility of returns, risk is determined by your investment goals.

This is the view of Nobel laureate Professor Robert Merton. Such an assessment of risk also underpins many Goals-Based wealth management solutions.

More robust investment solutions are developed when the focus on risk moves beyond variations of returns and volatility of capital. The key risk is failure to meet your investment objectives.

 

The finance industry, many financial advisors and academics express risk as the variation in returns and capital, as measured by the standard deviation of returns, or variance.

Nevertheless, clients often see risk as the likelihood of not attaining their investment goals.

The traditional financial planning approach is to understand client’s goals, then ask questions to determine risk tolerance, which then leads to advising a client to adopt a portfolio that has a mean expected return and standard deviation corresponding to the Client’s risk appetite.  Standard deviation of returns, variation in capital, becomes the measure of risk.

 

Nevertheless, a different discussion with clients on their goals will likely result in a different investment solution. It will also improve the relationship between the Client and the Advisor.

Such a discussion will lead to more individualised advice and a better understanding of the choices being made. Clients will be in a better place to understand the impacts of their choices and the probability of achieving their goals. It will be more explicit to them in making trade-offs between playing it safe and taking risks to achieve their investment goals.

A goals based approach provides a more intuitive, transparent, and understandable planning approach.

Ultimately it leads to a more robust portfolio for the Client where information from the goals-based discussion can be mapped to a specific range of portfolios.

It is also a dynamic process, where portfolios can be updated and changed on new discussions and information. The process can adapt for multiple-goals over multiple time periods.

This is in stark contrast to the single period single objective, static portfolio traditionally implemented based on risk appetite.

There is also a strong foundation in Behaviour Economics supporting the Goals-Based investment approach.

 

I have covered Merton’s view in previous Posts, so please don’t accuse me of confirmation bias!

Merton’s views on risk is also well presented in a 2016 i3 Invest article in Australia, Risk is determined by Investment goal.

“Risk is not simply expressed as the volatility of your invested assets, but is determined by your ultimate goal, according to Nobel laureate Robert Merton.”

 

The i3 article provides an example on how your goal determines to a large degree what your risk-free asset is.

The goal provides a starting point for determining:

  • how far removed you are from achieving your objectives; and
  • importantly, how much risk you need to take to have a chance of meeting these objectives.

 

“If you had as your goal to pay your (Australian dollar) tax bill in a year from now, then what is the safe asset for you?”

“It would be an Australian dollar, one year, zero coupon, Australian Treasury Bill that matures in one year. That would be the sure thing.”

 

As the i3 article mentions Merton has criticised the idea that superannuation is a pot of money, instead of a basis for generating an income stream.

Merton argues that there should be greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement and we need to stop looking at account balances and variations in account balances. Instead, we should focus on the income that can potentially be generated in retirement from the investment portfolio, pot of money.

 

This is not a radical idea, this is looking at the system in the same way as Defined Benefit Funds did, the “old” style funds before the now “modern” defined contributions fund (where the individual takes on all the investment risk).  Defined contributions funds focus on the size of the pot.  The size of the superannuation pot (Kiwisaver account balance) does not necessarily tell you the standard of living that can be supported in retirement.  This is Merton’s critical point.

 

A greater focus on income is aligned with goals-based investment approach.

As Merton’s explains, if we accept we should focus on income, targeting sufficient replacement income in retirement, the development of a comprehensive income product in retirement is not difficult. He concludes, “This doesn’t require the smartest scientist in Australia to solve this problem. We know how to do it, we just need to go out and do it,”.

 

As noted above I have previously Posted on Merton’s retirement income views. The material from these Posts comes from a Podcast between Steve Chen, of NewRetirement, and Professor Merton. The Podcast is 90 minutes in length and full of great conversation about retirement income. Well worth listening to.

 

For those wanting a greater understanding of Merton’s views and rationale please see:

  1. What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth
  2. Is variability of retirement income a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital? – What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Behavioural Drivers of Wealth Management

Underpinning The Regret Proof Portfolio and Best Portfolio Does not Mean Optimal Portfolio is, amongst a number of things, Behavioural Economics.

 

A recent paper A New Approach to Goals-Based Wealth Management published in the Journal of Investment Management (JOIM), provides a very comprehensive framework for a Goals-Based Wealth Management approach.

 

Behavioural Economics forms the foundations of Goals-Based Wealth Management.

 

As the JOIM Paper notes “Traditionally, the financial industry, financial advisors, and academics in finance have associated the notion of “risk” with the standard deviation of an investor’s portfolio. Investors, on the other hand, typically associate “risk” with the likelihood of not attaining their goals.”

This is important from the perspective of client communications: “In traditional financial planning, advisors look to understand what an investor’s goals are, then they ask questions designed to determine the investor’s tolerance for portfolio standard deviation, which leads to advising the investor to adopt a portfolio that has a mean and standard deviation corresponding to the investor’s risk appetite”

Goals-Based Wealth Management is defined “as a process that focuses on helping investors realize their goals, both short-term and long-term,..”

Behavioural Economics comes into play by “using language and ideas that are more natural for investors” in determining appropriate investment goals.

 

Behavioural Economics Foundations

The JOIM Paper provides a very good overview of the behavioural economics that forms the foundations of their Goals-Based Wealth Management Investment solution.

Inputs comes from the:

  1. pioneering and very influential academic literature on Behavioural Economics
  2. growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management

 

Richard Thaler’s work, who is a 2017 Nobel prize winner for his contribution to Behavioural Economics, provides a central pillar to the Goals-Based Wealth Management solution outlined in the JOIM Paper.

Thaler’s worked on the “endowment effect”, which is the asymmetric valuation of assets by individuals.  Namely, individuals value items more when they own them as opposed to when they do not.

This is related to loss aversion in Prospect Theory. Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains.  Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.  Loss aversion was first identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

 

Mental accounting theory is also a significant contribution from Thaler and it is also an essential foundation for Goals-Based Wealth Management.

Mental accounting is where people treat money with different risk-return preference, depending on what use the money is to be put to. It is a way of keeping track of our money related transactions.

From a practical perspective, mental accounting helps elicit investors goals, and is “facilitated by breaking down overall portfolio goals into sub-portfolio goals using the ideas of mental accounts, where different goals are managed in different accounts, each aggregating into the overall portfolio.”

 

Lastly the JOIM Paper notes the work undertaken that developed Behavioural Portfolio Theory.  This theory postulates that investors behave as if they have multiple mental accounts. “Each mental account portfolio has varying levels of aspiration, depending on the goals for the mental account.  These ideas naturally lead to portfolio optimization where investors are goal-seeking (aspirational), while remaining concerned about downside risk in the light of their goals. Rather than trade-off risk versus return, investors trade off goals versus safety…”.

 

Practitioner’s Perspective

The JOIM Paper also notes the growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management.

Specifically, they reference three major contributions:

Nevins advocates a goal-orientated approach to help investors deal with biases such as overconfidence, hindsight bias, and overreaction.   Nevins’ work extended the mental accounting approach. He also argues that traditional investment planning fails to recognize investor’s behavioural preferences and biases.

Contributions by Zwecher, complements Nevins, he argues that risk management can be “done more actively and efficiently by demonstrating how a retirement portfolio that provides income, generates growth, and protects assets from disasters, can be created by adopting a bucketing (mental accounting) approach.”

Research undertaken by Brunel discussed the equal importance of two goals for an investor: being able to avoid nightmares while realizing dreams. “Brunel’s work focussed on demonstrating how goals-based wealth management can be achieved across multiple time horizons for multiple life goals. He also suggested how to map the language customers use in describing the importance of dreams or the severity of nightmares into acceptable probabilities that the investor will realize such dreams or avoid such nightmares.”

 

In short, Practitioners have recognized the need for a goals-based approach.

The premise is, if customers can better articulate and discuss their goals, including safety, then they are able to work with Practitioners to build more robust investment solutions that are better designed to meet their aspirations and investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

One Year Anniversary

Kiwi Investor Blog is one year old.

My top three articles for the year would be:

Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

Endowments and Sovereign wealth Funds lead the way in building robust investment portfolios in meeting a wide range of challenging investment objectives.   This Post covers this and amongst other things, what true diversification is, it is not having more and more asset classes, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. A lot can be learnt from how Endowments construct portfolios, take a long term view, and seek to match their client’s liability profile. Although fees are important, an overriding focus on fees may be detrimental to building a robust portfolio and in meeting client investment objectives.

 

A Robust Framework for generating Retirement Income

This Post builds on the Post above and looks at an investment framework for individuals, developed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and their Partners. It is a Goal Based Investment framework with a focus on capital value but also delivering a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

The monkey paw of Target Date Funds (be careful what you wish for)

This Post emphasises the need to focus on generating a stable and secure level of replacement income in retirement as an investment goal and highlights the approach that is required to achieve this. Such an approach would greatly enhance the outcomes of Target Date Funds. This Post also references the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton around having a greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure of investment risk, as it is more aligned with investment objectives, unlike the volatility of capital or standard deviation of returns.

 

Kiwi Investor blog has covered many topics over the year, including the value of active management, the shocking state of the investment management industry globally, Responsible Investing, the high cost of index funds and being out of the market.

Of these, recent research into the failure of the 4% rule in almost all markets worldwide is well worth highlighting.

 

Kiwi Investor Blog has a primary focus on topics associated with building more robust portfolios and investment solutions.

The Blog has highlighted the research of EDHEC-Risk Institute throughout the year. EDHEC draw on the concept of Flexicurity. This is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching investment decisions. This is surely a desirable goal and the hallmark of a robust investment portfolio. The knowledge is available to achieve this and the framework and rationale is covered in the Posts above.

Flexicure is my word of 2018.

 

I don’t think the Uber moment has been reached in the investment management industry yet. Technology will be very important, but so too will be the underlying investment solution. The investment solution needs to be more tailored to an individual’s investment objectives.

As outlined in the Posts highlighted above, the framework for the investment solution has emerging and is developing.

It is a goal based investment solution, more closely tailored to an individual’s investment aspirations, so as to provide a more secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Best Portfolio Does Not Mean Optimal Portfolio

The best portfolio is not necessarily the optimal portfolio.

As this thought-provoking article by Joachim Klement, CFA, highlights, “In theory, the optimal portfolio is the best portfolio, but in reality, the optimal is often far from the best for any given investor. Or to recall a quote variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, and Richard Feynman, among others: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.””

The article highlights the shortcomings of a portfolio optimisation approach. No surprises there!

Nevertheless, a key point made in the article is that many people in a Trustee or Fiduciary role see the portfolio optimisation process as a black-box exercise which is full of assumptions.

If true, this can be a challenge, particularly for those presenting the results and “the client never understands how these assumptions lead to the proposed allocation”.

I am sure this occurs to varying degrees and as a result there is a real risk that there is not a good understanding of the purpose of each investment allocation within the portfolio.

This often leads to the most pertinent point made in the article:

“But since clients do not grasp the purpose of each investment in the context of the overall portfolio, they are more likely to give up on the portfolio, or parts of it, in times of trouble. As a result, the best portfolio is not the optimal portfolio, but rather the one that the client can stick with through the market’s ups and downs. This means reframing the role of different asset classes or funds relative to the investor’s goals and sophistication rather than to volatility and return.”

 

Exactly. Reframing the role of the different asset classes can be achieved by taking the discussion away from the largely two-dimensional world of an optimal portfolio, market risk and return, and focusing instead on how the allocations will help meet a client’s investment goals over time.

Therefore, we can move beyond the Markowitz portfolio (the basis of Modern Portfolio and the “Optimal” Portfolio).  This is not to diminish the Markowitz optimal portfolio and the benefits of diversification, the closest thing to a free lunch in investing. Markowitz also placed a number on risk through the variance of returns.

Nevertheless, variance of return may not be an appropriate measure of risk. Other measures of volatility can be used, just as more sophisticated portfolio optimisation approaches can be implemented. Neither of which would address the key issues of the article as outlined above. In fact, they may compound the issues, particularly the black-box nature of the process.

Other measures of risk should be considered, the most important risk being failure to meet one’s investment objectives.

If your investment goal is to optimise risk and return the “optimal” portfolio is likely to be the “best” portfolio. Albeit, I am not sure this is the primary objective for most individuals and companies. For example, other investment objectives may include liquidity, income/cashflow generation, endowments. (I also don’t think the most optimal equities portfolio is the best portfolio, there are other risks to consider e.g. liquidity and concentration risk which would mean moving away from the optimal portfolio.)

There are personal and aspiration risks to take into consideration e.g. ability to weather large loses. There could be investment goals with different time periods – the optimal portfolio is generally for a single period, not multi-periods.

This is not to say don’t use an optimisation approach, it is a good starting point. Albeit, the portfolio allocation will likely need to be adjusted to take into consideration a wider set of investment objectives, risk tolerances, and behavioural factors. I would have thought this is standard practice.

 

Expanding the discussion with the client will help identify a more robust portfolio and increase the understanding of the role of each allocation within the Portfolio.

In effect, a more customising investment solution will be generated, rather than a mass-produced product.

As noted in the article, reframing the role of different asset classes within a portfolio relative to the investor’s goals and the sophistication of the client rather than to volatility and return will likely result in better outcomes for clients.

Such an approach is consistent with Liability Driven Investment (LDI), where the liabilities are matched with predictable cashflows and the excess capital is invested in a growth/return seeking portfolio, which would include the likes of equities.

Such an approach is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for individuals.

It is also more consistent with a behavioural bias approach.

 

As the paper concludes:

“In my experience, such behavioral approaches to portfolio construction work much better in practice than black box “optimal portfolios.”

“Consultants, portfolio managers, and wealth managers who take their fiduciary duty seriously should seriously consider ditching their “optimal portfolios” in favor of these theoretically less optimal but practically more robust solutions.”

“Because you are not acting in the client’s best interest if you build them a portfolio that they won’t stick with over the long term.”

 

The above would resonate with most investment professionals I know, yet strangely it does not appear to be “conventional” wisdom. Perhaps ditch is to stronger a word, too provocative.

It would be hard to argue with implementing a more practical and robust solutions aligned with a wider set of investment objectives is not in the best interest of clients, particularly if they are able to stay with the investment strategy over the longer term.

 

Referenced in the article is the work undertaken by Ashvin Chhabra, Beyond Markowitz. This work is well worth reading. Essentially he frames the investor’s risks as being:

  • Personal Risk – e.g. the risk of not losing too much that would impact on life style, this supports the safety first type portfolio
  • Market Risk – e.g. risk within the investment
  • Aspirational risk – e.g. taking risks to achieve a higher standard of living

 

This would is a great framework for a Wealth Management / Financial Planning process. Of note, market risk is only one component.

Lastly, the concept of a single Optimal Portfolio is far from the likely solution under this framework.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

The Regret Proof Portfolio

Based on analysis involving the input of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Insurance companies regularly implement a two-portfolio approach as part of their Liability Driven Investment (LDI) program: a liability matching portfolio and a return seeking portfolio.

It is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for an individual: Goal-hedging portfolio and a performance seeking portfolio. #EDHEC

Although there is much more to it than outlined by the article below, I find it interesting the solution of two portfolios came from the angle of behavioural economics.

I also think it is an interesting concept given recent market volatility, but also for the longer-term.

 

Background Discussion

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

“The idea that we had was to develop what we called a ‘regret-proof policy,’” Kahneman explained. “Even when things go badly, they are not going to rush to change their mind or change and to start over,”.

According to Kahneman, the optimal allocation for someone that is prone to regret and the optimal allocation for somebody that is not prone to regret are “really not the same.”

In developing a “regret-proof policy” or “regret minimization” Portfolio allows advisors to bring up “things that people may not be thinking of, including the possibility of regret, including the possibility of them wanting to change their mind, which is a bad idea generally.”

 

In developing a regret proof portfolio, they asked people to imagine various scenarios, generally bad scenarios, and asked at what point do you want to bail out or change your mind.

Kahneman, noted that most people — even the very wealthy people — are extremely loss averse.

“There is a limit to how much money they’re willing to put at risk,” Kahneman said. “You ask, ‘How much fortune are you willing to lose?’ Quite frequently you get something on the order of 10%.”

 

Investment Solution

The investment solution is for people to “have two portfolios — one is the risky portfolio and one is a much safer portfolio,” Kahneman explained. The two portfolios are managed separately, and people get results on each of the portfolios separately.

“That was a way that we thought we could help people be comfortable with the amount of risk that they are taking,” he said.

In effect this places a barrier between the money that the client wants to protect and the money the client is willing to take risk on.

Kahneman added that one of the portfolios will always be doing better than market — either the safer one or the risky one.

“[That] gives some people sense of accomplishment there,” he said. “But mainly it’s this idea of using risk to the level you’re comfortable. That turns out to not be a lot, even for very wealthy people.”

 

I would note a few important points:

  1. The allocation between the safe and return seeking portfolio should not be determined by risk profile and age alone. By way of example, the allocation should be based primarily on investment goals and the client’s other assets/source of income.
  2. The allocation over time between the two portfolios should not be changed based on a naïve glide path.
  3. There is an ability to tactically allocate between the two portfolios. This should be done to take advantage of market conditions and within a framework of increasing the probability of meeting a Client’s investment objectives / goals.
  4. The “safer portfolio” should look more like an annuity. This means it should be invested along the lines that it will likely meet an individual’s cashflow / income replacement objectives in retirement e.g. a portfolio of cash is not a safe portfolio in the context of delivering sufficient replacement income in retirement.

 

Robust investment solutions, particularly those designed as retirement solutions need to display Flexicurity.   They need to provide security in generating sufficient replacement income in retirement and yet offer flexibility in meeting other investment objectives e.g. bequests.  They also need to be cost effective.

The concepts and approaches outlined above need to be considered and implemented in any modern-day investment solution that assists clients in achieving their investment goals.

Such consideration will assist in reducing the risk of clients adjusting their investment strategies at inappropriate times because of regret and the increased fear that comes with market volatility.

Being more goal focussed, rather than return focused, will help in getting investors through the ups and downs of market cycles. A two-portfolio investment approach may well assist in this regard as well.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

2018 was a shocking Year

Well its official, 2018 was a shocking year in which to make money. Not for some time, 1972, has so many asset classes failed to deliver 5% or more in value.

In terms of absolute loses, e.g. Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns than 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, 2018 is historical.

 

Here is a run through the numbers:

International Equities were down around 7.4% in local currency terms in 2018:

  • The US was one of the “better” performing markets, yet despite reaching historical highs in January and then again in September, had its worst year since the GFC, December was is its worst December return outcome since the 1930s.
  • The US market entered 2018 on a record run, experiencing it longest period in history without incurring a 5% or more fall in value.  This was abruptly ended in February.
  • During the year the US market reached its longest period in history without incurring a Bear market, defined as a fall in value of more than 20%. Albeit, it has come very close to ending this record in recent months.
  • Elsewhere, many global equity markets are down over 20% from their 2018 peaks and almost all are down over 10%.
  • Markets across Europe and Japan fell by over 12% – 14% in 2018
  • The US outperformed the rest of the world given its better economic performance.
  • The New Zealand sharemarket outperformed, up 4.9%!

Commodities, as measured by the Bloomberg Index, fell over 2018. Oil had its first negative year since 2015, falling 20% in November from 4 year highs reached in October. Even Gold fell in value.

Hedge Fund indices delivered negative returns.

Global credit indices also delivered negative returns, as did High Yield

Emerging Market equities where negative, underperforming developed markets.

Global listed Property and Infrastructure indices also returned negative returns.

Fixed Interest was more mixed, Global Market Indices returned around 1.7%:

  • US fixed interest delivered negative returns for the year, as did US Inflation Protected fixed interest securities. US Longer-term securities underperformed shorter-term securities.
  • NZ fixed interest managed around +4.7% for the year.

The US dollar was stronger over 2018, this provided some relief for those investing outside of their home currency and maintained a low level of currency hedging.

The above analysis does not include the unlisted asset classes such as Private Equity, Unlisted Infrastructure, and Direct Property investments.

 

Two last points:

  • Balance Bear, under normal circumstances, fixed interest, particularly longer-term securities, would perform strongly when equity markets deliver such negative returns as experienced in 2018. This certainly occurred over the last quarter of 2018 when concerns over the outlook for global economic growth became a key driver of market performance. Nevertheless, over the year, fixed interest has failed to provide the usual diversification benefits to a Balanced Portfolio (60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income). Many Balanced Portfolios around the world delivered negative returns in 2018 and failed to beat Cash.
  • Volatility has increased. Research by Goldman Sachs highlights this. In 2018 the US S&P 500 Index experienced 110 days of 1%+ movements in value, this compares to only 10 days in 2017.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance useful again

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.  See EDHEC-Risk Institute.

 

Annuities, although providing security, can be costly, they represent an irreversible investment decision, and often cannot contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives. Also, Annuities do not provide any upside potential.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement.  Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.  In short, as outlined by EDHEC-Risk, modern day Target Date Funds “provide flexibility but no security because of their lack of focus on generating minimum levels of replacement income in retirement.”

 

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products do.

 

EDHEC offers a number enhancements to improve the outcomes of current investment products.

 

One such approach, and central to improving investment outcomes for the current generic Target Date Funds (TDF), is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a TDF.  Such an enhancement would also eliminate the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement.

 

From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a TDF are risky when it comes to generating a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement. These risks are not widely understood nor managed appropriately.

The conservative allocations with a TDF can be improved by being employed to better matching future cashflow and income requirements. While also focusing on reducing the risk of inflation eroding the purchasing power of future income.

This requires moving away from current market based shorter term investment portfolios and implementing a more customised investment solution.

The investment approach to do this is readily available now and is based on the concept of Liability Driven Investing applied by Insurance Companies.  Called Goal Based Investing for investment retirement solutions. #Goalbasedinvesting

The techniques and approaches are available and should be more readily used in developing a second generation of TDF (which can be accessed in some jurisdictions already).

This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. With this knowledge it would help make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

 

For a better understanding of current crisis of global pension industry and introduction to Flexicure see this short EDHEC video and their very accessible research paper introducing_flexicure_gbi_retirement_solutions_1.

 

This is my last Post of the year.

Flexicure, is my word of the year! Hopefully, we will hear this being used further in relation to more Robust Investment Portfolios, particularly those promoted as Retirement Solutions.

As you know, my blog this year has had a heavy focus on retirement solutions and has drawn upon the analysis and framework of EDHEC-Risk Institute.

In addition, the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton have been important, particularly around placing a greater emphasis on replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure for investment risk for those investing for retirement.

I have also noted the limitation of Target Date Funds and how these can be improved e.g. with the introduction of Alternatives.

Nevertheless, the greatest enhancement would come from implementing a more targeted cashflow and income matching portfolio within the conservative allocations as discussed above.

 

Wishing you all the best for the festive season and a prosperous New Year.

 

 

Happy investing.

 

#MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

#flexicure

#goalbasedinvesting

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.