Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment

The Global financial backdrop can be summarised as:

  1. Late Cycle
    • The US economy is into its longest period of uninterrupted growth, it has been over ten years since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the US experiencing a recession.
    • Likewise, the US sharemarket is into it longest period without incurring a 20% or more fall (which would be a bear market).
  2. Exceptionally low interest rates. As you will be aware over $14 trillion of European and Japanese fixed income securities are trading on negative interest rates.
  3. Central Banks around the world are reducing short-term interest. By way of example, the US Federal Reserve has undertaken a mid-cycle adjustment, with more to come, the European Central Bank recently cut interest rates, as has China’s Central Bank. The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand have reduced cash rates very aggressively in recent months. It appears that interest rates will remain lower for longer.
  4. Rising geo-political risk, namely an ongoing and escalating trade dispute between the US and China, while Brexit has a cameo role on the global stage, and there are rising tensions in the middle-east.
  5. Global growth has slowed. The pace of economic activity has slowed around the world, this is most noticeable in Europe, Japan, and China, and is concentrated within the manufacturing sector. The service sectors have largely been unaffected.

 

Against this backdrop the US sharemarket has outperformed, continually reaching all-time highs, likewise for the New Zealand sharemarket.

Value stocks have underperformed high growth momentum stocks. The performance differential between value and growth is at historical extremes.

Lastly emerging Markets have underperformed the developed world.

 

A good assessment of the current environment is provided in this article by Byron Wien. It is a must read, Plenty to worry about but not much to do.

 

It is not all gloom and doom

The US consumer is in very good shape, reflecting record low unemployment, rising wages, and a sound property market. The US consumer is as bigger share of the global economy as is China. Although it is not growing as fast as China, a solid pace of growth is being recorded.

Overall, economic data in the US has beaten expectations over recent weeks (e.g. retail sales).

Globally the manufacturing sectors are expected to recover over the second half of this year, leading to a rebound in global growth. Low interest rates will also help global growth.  Nevertheless, growth will remain modest and inflation absent.

Globally, in most countries, Sharemarket’s dividend yields are higher than interest rates. This means that sharemarkets can fall in value over the next 5-10 years and still outperform fixed income.

 

How to invest in current environment

Recently there has been #TINA movement: There Is No Alternative to Equities.

Certainly equities have performed strongly on a year to date basis, so have fixed income securities (their value increases as interest rates fall).

The traditional 60/40 portfolio, 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income, has performed very strongly over the last 6-9 months, this comes after a difficult 2018.

#TINA and the longer term performance of the 60/40 portfolio is covered in this AllAboutAlpha Article, which is well worth reading.

The 60/40 portfolio has performed well over the last 10 years, and has been a strong performer over the longer term.

This performance needs to be put into the context that interest rates have been falling for the last 35 years, this has boosted the returns from the Fixed Income component of the portfolio.  Needless to say, this tail wind may not be so strong in the next 35 years.

This indicates that future returns from a 60/40 portfolio will be lower than those experienced in more recent history.

There are lots of suggestions as to what one should do in the current market environment.  This article on Livewire Markets provides some flavour.

No doubt, you will discuss any concerns you have with your Trusted Advisor.

 

At a time like this, reflect on the tried and true:

Seek “True” portfolio Diversification

The AllAboutAlpha article references a Presentation by Deutsche Bank that makes “a very compelling case for building a more diversified portfolio across uncorrelated risk premia rather than asset class silos”.

The Presentation emphasises “The only insurance against regime shifts, black swans, the peso problem and drawdowns is to seek out multiple sources of risk premia across a host of asset classes and geographies, designed to harvest different features (value, momentum, illiquidity etc.) of the return generating process, via a large number of small, uncorrelated exposures

The above comments are technical in nature and I will explain below. Albeit, the Presentation is well worth reading: Rethinking Portfolio Construction and Risk Management.

 

In a nutshell, the above comments are about seeking “true” portfolio diversification.

Portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes i.e. asset class silos. This has diminishing diversification benefits over the longer term and particularly at the time of market crisis e.g. adding global listed property or infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that already includes global equities.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors (i.e. premia) that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth by way of example.

Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks. For example, those risks may include market beta (e.g. equities and fixed income), smart beta (e.g. value and momentum factors), alternative and hedge fund risk premia, illiquidity e.g. Private Equity, Direct Property, and unlisted infrastructure. And of course, true alpha from active management, returns that cannot be explained by the risk exposures just outlined. There has been a disaggregation of returns.

US Endowment Funds and Sovereign Wealth Funds have led the charge on true portfolio diversification, along with the heavy investment into alternative investments and factor exposures. They are a model of world best investment management practice.

Therefore, seek true portfolio diversification, this is best way to protect portfolio outcomes and reduce the reliance on sharemarkets and interest rates driving portfolio outcomes.

As the Presentation says, a truly diversified portfolio provides better protection against large market falls and unexpected events i.e. Black Swans.

True diversification leads to a more robust portfolio.

(I have written a number of Post on Alternatives and the expected growth in institutions investing in alternatives globally.)

 

Customised investment solution

Often the next bit advice is to make sure your investments are consistent with your risk preference.

Although this is important, it is also fundamentally important that the investment portfolio is customised to your investment objectives and takes into consideration a wider range of issues than risk preference and expected returns and volatility from capital markets.

For example, income earned up to and after retirement, assets outside super, legacies, desired standard of living in retirement, and Sequencing Risk (the period of most vulnerability is either side of the retirement age e.g. 65 here in New Zealand).

 

Think long-term

I think this is a given, and it needs to be balanced with your customised investment objectives as outlined above. Try to see through market noise, don’t over trade and don’t take on more risk to chase returns.

It is all right to do nothing, don’t be compelled to trade, a less traded portfolio is likely more representative of someone taking a longer term view.

Also look to financial planning options to see through difficult market conditions.

 

There are a lot of Investment Behavioural issues to consider, the idea of the Regret Portfolio approach may resonate, and the Behavioural Tool Kit could be of interest.

 

AllAboutAlpha has a great tagline: “Seek diversification, education, and know your risk tolerance. Investing is for the long term.”

Kiwiinvestorblog is all about education, it does not provide investment advice nor promote any investment and receives no payments. Please follow the links provided for a greater appreciation of the topic in discussion.

 

And, please, build robust investment portfolios. As Warren Buffet has said: “Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does.” ………………….. Is your portfolio an all weather portfolio?

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

In defence of Target Date Funds

This is a great article from i3 providing some interesting perspectives into Target Date Funds, referred to as Life-Cycle strategies in Australia.

Target Date Funds have been around since the 1990s and have had an increasing presence in Australia following the MySuper legislation of 2012, which set the legal requirements for the default pension (KiwiSaver) options in Australia.

As a result, many Australian providers introduced Life-Cycle Funds as default options. Target Date Funds are also increasingly the default option in the USA.

 

It is fair to say there has been wide spread criticism of Target Date Funds.

Some of this criticism is warranted, nevertheless, consistent with the point made in the i3 article, the criticism of Target Date Funds is often the result of the poor design of the Fund itself, rather than the concept of a Target Date Fund.

For example, as noted in the article, the Australian Productivity Commission “criticised a number of existing life-cycle strategies for derisking too early and not being as good as many balanced fund options.”

This is fair criticism, but it is a design issue. I have previously noted that at least one KiwiSaver provider places their clients into 100% Cash at age 65, that is scandalous.

On the positive side, the Commission “acknowledged life-cycle strategies could help in addressing sequencing risk”.

 

These themes are touched on in the interview with Michael Block, Chief Investment Officer with Australian Catholic Superannuation.

“To always place a member who is 20 years old with a 60-year old member in the same strategy is clearly ridiculous,” Block says in an interview with [i3] Insights.

“Why would any fund use a one-size strategy that clearly does not fit all?”

“I absolutely concede, especially with people living longer, that moving members into a low-risk strategy at 60 is not a great idea. Even at 60 years old, a member is likely to have a 30-year investment horizon and should still have a decent amount of growth assets,” he says. (Growth asset include equities, alternatives and non-traditional assets.)

As the article notes: “The result of the shift is that half of the fund’s members now have a higher allocation to growth assets, while one-quarter, generally older members, have a lower allocation. The rest have retained a similar exposure to growth assets.”

 

Comments on De-risking

De-risking is reducing the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement.

Australian Catholic Super looks to reduce the allocation to equities in small annual increments, 31 steps to be precise, not the normal 3-4 lumpy transactions of many Target Date Funds.

“As long as you still contribute to your super, you’ll get a better outcome compared to a single-strategy investment option,” Block says. (An example of a single strategy is a Conservative or Balance Fund.)

“This gradual process of derisking also reduces a member’s sequencing risk as there is never more than a 2 per cent reduction in growth assets in any given year.”

This makes some sense and is a nice design feature of their Target Date Funds.

 

Customisation

The Australian Catholic Super’s life-cycle fund is based on age only. They hope to add other variables over time, such as account balance and salary.

“In a perfect world, you would ask everyone what they wanted out of a superannuation fund and tailor an individual portfolio for them, but if you don’t have complete information, then a life-cycle strategy based on age is a good attempt at mass customisation,” he says.

 

Quite true, it is a start, and a good start at that. With further sophistication of the investment approach and the helping hand of technology the mass customised investment solutions is not far away.

Increased customisation of the superannuation solution is the future.  Customisation will consider the generation of a required level of income in retirement, take into consideration income earned outside of super, risk preferences, account balance, and any likely endowments. Such customisation is available now.

 

More on Target Date Funds

For those wanting more on Target Date Funds, I have previously Posted on their Short Comings and suggested improvements.  They are also worth considering as the KiwiSaver Default Option.

Lastly, Target Date Fund can be improved upon by a more sophisticated approach to the management of the Cash and Fixed Interest allocation, this is well documented by the research undertaken by Dimensional Funds Advisors which I covered in a previous Post.

 

Interestingly, Kiwis can learn from the Aussies, maybe not when it comes to rugby, or certain cricket practices, but most certainly we can learn from them when it comes to Superannuation and the management of Pension Funds.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

KiwiSaver Investors are missing out

This is a great article by Stuff outlining the KiwiSaver risk ladder, rung by rung.

However, what struck me is that there is a rung missing on the KiwiSaver ladder.

That rung being the lack of exposure to non-traditional investments, such as Alternatives, including liquid alternatives, hedge funds, and investments into Direct Property and unlisted infrastructure.

 

Based on the Stuff article, there is just 1% within all of the KiwiSaver Funds invested outside of Cash, Fixed Interest (bonds), and Equities (the traditional asset classes).

We don’t have to look far to see how much of anomaly this.

By way of comparison, the Australian Pension Fund Industry, which is the fourth largest Pension market in the world, invests 22.0% into non-traditional assets.

As can be seen in the Table below, Australian Pension Funds, which manages A$2.9 trillion, invests 22.0% into non-traditional assets, meanwhile KiwiSaver has 1% invested outside of the traditional assets. (KiwiSaver Total Assets are just over $50 billion).

Allocations to broad asset classes

KiwiSaver

Aussie Pension Funds

Cash and Fixed Interest (bonds)

49

31

Equities

48

47

Other / non-traditional assets

1

22

 

As recently reported by Bloomberg, allocations to non-traditional assets is expected to continue in Australia ”with stocks and bonds moving higher together, investors are searching for other areas to diversify their investments to hedge against the fragile global economic outlook. For the world’s fourth largest pension pot, that could mean more flows into alternatives — away from the almost 80% that currently sits in equities, bonds or cash.”

 

The increased allocations to Alternative is a global trend, which is not just in response to current market conditions.

As outlined in a previous Post, Preqin a specialist global researcher of the Alternative investment universe and provide a reliable source of data and insights into alternative assets professionals around the world, expect Alternatives to make up a larger share of investment assets in the future.

Preqin’s estimates are staggering:

  • By 2023 Preqin estimate that global assets under management of the Alternatives industry will be $14tn (+59% vs. 2017);
  • There will be 34,000 fund management firms active globally (+21% vs. 2018). This is an issue from the perspective of capacity and ability to deliver superior returns – manager selection will be critical.

 

Globally the trend toward increasing allocations to non-traditional assets has been in play for some time. As one of my first Posts notes, the case for adding alternatives to a traditional portfolio is strong.

This Post highlights that the movement toward Alternatives and non-traditional assets is not revolutionary nor radical, it is seen globally as evolutionary, a natural progression toward building more robust Portfolios that can better weather sharp falls in global sharemarkets.

 

Being more specific about Alternatives, Prequin note investor’s motivation for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

  • Private equity and venture capital = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns
  • Infrastructure and real estate = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream
  • Private debt = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream
  • Hedge Funds = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes
  • Natural Resources = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

 

Therefore, motives to investing in alternatives range from enhancing returns (Private Equity) and reducing risk through better diversification (Hedge Funds) and hedging against inflation (infrastructure and real estate (property), high exposures to non-traditional assets have benefited Endowments and foundations for many years.

 

I have Posted extensively on the benefits of Alternatives, for example highlighting research they would benefit Target Date Funds and the benefits of Alternatives more generally.

 

So the Question needs to be asked, why do KiwiSaver Funds not invest more into non-traditional assets? Particularly, when globally the trend is to invest in such assets is well established and further growth is expected, while the benefits are well documented.

 

Therefore, KiwiSaver Investors are potentially missing out.  Their portfolios could be a lot more robust and better diversified. The risks within their portfolios could be reduced without jeopardising their long-term investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

The Retirement Planning Death Zone

The retirement risk zone (also known as the ‘conversion’ phase) is commonly defined as the final 10 years of working life (the ‘accumulation’ phase) and the first 10 years of retirement (the pay-out phase or decumulation).

This period is right before and right after you retire.

Importantly, it is this 20 year period when the greatest amount of retirement savings is in play and, subsequently, risk is at its highest.

 

This can be thought of along the lines of the death zone when climbing Mt Everest. The risky time is the final ascent, clambering over the Hillary Step, on the way to the summit of Mt Everest. However, once at the summit risks remain on the decent and until below the death zone when the ability to breathe becomes easier.

The summit in terms of retirement savings is generally reached at age 65, this is when the amount saved will be the “peak” in savings accumulated. It is here when accumulated wealth is at its largest.  Albeit, from an investment perspective, risks remain heightened over the first 10 years of the pay-out/decumulation phase.

 

The Retirement Risk Zone, the 10 years either side of retirement, is the worst possible time to experience a large negative return given this is when the greatness amount of money is at stake. Risks to portfolios are heightened at this stage.

It is a very important period for retirement planning.

 

During the Retirement Risk Zone two factors can potentially combine to have a detrimental impact on the standard of living in retirement:

  1. The portfolio size effect (what you do when the largest amount of your money is at risk matters); and
  2. the problem of sequencing risk (how much you lose during a bear market (20% or more fall in value of sharemarkets) may not be anywhere near as important as the timing of the loss, again, especially during the Retirement Risk Zone).

 

To explain, sequencing risk, is the risk that the order of investment returns are unfavourable, resulting in less money for retirement.

Sequencing risk impacts pre-and post-retirement i.e. the retirement risk zone.

 

Cashflows, investments in and withdrawals out of the retirement savings plan, add another dimension to sequencing risk.

Sequencing Risk can be viewed as the interaction of market volatility and cashflows. The timing of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement. This impacts on longevity risk.

This is where Warren Buffet could be wrong in recommending people maintain high equity allocations for the longer term. As noted in my previous Post, Could Buffet be Wrong? “once an investor needs to take capital or income from a portfolio volatility of the equity markets can wreak havoc on a Portfolio’s value, and ultimately the ability of a portfolio to meet its investment objectives”. This is sequencing risk at play for those planning for retirement. This is also why many US Endowments do not hold large equity allocations.

It is untrue to say that volatility does not matter for the long term when cashflows are involved.

A brief explanation of interplay between the timing of returns and cashflows is provided below.

 

Longevity Risk

The portfolio size effect and sequencing risk have a direct relationship to longevity risk.

For individuals, longevity risk is the risk of outliving ones’ assets, resulting in a lower standard of living, reduced care, or a return to employment.

Or put another way, longevity risk is the likelihood that superannuation savings will be depleted prior to satisfying the lifetime financial needs of the dependents of those savings.

One way longevity risk manifests itself is when an investor’s superannuation savings is subject to a major negative market event within the Retirement Risk Zone.

 

The point to take away: the size of your portfolio, order in which returns are experienced, and timing of cashflows into and out of the retirement savings account have an impact on accumulated wealth and ultimately standard of living in retirement.

The basic conclusions. First, it is better to suffer negative returns early in the accumulation phase.

Secondly, it is better to suffer negative returns later in retirement.

 

Materiality of Sequencing Risk

In short, the research finds that the sequence of returns materially impacts peak accumulated wealth (terminal wealth) and heightens the probability of running out of money in retirement (longevity risk).  The research backs up the two conclusions above.

The Griffith University research paper mentioned below “finds that sequencing risk can deplete terminal wealth by almost a quarter, at the same time increasing the probability of portfolio ruin at age 85 from a probability of one-in three, to one-in-two.“

Terminal wealth is “peak” accumulated savings in our Mt Everest example above.

Based on their extensive modelling, investors have a 33.3% chance of not having enough money to last to aged 85, this raises to a 50% chance due to a large negative return during the Retirement Risk Zone.

They also note “It is our conjecture that, for someone in their 20s, the impact of sequencing risk is minimal: younger investors have small account balances, and plenty of time to recover …… However, for someone in their late 50s/early 60s, the interplay between portfolio size and sequencing risk can cause a potentially catastrophic financial loss that has serious consequences for individuals, families and broader society.”

This is consistent with other international studies.

 

For those wanting a more technical read please see the papers that have been drawn upon for this Post:

  1. Griffith University = The Retirement Risk Zone: A Baseline Study poorly-timed negative return event
  2. Retirement income and the sequence of-returns By: Moshe A. Milevsky, Ph.D., and Anna Abaimova, for MetLife

 

Managing Sequencing Risk

The combination of the portfolio size effect, sequencing risk, and longevity risk combine to form a trinity of investment issues that need to be managed inside the Retirement Risk Zone.

Mitigation of sequencing risk is critical across the retirement risk zone.

Sequencing risk is largely a retirement planning issue. Albeit a more robust portfolio and a suitably appropriate investment approach to investing will help mitigate the impact of sequencing risk:

  1. A greater focus on generating retirement income earlier

In my mind, a greater focus should be placed on positioning retirement portfolios for generating income in retirement at the later stages of the retirement accumulation phase i.e. at least 10-15 years out from retirement.

This is achieved by using asset-liability matching techniques as recommended by the OECD. This is not just about increasing the cash and fixed income allocations within the portfolio but implementing more advanced funds management techniques to position the portfolio to deliver a more stable level of income in retirement.

The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this and these techniques can improve the outcomes of Target Date Funds.

This is also consistent with the OECD’s Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation that emphasised that the objective is to generate retirement income.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement as recommended by the OECD.

 

I have highlighted the OECD recommendations in a previous Post.

 

2. A greater focus on reducing downside risk in a portfolio

This is beyond just reducing the equity allocation within the retirement portfolio on approaching retirement, albeit this is fundamentally important in most cases.

From this perspective Target Date Funds would be an appropriate default option for KiwiSaver, as I have previously outlined.

A more robust portfolio must also display true portfolio diversification, that helps manage downside risk i.e. reduce degree of losses within a portfolio.

This includes the inclusion of alternative investments. Portfolios should be built more like US endowments as I outlined in a previous Post.

An allocation to Alternatives have also been shown to improve the investment outcomes of Target Date Funds.

The inclusion of low volatility equities may also be option.

 

The article from Forbes is of interest in managing sequence of returns in retirement, and recommends amongst other things in having some flexibility around spending, maintaining reserve assets so you don’t have to sell assets after they fall in value, and the use of Annuities.

Many argue that sequencing risk can be managed by Product use alone.

 

My preference is for a robust portfolio, truly diversified that is based on the principles of Goals-Based Investing, and is therefore using asset-liability matching type strategies.  I would complement the Goals-Based approach with longevity annuities so as to manage longevity risk.   This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

 

Sequencing risk is currently a growing and present danger given it has been a long time since both the US and New Zealand sharemarkets have incurred a major fall in value. Hopefully, sequencing risk is getting some consideration in investment decisions being made today.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Background – Understanding Impact of returns and Cashflows

It is hard to believe, but two investors might both experience “average” returns of 8 per cent over a 20-year period and yet have materially different balances due to sequencing risk.

The 20-year periods would occur at different times, yet the “average” return is the same.

Nevertheless, the sequence of returns to generate an “average” return over the 20 year periods can result in different accumulated wealth.

This reflects there is a difference between time weighted returns and dollar invested returns. The time weighted return assumes you held the same investment over the time period. A dollar weighted return takes into consideration that money goes in and comes out of a savings account and each dollar earns a different return given the period it is invested for.  Dollar weighted returns impact on accumulated wealth.

Although the sequence of returns is crucial, so too are the timing of Cashflows into (deposits) and out (withdrawals) of a savings account.

To appreciate this, it is important to understand the impact of market volatility, it is hard to recover a dollar lost from a negative market movement. For example, if your portfolio falls in value by 40%, it’s takes a 67% return to recover your loses e.g. you have $100, this falls in value by 40%, wealth falls to $60, to get back to $100, the portfolio must recover 67%.

When there are cashflows not every dollar will experience the same return e.g. a dollar withdrawn after a 50% fall will miss out on any subsequent recovery in market prices, which can take up to six to ten years.

Therefore, the introduction of cashflows can also result in different outcomes for investors. This is why the pulling of funds out of markets following a large fall (draw-down) early in the accumulation phase can have a detrimental impact on accumulated wealth at the time of retirement.

The sequence of returns and cashflows matters during both the accumulation of retirement savings and in retirement.

During accumulation cashflows are going into the savings account and the account balance is growing. Therefore, each dollar invested has a different investment return.

In retirement, cashflows coming out of the portfolio will gradually reduce the capital base, therefore, investors will be better off if returns are stronger at the start of retirement, as the account balance will be larger and growing, meaning cashflows out will not reduce the capital base as much when returns are poorer in the earlier years of retirement.

For those wanting a more technical explanation, along with some great charts and graphs, this article by Challanger will be of real value.

Approaches to generating Retirement Income

In New Zealand the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is currently reviewing the Default Option for KiwiSaver and the Retirement Commission is undertaking its three-yearly review of Retirement Income Polices.

 

In this regard, a recent Paper by the Brookings Institute is of interest.

The Paper compares the different retirement policy settings of a number of countries and the growing array of new investment solutions that target the delivery of retirement income. The Papers title: From saving to spending: A proposal to convert retirement account balances into automatic and flexible income has some interesting insights. (The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, DC. Their mission is to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level.)

 

Retirement Income Products

The shift from defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans makes it even more important for individuals to save for their own retirement. See my previous Post on the looming Savings Crisis.

The gravity of the problem is well presented in a recent nationwide poll in the USA highlighted by Brookings, 73 percent of Americans said they do not have the financial skills to manage their money in retirement.

Converting retirement savings balances into a stream of retirement income is one of the most difficult financial decisions that households need to make.

Encouragingly, new financial products offer people alternative ways to receive retirement income.

New and innovative financial products are disrupting traditional approaches. The new approaches combine existing products in new and different ways. While they do not always provide guaranteed lifetime income, the innovations nevertheless can give savers options and features that annuities do not provide. They are offering Flexicurity.

 

The Brookings paper explores non-annuity retirement savings options, but not after first providing a good discussion around annuities, highlighting the benefits, drawbacks, and behavioural attitudes towards annuities.

 

The paper looks at retirement investment solutions beyond annuities. To do this they provide a good comparison of the traditional approach versus a Goals-Based Investment approach (safety-first).

As they outline, there are two fundamentally different approaches to thinking about retirement income that might be viewed as defining the opposite ends of the spectrum of preferences.

  1. There are “probability-based” approaches. This approach has goals similar to those of the accumulation phase in seeking to maximize risk-adjusted returns from the total portfolio in accordance with modern portfolio theory (MPT). “Probability-based retirees tend not to base their retirement planning on a distinction between essential needs and discretionary wants, but instead look at ways to meet their total budget. Their investment portfolio during retirement balances market risk against the probability that the money will run out prematurely. This usually requires a high concentration of equities”
  2. By contrast, there is the “safety-first” approach. This approach engages in asset-liability matching, or financing different income uses with different assets. For example, consumption of necessities would be financed from an annuity or largely riskless portfolio, while less essential goals could be financed with higher-risk investments. “This school tends to believe that retirees must develop a strategy that will at least meet their essential needs (as opposed to desires or preferences), no matter how long they live or how their investments perform.”

 

I would sit in the safety-first approach. I would complement the Goals-Based approach with longevity annuities so as to manage longevity risk*.  This is more aligned with a Robust Investment solution and the focus on generating retirement income as the essential investment goal.

It is also consistent with the Paradigm shift occurring within the global wealth management industry, as outlined in a previous Post, and with the drive to increased Customisation (EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM) as promoted by EDHEC.

 

A very recent example of the innovation occurring is covered in my last Post that outlines the collaboration of BlackRock and Microsoft to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.

 

The Brookings paper also provides an example of the ongoing innovation within the industry. The paper provides a good discussion on Managed Pay-out Funds.

Managed Pay-out Funds, which are a major alternative to an annuity, are designed to produce a relatively consistent level of annual income but that does not guarantee that outcome.

They are similar in some respects to Target Date Funds (TDFs) but have a different objective. A well designed TDF would sit in the second category above and would make a good investment solution for a Default KiwiSaver Option.

Managed pay-out funds serve as decumulation (Pay-out) vehicles, paying monthly or quarterly cash distributions to retirees.

The goal is stable income pay-outs stemming from consistent investment returns, and possibly growth, over time rather than maximum gains. The annual income amounts are calculated using both investment performance and, in the case of many managed pay-out funds, a gradual distribution of the principal amount invested in the fund.

Unlike many annuities, these managed pay-out funds are also flexible enough to allow retirees to revise their decisions as circumstances change.

Some of these Funds are the extensions of TDF where the investment strategy shifts from accumulation to income (Pay-out).

 

Brookings also make the observation that Defined contribution (DC) plans, such as KiwiSaver, will not fulfil their potential to deliver retirement security until they include an automatic mechanism that efficiently helps participants to convert retirement savings into income. “Experience has demonstrated that most new retirees who are handed a lump sum are ill equipped to understand and successfully navigate the many complex risks, trade-offs, and necessary decisions.”

 

New Zealand can learn from other countries experiences. Particularly the learning that a greater focus should be placed on the generation of retirement income late in the accumulation phase.

Significant improvements can be made to retirement solutions by better positioning portfolios to generate a steady and stable stream of income in retirement.

This should be undertaken in the late stage of the accumulation stage and not left until one reaches retirement.

As outlined in a previous Post this is consistent with what the OECD encourages: the retirement objective is to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

 

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The retirement investment solution needs to be customised to the individual and there needs to be a greater focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income in retirement (Pay-check).

This highlights the ongoing need for investment solution innovation in New Zealand.

 

As Brookings note: “What ever the solution, one thing is clear:  Retirees need innovative solutions that help them make the best use of their savings as they transition to a new phase of life.”

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

* By way of explanation, a longevity annuity provides protection against outliving your money late in life.  This type of annuity requires you to wait until you reach age 80 or so to begin receiving a pay-out.

 

Fintech’s Colossal Solution – Uber Moment? Microsoft and BlackRock team up

BlackRock and Microsoft are building a platform that will help people develop better saving and investment habits through more regular engagement with their retirement assets.

This initiative was announced in December 2018 and the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted at the time:

“The firms plan to develop a technology platform that will provide digital financial-planning tools and new BlackRock funds offering guaranteed retirement income to employees through their workplace saving plans.”

 

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry: technology platform providing retirement planning tools and direct access to new generation Investment Solutions.

 

BlackRock, the world’s largest money manager, according to WSJ “wants to shape the technology plumbing that connects it to different parts of the financial ecosystem handling workers’ retirement money.”  And for Microsoft, who needs no introduction, “an investment platform built with its technology could bring in new revenue as it looks to become a bigger cloud-computing player.”

 

BlackRock and Microsoft have made progress since December and FinancialPlanning.com provided further details in July 2019:

“The technology giant and the asset manager overseeing 15 million Americans’ 401(k) portfolios are developing an app and desktop tool aimed at narrowing the widening gap between what workers will need in retirement and how much they’re saving.”  (401 (k) is like KiwiSaver)

BlackRock and Microsoft are looking to reimage America’s path toward achieving greater financial security in retirement by bringing together BlackRock’s investment capabilities and Microsoft’s technology strength.

Together, they are exploring the next generation of investment solutions to help more people make better decisions as they work toward their financial goals in retirement.

Taking advantage of Microsoft’s technologies and BlackRock’s investment products, the companies are aiming to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.

The firms will begin rolling out their tool later this year.

By all accounts, this is going to be a powerful platform.  I’d imagine some of the tools will be like the BlackRock CoRI Index, which estimates the level of lifetime retirement from current savings.

 

Lifetime Income Focus – Next Generation of Investment Products

From an investment perspective the retirement tool will include guaranteed retirement income planning.

As part of the rollout Microsoft and BlackRock are designing methods of showing workers how much extra contributions today could end up netting them in retirement.  The intended result is that employees “have a clearer picture of how their contributions today will translate to long-term retirement income”.

BlackRock intends to offer the platform in connection with next generation investment products that it will design and manage. The new products from BlackRock will seek to provide a lifetime of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, BlackRock will be offering more sophisticated products than widely available now.  These Funds will seek to provide guaranteed income streams to participants as they get older, an element not common in 401(k) (like KiwiSaver) and other retirement plans.

The funds will be like Target Date Funds, a blend of investments that get more conservative as investors head into retirement. However, the funds BlackRock wants to roll out will also increase their concentration in financial instruments that provide regular payouts as participants reach retirement.  This is a massive enhancement.

As an aside, Target Date Funds would be a good option as the Default Fund for KiwiSaver.

 

Importantly, the focus is on providing an income stream in retirement.  There is a strong argument this should be the primary investment goal and not the targeting of a lump sum at time of retirement. What matters in retirement is income.

The OECD encourages the retirement objective to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

Therefore, volatility of income in retirement is a good risk measure.

It is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

More specifically, the focus on retirement income and use of more advanced portfolio construction techniques as liability-driven investing overcomes one of the main criticisms of Target Date Funds.  Particularly, Target Date Funds should have a greater focus on generating income in retirement.  This means the fixed income allocation should act more like an annuity so that is pays a steady stream of income to the investor once they reach retirement.

The investment knowledge is available to achieve this.

 

Accordingly, BlackRock’s solutions appear to be more aligned with Goals-Based Investing and will be a more robust Retirement Income Solution than those available now.

There is a real need for these new generation investment solutions as many of the current financial products have shortcomings in meeting future customer needs, particularly the delivery of a stable and secure level of retirement income.

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry in relation to the development of new and improved investment solutions.

The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions to meet a growing savings crisis.

 

Defining Social Challenge – Addressing the Savings Crisis with Technology

As BlackRock outlined when making the initial announcement in December 2018:

Retirement systems worldwide are under stress and providing financial security to retirees has become one of the most defining societal challenges of our time,” said Laurence Fink, chairman and chief executive of BlackRock.

BlackRock has a tremendous responsibility to help solve this challenge, and we recognise the need to act now. Working with Microsoft will enable us to build a powerful solution for millions of hardworking Americans.”

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to Defined Contribution (DC).

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

In America, millions are struggling to achieve their financial goals in retirement.  BlackRock and Microsoft are aiming to narrow the “gap” between what workers will need in retirement and how much they are saving.  This gap is estimated to be expanding by $3 trillion each year!

Therefore, there is a very real need to help people who are struggling with the difficult task of saving, investing, and turning this into a retirement income.

In BlackRock and Microsoft’s view the “shift in responsibility, from corporations to individuals, combined with ever increasing life-spans, has created a need to reimagine a new approach to securing a sound financial future in retirement – one that is powered by innovative investment solutions and the most advanced, trusted and cutting-edge technologies.”

“Technology is already revolutionizing entire industries and the way people interact with everything from health care to education and transportation. And yet, retirement solutions of today have been slow to keep pace. Taking advantage of Microsoft’s cutting-edge technologies and innovative investment products from BlackRock, the companies aim to make it easier for people to both save for retirement and achieve the lifetime income they need through their employers’ workplace savings plan.”

 

Thus, the need for new innovative investment solutions and technology platforms.

This is close to the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Turning Savings into income – How much Income can your savings Generate?

Most retirement calculators project your “nest egg” (or your lump-sum savings).

However, increasingly the focus is more on the goal that really matters: whether your current savings can provide you with the annual “paycheck” you want in retirement.

 

It is possible to estimate how much your current savings will generate as an annual lifetime income. Conversely, it is possible to calculate how much is needed to be saved (Wealth) to reach a certain level of annual lifetime income when turning 65. These calculations can be undertaken for a range of ages e.g. from 55 to 74.

 

Traditionally saving for retirement means saving as much as you can (lump-sum) and trying to make your savings last a lifetime.

Yet, the biggest question, and one of the hardest to answer, has been what level of retirement income will my lump sum deliver over my retirement?

A good estimate to this question can be determined.

 

For example, there are number of Indices that can calculate the estimated lifetime annual income given someone’s age and size of nest-egg.

These Indices are better than vague rules of thumb, they are not magic, it’s just math.

More importantly, they are practical and the underlying investment strategy can be easily implemented.

 

Although these Indices are for US based investors, they are worth understanding given the underlying concepts and approaches.

Following these concepts and approaches will enhance the likelihood of reaching a desired standard of living in retirement.

Hopefully such indices/calculations will be more readily available for New Zealand investors in time.

 

Such indices are widely available overseas. By way of example are the BlackRock CoRI and EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal Price Index series.

Both of these Indices aim to help investors estimate how much their current savings will generate in annual lifetime income when they turn 65.

EDHEC-Princeton have also developed an Index that measures the performance of a portfolio invested in a goal-based investment strategy, Goal-Based Investing Index Series (See below).

 

By using these Indices, a quick and simple calculation can be undertaken to understand how much retirement income a lump-sum will likely generate.

Therefore, they are a great tool to start a conversation with your financial advisor i.e. discuss any changes you may need to make in your savings or investment strategy to help meet your retirement income goals.

How these Indices work is outlined below.

 

In closing, it is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

This is a good start. The investment knowledge is available now to deliver a stable and almost secure level of income in retirement. Such investment strategies are aligned with the KiwiSaver income projection initiative instigated by the Financial Markets Conduct Amendment Regulations.

The OECD encourages the retirement objective is to be the generation of income in retirement and for there to be coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

Currently most investment products are poorly positioned to meet these objectives.

Therefore, the retirement investment solution needs be customised to the individual and there needs to be a greater focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income in retirement.  A regular Pay-check!

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

BlackRock CoRI

Black Rock CoRI Indexes aim to help investors estimate how much their current savings will generate in annual lifetime income when they turn 65.

The CoRI Indexes are a series of age-based U.S Fixed Income indexes. Each CoRI Index seeks to track the estimated cost of annual retirement income beginning at age 65.

By way of example, if the Index Value is 23.47, a US investor aged 65, and have a US$1,000,000 nest-egg, would generate an estimated annual retirement income of US$42,608.

Estimations based on a range of ages can be undertaken.

Access to the CoRi calculations is here. Remember this is for a US is based Investor, but a quick use of the tool will display its power.

The calculations depend on a number of assumptions, including number of years until you reach age 65, current interest rates, life expectancy, and inflation expectations.

The calculations are similar to those relied on by sophisticated pension plans and insurers. They include cash-flow modelling and actuarial practices to estimate the cost of annual retirement income, coupled with liability-driven investment techniques, to build a fixed income portfolio.

Greater detail on the CoRi methodology is available here.

 

EDHEC-Princeton Goal-Based Investing Index Series

The EDHEC-Princeton Goal-Based Investing Index Series is a joint initiative of EDHEC-Risk Institute and the Operations Research and Financial Engineering (ORFE) Department of Princeton University.

Research efforts undertaken towards the design of more meaningful retirement solutions, with the support of Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management group, led to the design of the EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal-Based Investing Index Series.

Through the Indices they aim to promote the use of state-of-the-art goal-based investing principles in retirement investing.

“At the root of this initiative is the recognition that none of the existing “retirement products” provides a completely satisfying answer to the threefold need for security, flexibility and upside potential. Annuities offer security, but at the cost of fees and surrender charges. Target date funds have more moderate costs and they have growth potential, but they offer no guarantee in terms of wealth at the horizon or in terms of replacement income.”

 

There are two Indices.

The first is the EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal-Price Index series.

The Goal Price Index series has been introduced as the appropriate tool to measure the purchasing power of retirement savings in terms of replacement income.

This Index, represents the price of $1 of retirement wealth or $1 of replacement income per year.

There are Retirement Wealth Indices as well.

Both indices can be adjusted for the cost of living or not.

The Indices, which are available for a range of retirement dates, can be used to evaluate the purchasing power of savings in terms of retirement wealth or retirement income and answer the question: are my savings sufficient to secure my wealth or income objective?

This is similar in application as the BlackRock CoRI Indices outlined above.

 

The second Index is the Retirement Goal-Based Investing Index series. This represents the performance of improved forms of Target Date Funds (TDF) invested in a goal-hedging portfolio (GHP) and a performance seeking portfolio (PSP).

Therefore, it is an enhancement on the Income Indices outlined above.

The role of the GHP is to replicate changes in the price of retirement wealth or replacement income (i.e. to replicate the performance of a Goal Price Index above).

 

The EDHEC-Princeton indices are based on the application of goal-based investing principles.

EDHEC argue that the index series answers two important questions from a retirement investing standpoint:

  • “How much replacement income can be acquired from a given level of retirement savings? Given that income, and not wealth, is what matters in retirement, the ability to translate wealth into replacement income is critically important in assessing individual portfolios’ adequacy with respect to retirement needs. The Goal Price Index series has been introduced as the appropriate tool to measure the purchasing power of retirement savings in terms of replacement income.”
  • “How does one generate the kind of upside potential that is needed to achieve target levels of replacement income while securing minimum consumption levels in retirement? Dynamic allocation to two suitably designed “safe” and “risky” building blocks (namely the retirement goal-hedging portfolio and the performance-seeking portfolio), is required to achieve this dual objective. The Goal-Based Investing Index Series has been introduced to provide a benchmark for such dynamic retirement solutions, which can be regarded as improved, risk-managed forms of target-date funds.”

 

For those wanting more detail on the EDHEC Goals Based Investment approach see my previous Post: A more Robust Retirement Income Solution.

 

The values of the indices are published on the EDHEC-Risk Institute website.

 

KiwiSaver and OECD Pension Scheme Recommendations

The OECD has identified for some time the growing importance of Defined Contribution (DC) pension schemes.

There has been a major shift globally away from Defined Benefit (DB) schemes to DC, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.   This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum

The OECD has undertaken a review of DC potential drawbacks and how to incorporate them into regulatory frameworks to protect members. This led to the formation of a Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation.

In addition, the OECD Roadmap for the Good Design of DC Pension Plan made several recommendations.

 

Off interest to me, from the perspective of designing investment solutions, were the following:

  • Ensure the design of DC pension plans is internally coherent between the accumulation and pay-out phases and with the overall pension system. 

 

  • Consider establishing default life-cycle investment strategies as a default option to protect people close to retirement against extreme negative outcomes. 

 

  • For the pay-out phase, encourage annuitisation as a protection against longevity risk.

 

The OECD made a number of other recommendations which also have merit and they are provided below.

 

The OECD Core Principles of Private Pension Regulation emphasised that the objective is to generate retirement income.

Importantly, investment strategies should be aligned with this objective and implement sound risk management practices such as diversification and asset-liability matching.

“These should be appropriately employed in order to achieve the best outcome for the plan members and beneficiaries” (Guidelines 4.1).

Interestingly, these principles should apply not only to KiwiSaver, but to any forms of voluntary savings plans and mandatory arrangements.

 

The emphasis on generating retirement income and coherency between accumulation and pay-out phase (de-cumulation) are important concepts.

 

In my mind, a greater focus should be placed on generating income in retirement at the later stages of the retirement accumulation phase i.e. at least 10-15 years out from retirement. This is achieved by using asset-liability matching techniques as recommended by the OECD. The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this.

This reflects that the goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth and risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not lead to the generation of a stable and sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning out of Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system.

The central point is, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase the variation of income in retirement will likely be higher.

 

Therefore, it is important to have coherency between the accumulation and pay-out phase of retirement.

 

I have Posted previously on the concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal (as recommended by the OECD). The argument for such a goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

 

It is appropriate to consider the OCED recommendations at a time that the New Zealand Government are reviewing the Kiwisaver Default Provider arrangements.

This Review is being undertaken by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and submissions are due 18 September 2019.

This GoodReturns article provides some context.

 

It is also important to note that there is a paradigm shift underway within the wealth management industry. The industry is evolving, new and improved products are being introduced to the markets in other jurisdictions.

New and innovative financial products are disrupting traditional markets by offering alternative ways to receive retirement income. The new approaches combine existing products in new and different ways. While they do not always provide guaranteed lifetime income, the innovations nevertheless can give savers options and features that annuities do not provide.

For example, Managed Payout Funds in the USA are a major alternative to an annuity. These Funds are designed to produce a relatively consistent level of annual income but that does not guarantee that outcome. They are similar in some respects to Target Date Funds (TDFs) but have a different objective.

 

More robust investment solutions are being developed to meet the retirement income challenge, they also display Flexicurity.   EDHEC Risk Institute provides a sound framework for the development of Robust Investment Solution and the need for more appropriate investment solutions.

Increasingly the robust solution is a Goal-Based investment solution coupled with longevity annuities that begin to make payments when the owner reaches an advanced age (e.g. 80) as a means to manage longevity risk.

 

The future also entails an increasing level of customisation. This reflects that saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions in relation to the conservative allocations within ones portfolio so as to generate a level of income to meet retirement goals.

Likewise, the allocation to risky assets (e.g. equities) should also be based on individual goals and circumstances.

The risky asset allocation should not be based on age alone, other factors such as assets outside of Super, other forms of income, and tolerance for risk in meeting aspiration retirement goals for example should also be considered.

 

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs be customised and focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income. This goal needs to be considered over the accumulation phase, such that hedging of future income requirements is undertaken prior to retirement (LDI). Focusing purely on an accumulated capital value and management of market risk alone may lead to insufficient replacement of income in retirement, greater variation of income in retirement, and/or other inefficient trade-offs are made during retirement.

Importantly the investment management focus is not on beating a market index, arguing about fees (albeit they are important), the focus is on how the Investment Solution is tracking relative to the “individuals” retirement goals.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

The OECD also recommends:

  1. Encourage people to enrol, to contribute and contribute for long periods.
  2. Improve the design of incentives to save for retirement, particularly where participation and contributions to DC pension plans are voluntary.
  3. Promote low-cost retirement savings instruments.
  4. Establish appropriate default investment strategies, while also providing choice between investment options with different risk profile and investment horizon.
  5. Promote the supply of annuities and cost-efficient competition in the annuity market.
  6. Develop appropriate information and risk-hedging instruments to facilitate dealing with longevity risk.
  7. Ensure effective communication and address financial illiteracy and lack of awareness.

 

 

Evolution within the Wealth Management Industry, the death of the Policy Portfolio

There has been a profound shift in the savings and investment industry over the last 15-20 years.

Changes to accounting rules and regulations have resulted in a large number of corporates closing their defined benefit (DB) pension schemes.

This has resulted in a major shift globally away from DB schemes and to defined contribution (DC) schemes, such as KiwiSaver here in New Zealand.

 

As a result, the individual has become increasingly responsible for investment decisions, for which they are generally not well equipped to make.

This has been likened to a “financial climate change” by the World Economic Forum.

Couple with an aging population, growing life expectations, and strains on Government sponsored pension/superannuation schemes there is an increasing need for well-designed retirement investment solution.

 

Overarching the above dynamics is the shortcomings of many financial products currently available.

Many Products currently do not provide a stable stream of income in retirement, or if they do, they lack flexibility.

As expressed by EDHEC Risk Institute robust investment solution need to display Flexicurity.

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.

Annuities, although providing security, do not provide any potential upside. They can also be costly, represent an irreversible investment decision, and rarely are able to contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives.

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.

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.

 

Retirement Goal

The most natural way to frame an investor’s retirement goal is in terms of how much lifetime replacement income they can afford in retirement.

The goal of most modern investment Products is to accumulate wealth, with the management of market volatility, where risk is defined as volatility of capital. Although these are important concepts, and depending on the size of the Pool, the focus on accumulated wealth my not provide a sufficient level of income in retirement.

This is a key learning from Australia as they near the end of the “accumulation” phase of their superannuation system. After a long period of accumulating capital a growing number of people are now entering retirement and “de-cumulating” their retirement savings.

A simple example of why there should be a greater focus on generating retirement income in the accumulation phase of saving for retirement is as follows:

A New Zealander who retired in 2008 with a million dollars, would have been able to generate an annual income of $80k by investing in retail term deposits. Current income on a million dollars would be approximately $32k if they had remained invested in term deposits. That’s a big drop in income, and it will continue to fall as the Reserve Bank undertakes further interest rate reductions over the course of 2019.

This also does not take into account the erosion of buying power from inflation.

Of course, retirees can draw down capital, the rules of thumb are, ………… well, ………..less than robust.

The central point, without a greater focus on generating Income in retirement during the accumulation phase there will likely be a higher level of variation of Income in retirement.

 

The concept of placing a greater focus on retirement income as the investment goal is well presented by Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences Professor Robert Merton  in this Posdcast with Steve Chen, of NewRetirement.

Professor Merton highlights that for retirement, income matters, and not the value of Accumulated Wealth.

He also argues that variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

More robust investment solutions are being developed to address these issues.

 

Lastly, it is encouraging that KiwiSaver providers are required to include retirement savings and income projections in annual statements sent to KiwiSaver members from 2020 onwards.

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio

Another important consideration is that investment practices and approaches are evolving. Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT), the bedrock of most current portfolios, was developed in the 1950s. It is no longer that modern!

Although key learnings can be taken from MPT, particularly the benefits of diversification, enhancements can be made based on the ongoing academic and practitioner research into building more robust investment solutions.

The momentous shift is the move away from the old paradigm of the Policy Portfolio. The Policy Portfolio is the strategic asset allocation of a portfolio to several different asset classes deemed to be most appropriate for the investor.

It is a single Portfolio solution.

Over the last 15-20 years there has been several potential enhancements to the Policy Portfolio approach, including the move away from asset classes and greater focus on underlying “factors” that drive investment returns (Although a separate Post will be published on this development, an introduction to factor investing and its implementation have been covered in previous Posts).

This interview with Andrew Ang on Factor Investing might also be of interest.

 

The focus of this Post, and probably the most significant shift away from the old paradigm, is the realisation that investments should not be framed in terms of one all-encompassing Policy Portfolio, but instead in terms of two distinct reference Portfolios.

The two portfolios as expressed by EDHEC-Risk Institute and explained in the context of a wealth Management solution are:

  1. Liability-hedging portfolio, this is a portfolio of fixed interest securities, that seeks to match future income requirements of the individual in retirement
  2. Performance Seeking Portfolio, this is a portfolio that seeks growth in asset value.

The concept of two separate portfolios is not new, it dates back to finance studies in the 1950s on fund separation theorems (which is an area of research separate to the MPT).

The idea of two portfolios was also recently endorsed by 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.

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

 

The death of the Policy Portfolio was first raised by Peter Bernstein in 2003.

Reasons for the death of Policy Portfolio include that there is no such thing as a meaningful Policy Portfolio. Individual circumstances are different.

Furthermore, Investors should be dynamic, they need to react to changing market conditions and the likelihood of meeting their investment goals – a portfolio should not be held constant for a long period of time.

Therefore, institutional investors are moving toward more liability driven investment solutions, separating out the hedging of future liabilities and building another portfolio component that is return seeking.

The allocation between the two portfolios is seen as a dynamic process, which responds to the market environment and the changing likelihood of meeting investment goals.

 

Evolution of Wealth Management – the new Paradigm

These “institutional” investment approaches, liability driven investing, portfolio separation, and being more dynamic are finding their way into wealth management solutions.

Likewise, there is a growing acceptance the goal, as outlined above, is to focus on delivering income in retirement. Certainly a greater emphasis should be place on Retirement Income than previously.

Specifically, the goal is to meet with a high level of probability consumption goals in the first instance, and then aspirational goals, including healthcare, old age care and/or bequests.

Therefore, the investment solution should be designed to meet investment goals, as opposed to purely focusing on market risks as a whole, as is the case with the Policy Portfolio.

 

Goal-Based Investing

This new paradigm has led to Goal-Based investing (GBI) for individuals. Under GBI the focus is on meeting investor’s goals, much like liability-driven investing (LDI) is for institutional investors.

As explained by EDHEC Risk Goal-Based Investing involves:

  1. Disaggregation of investor preferences into a hierarchical list of goals, with a key distinction between essential and aspirational goals, and the mapping of these groups to hedging portfolios possessing corresponding risk characteristics (Liability Hedging Portfolio).
  2. On the other hand it involves an efficient dynamic allocation to these dedicated hedging portfolios and a common performance seeking portfolio.

 

GBI is consistent with two portfolio approach, fund separation, liability driven investing, and undertaking a dynamic investment approach.

The first portfolio is the Liability Hedging Portfolio to meet future income requirements, encompassing all essential goals.

The objective of this Portfolio is to secure with some certainty future income requirements. It is typically made up of longer dated high quality fixed income securities, including inflation linked securities.

The second portfolio is the Growth portfolio, or return seeking portfolio. This is used to attain aspirational goals, objectives above essential goals. It is also required if the investor needs to take on more risk to achieve their essential goals in retirement i.e. a younger investor would have a higher allocation to the Return Seeking Portfolio.

The Growth Portfolio would be exposed to a diversified array of risk exposures, including equities, developed and emerging markets, factor exposures, and unlisted assets e.g. unlisted infrastructure, direct property and Private Equity.

Allocations between Hedging Portfolio and the Growth Portfolio would depend on an individual’s circumstances e.g. how far away they are from reaching their desired standard of living in retirement.

This provides a fantastic framework for determining the level of risk to take in meeting essential goals and how much risk is involved in potentially attaining aspirational goals. It will lead to a more efficient use of invested capital and a better assessment of the investment risks involved.

Importantly, the framework will help facilitate a more meaningful dialogue between the investor and his/her Advisor. Discussions can be had on how the individual’s portfolios are tracking relative to their retirement goals and if there are any expected shortfalls. If there are expected shortfalls, the framework also helps in assessing what is the best course of action and trade-offs involved.

 

Industry Challenge

The Industry challenge, as so eloquently defined by EDHEC Risk, as a means to address the Pension Crisis as outlined at the beginning of this Post:

“investment managers must focus on the launch of meaningful mass-customized retirement solutions with a focus on generating replacement income in retirement, as opposed to keeping busy with launching financial products ill-suited to the problem at hand”

“……..The true challenge is indeed to find a way to provide a large number of individual investors with meaningful dedicated investment solutions.”

 

As expressed above, saving for retirement is an individual experience requiring much more tailoring of the investment solution than is commonly available now. Different investors have different goals.

Mass-production of Products, rather than Mass-Customisation of Investment Solutions, has been around for many years with the introduction of Unit Trusts/Mutual Funds, and more recently Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs).

Mass-production, and MPT, down play the importance of customisation by assuming investment problems can be portrayed within a simple risk and return framework.

Although the Growth Portfolio would be the same for all investors, the Liability Hedge Portfolio requires a greater level of customisation, it needs to be more “custom-made”.

 

Conclusion

Encouragingly, the limitation of “one size fits all” approach has been known for some time. The investment techniques and approaches are available now to better customise investment solutions.

The challenge, is scalability, and the good news is advancements have been made in this area as well.

This is leading to changes within funds management organisations involving the greater use of technology and new and improved risk management techniques.  New skills sets have been developed.

The important point is that the knowledge is available now and it is expected that such investment solutions will be a growing presence on the investment landscape.

This will lead to better investment outcomes for many and have a very real social benefit.

 

The inspiration for this Post comes from EDHEC Risks short paper: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How An Industrial Revolution is about to Take Place in Money Management and Why it Involves a Shift from Investment Products to Investment Solutions  (see: EDHEC-Whitepaper-JOIM)

A more technical review of these issues has also been undertaken by EDHEC.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Optimal Private Equity Allocation

TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Associations of America Endowment & Philanthropic Services) has published a paper offering insights into the optimal way of building an allocation to Private Equity (PE).

“Private equity is an important part of institutional portfolios. It provides attractive opportunities for long-term investors to harvest the illiquidity premium over time and extract the value created by hands-on private equity managers.”

 

Private equity is by its nature is illiquid. This in turn makes rebalancing a challenge. That is why a PE allocation that is too large endangers the entire portfolio, especially in times of crisis when secondary markets seize up.

 

According to recent analysis by Prequin, the popularity and growth of PE, and other alternative investments, is expected to continue.

Furthermore, recent Cambridge Associates analysis on those Endowments and Foundations with the better long-term performance records had “one thing in common: a minimum allocation of 15% to private investments.

 

We all know, a robust portfolio is broadly diversified across different risks and returns. Increasingly institutional investors are accepting that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors, for which illiquidity is one factor.

In my mind, direct private investments, such as Private Equity, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure have a place in a genuinely diversified and robust Portfolio.

 

From this perspective, the TIAA paper is very useful as it considers how to build and maintain an allocation to PE within a well-diversified portfolio.  They assume building out the PE allocation over time to an equilibrium allocation.

The Paper provides valuable insights into the asset allocation process of what is a complicated asset to model given cash commitments (capital calls) are made overtime and there is uncertainty as to when invested capital will be returned (distributions). TIAA model for both of these variables, in a relatively conservative manner.

The TIAA Paper notes that investors have no control over the rate and timing of capital calls and distributions. Therefore, the paper focuses on two key variables Investors can control for: an annual commitment rate and the risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity assets i.e. where to invest the cash committed to PE but not yet called.

 

TIAA propose a robust process to determine an appropriate allocation to PE to ensure the allocation can be maintained and the benefits of PE are captured over time.

“Obtaining the benefits of an allocation to private equity, while also avoiding its inherent illiquidity pitfalls, can only occur through an effective, risk-based strategy for executing the build-out to the long-term equilibrium state.”

The goal of the paper is to develop a framework and a sound approach.

 

The results:

TIAA’s modelling suggests that a target allocation to private equity strategies in the range of 30% to 40% presents minimal liability and liquidity risks.

TIAA also suggest, that for long term investors, such as Endowments, capital awaiting investment in private equity should be invested in risk assets with higher expected returns, such as public equities (sharemarkets).

 

This level of allocation is probably high for most, and particularly KiwiSaver Funds.

Nevertheless, KiwiSaver Funds are underweight Private investments and Alternatives, particularly relative to the Superannuation industry in Australia.

Given the overall lack of allocation to private investments, including PE, Direct Property, and Unlisted Infrastructure, many KiwiSaver providers are most likely over estimating their liquidity needs to the detriment of investment performance over the longer term.

For those wanting a discussion on fees and alternatives, please see my previous post Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2.

 

TIAA Analysis

With regards to the TIAA paper, they develop a simple three asset portfolio of Fixed Income, Public equities, and Private equities. TIAA use sophisticated modelling techniques looking at a number of variables, including:

  1. the annual commitment rate; and
  2. Risk profile of the assets waiting to be invested in private equity.

The annual commitment is defined as the new commitment to private equity every year as a percentage of last year’s total portfolio value.

“An annual commitment rate results in a long-term equilibrium percentage of the portfolio in private equity assets, as well as the portfolio’s corresponding unfunded commitment level. The unfunded commitment level is important from a risk perspective as it represents a nominal liability to fund future capital calls, regardless of the prevailing market environment at the time of capital calls.”

TIAA note that at low rates of annual commitment the equilibrium rate of PE is about twice the unfunded ratio. Therefore, a 6% annual commitment rate will result in a base case unfunded ratio of around 15%, and a PE allocation of around 30% at equilibrium.

For those wanting a brief overview of the methodology, All About Alpha provides a great summary.

 

There is no doubt that Alternatives are, and will continue to be, a large allocation within more sophisticated investment portfolios globally.

As Prequin note in this report, investor’s motivation for investing in alternatives are quite distinctive:

    • Private equity and venture capital = high absolute and risk-adjusted returns
    • Infrastructure and real estate = an inflation hedge and reliable income stream
    • Private debt = high risk-adjusted returns and an income stream
    • Hedge Funds = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes
    • Natural Resources = diversification and low correlation with other asset classes

A well diversified and robust portfolio will be able to meet these motivations.

 

Happy investing.

 

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