A Robust Framework for generating Retirement Income

How much Income do you need in Retirement?

The focus is often on accumulated wealth e.g. how much do you need to save to retire on?

This could potentially result in the wrong focus.  For example if a New Zealander retired in 2008 with a million dollars, their annual income would have been around $80k by investing in retail term deposits, furthermore their income would have dramatically dropped in 2009.  Current income on a million dollars would be approximately $35k.  That’s a big drop in income!  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 wrong focus on wealth accumulation can potentially lead to yield chasing in retirement which leads to unintended risks within investment portfolios.

More robust approaches are being developed

The global retirement challenge is leading to new Goal Based Investing solutions.  Goal-based investing is the counterpart to Liability Driven Investing (LDI), which is used by pensions and insurance companies where their investment objectives are reflected in the terms of their future liabilities.

Arguably the main challenge facing retirees is to have a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income.

An innovative, rigorous, and robust investment framework for solving the retirement challenge is being developed by EDHEC, along with the Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department at Princeton University, and supported by Merrill Lynch.

The framework being developed has some practical applications.  The EDHEC-Princeton Framework:

Defines the Retirement goal

The goal for retirement can be split between wealth and replacement income.

Those planning for retirement seek to secure essential (sufficient income) and aspirational goals (additional wealth accumulation) with high probabilities.

Different Risk Focus

The retirement framework results in a different focus on risk.

Instead of worrying about fluctuations in capital, investors investing for retirement should worry about fluctuations in potential income in retirement.

With regards to capital specifically, the focus should be on avoiding permanent loss of capital, rather than fluctuations in capital.

Therefore, the real risk is about not achieving the investment goal.  Risk is not fluctuations of returns or underperforming a market index, but instead the true investment risk is failure to achieve investment goals.  This is how investment outcomes should be measured and reported against.

Investment Management Attributes

With the EDHEC-Princeton framework the following portfolio management processes can be adjusted to increase the probability of meeting the investment goals:

  1. Hedging – this is the least risky portfolio that matches future income requirements
  2. Diversification – this is the most efficient way to achieve returns relative to goals
  3. Insurance – this is a dynamic interplay between hedging and return seeking portfolio in the context of what is the worst case scenario in pursuing the investment goals. The trade-off is between downside protection and upside participation.  The measure of risk is underachieving the investment goals.

From this framework, EDHEC argue investors should maintain two portfolios:

  1. Goal-hedging portfolio – this replicates future replacement income goals
  2. Performance-seeking portfolio – this portfolio seeks returns and is efficiently diversified across the different risk premia – disaggregation of investment returns

Over time the manager dynamically allocates to the hedging portfolio and performance seeking portfolio to ensure there is a high probability of meeting replacement income levels.

The Goal-hedging portfolio is a sophisticated fixed interest portfolio of duration risk (interest rate risk), high quality credit, and inflation linked securities.  Nevertheless, investment decisions are not made relative to market indices nor necessarily a view on the outlook for interest rates and credit, they are made with the view to match future replacement income requirements, matching of future cashflows.  This is akin to what Insurance companies do to match their future liabilities.

EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal-Based Investing Indices

To reflect this retirement investment solution framework EDHEC and Princeton University have developed the EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal-Based Investing Indices.

The EDHEC-Princeton Retirement Goal-Based Investing Indices represents the value of a dynamic strategy that aims to offer high probabilities of reaching attractive levels of replacement income for 20 years in retirement while securing, on an annual basis, 80% of the purchasing power in terms of retirement income of each dollar invested.

This is the strategy of investing into a goal-hedging portfolio, that delivers stable replacement income in retirement, and the performance-seeking portfolio, which offer the upside potential needed to reach higher income levels with high probabilities, as outlined above

It will be really interesting to follow how these indices perform.

The investment framework developed by EDHEC has intuitive appeal and is robust in the context of developing an investment solution for the retirement challenge.  There are a some investment solutions currently available in the Target Date/Life Cycle options that are aligned with the above investment approach, as there are many that don’t.

These solutions are better than many of the Target Date Funds that have a number of short comings.

The EDHEC framework is a more efficient framework than the rule of thumbs that reduce the growth allocations towards defensive/income and where the income component is invested into market replicating cash and fixed income portfolios.

Nevertheless, and most importantly, the Goal Based Investment framework outlined by EDHEC focuses on the right goal, replacement income in retirement.

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs to 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), much like an insurance company does in undertaking a liability driven investing approach.  Focusing purely on an accumulated capital value and management of market risk alone may lead to insufficient replacement income in retirement, or inefficient trade-offs are made prior to and in 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 retirement goals.

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2

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 e.g. adding global listed property or infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that includes global equities.

Why? True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, inflation, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth.

Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks. For example, those risks may include market beta, smart beta, alternative and hedge fund risk premia.  And of course, true alpha from active management, returns that cannot be explained by the risk exposures outlined above.  There has been a disaggregation of returns.

Not all of these risk exposures can be accessed cheaply.

 

The 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.

Unlisted infrastructure, unlisted real estate, hedged funds, and private equity are amongst the favoured alternatives by Endowments, Sovereign Wealth Funds, and Superannuation Funds.

As reported by the New York Times recently “Yale continues to diversify its holdings into hedge funds, where it has 25 percent of its assets, and venture capital, with a 17 percent stake, in addition to foreign equity, leveraged buyouts and real estate, as well as some bonds and cash. That diversification strategy, which Mr. Swensen pioneered, is widely followed by larger institutions.”

Yale has approximately 20% allocated to listed equities, domestic and foreign combined, and seeks to allocate approximately one-half of the portfolio to the illiquid asset classes of leveraged buyouts, venture capital, real estate, and natural resources.

 

The Yale Endowment recently released its annual report which gained some publicity.

The following quote received a lot of press:  “In advocating the adoption of a passive indexing strategy, Buffett provides sound investment advice for the vast majority of individuals and institutions that are unable (or unwilling) to commit the resources (human and financial) necessary for active management success. Yet, Buffett’s advice is not appropriate for the cohort of endowments that possess the capabilities to pursue successful active management programs.”

The Yale report was published not long after the Buffet Bet concluded.

Buffet’s investment advice was highlighted further this week surrounding publicity of the Berkshire Hathaway Annual meeting.

 

At the centre of this exchange is investment management fees.

Don’t get me wrong, fees are important.  Yet smart investors are managing fees as part of a multi-dimensional investment puzzle that needs to be solved in meeting client investment objectives.  Other parts of the puzzle may include for example liquidity risk, risk appetite, risk tolerance, cashflow requirements, investing responsibly, and client future liabilities, to name a few.

This is more pressing currently, these issues need to be considered in light of the current market conditions of an aging US equity bull market and historically low interest rates and the growing array of different investment solutions that could potential play a part in a robust investment portfolio.

The debate on fees often misses the growing complexities faced in meeting specific investment objectives.  The debate becomes commoditised.  The true risk of investing, failure to meet your investment objectives, often gets pushed into the background.

 

The importance of this? EDHEC recently highlighted many of the current retirement products do not adequately address the true retirement savings goal – replacement income in retirement.

This is not addressed by many of the target date / life cycle funds, nor is it the role of the accumulation 60/40 (equities/bonds) Fund of your standard superannuation fund.  Life cycle funds predominately manage market risk, there are other risks that need to be managed, some of which are outlined above, replacement income in retirement should also be added.

As EDHEC further highlighted, this is a serious issue for the industry, and more so considering the world’s pension systems are under enormous stress due to underfunding and a rising demographic imbalance with an aging population.  Furthermore, globally, there has been a shift of managing retirement risk to the individual i.e. the move away from Defined Benefit to Defined Contribution.

 

As a result, a greater focus is needed on investment solutions in replacing income needs in retirement.  This requires a greater awareness and matching of people’s retirement liabilities, a Goal Based Investment solution (Liability Driven Investing).

The management of client liabilities, and the design of the customised investment solutions needs to be implemented prior to retirement.  As many are currently discovering, a portfolio of cash and fixed interest securities, no matter how cheaply it is provided, is not meeting retirement income needs.

The debate needs to move on from fees to the appropriateness of the investment solutions in meeting an individual’s retirement needs.

The advice model is critical.

This is a big challenge, and I’ll blog more on this over time.

 

I’ll say it again, fees paid are important.  Nevertheless, the race to be the lowest cost provider may not be in the best interest of clients from the perspective of meeting client investment objectives.  The focus and design of “products” is primarily on accumulated value, a greater focus is required on replacement income in retirement.

Sophisticated investors such as endowments, insurance companies, pension funds, and Sovereign Wealth Funds, are taking a different perspective to the commoditised retail market.  Albeit, their approach is not inconsistent with fees being an important “consideration” that should be managed, and managed appropriately.  They likely manage to a fee “budget”, as they manage to a risk budget.

 

It is very critical that the Endowments get it right.  Endowments are a crucial component of university budgets. During the global financial crisis of 2008 many endowments had to significantly cut back their spending due to the falling value of their Endowment Funds.  It is estimated that distributions from the Yale endowment to the operating budget of the University have increased at an annualized rate of 9.2 percent over the past 20 years.  The Endowment Fund is the university’s largest source of revenue.  The Fund is expected to contribute $1.3 billion to the University this year, this is equal to approximately 34% of the Yale’s operating budget.

Much can be learned from how endowments construct portfolios, take a long term view, and seek to match their client’s liability profile.  An overriding focus on fees will lead away from investing successfully in a similar fashion.

 

The endowment approach can be applied to an individual’s circumstances, particularly high net worth individuals.  The more complex the situation, the better, and the more value that can be added.

There will be a growing demand for more tailored investment solutions.

EDHEC argue an industrial revolution is about to take place in money management, this will involve a shift from investment products to investment solutions “While mass production has happened a long time ago in investment management through the introduction of mutual funds and more recently exchange traded funds, a new industrial revolution is currently under way, which involves mass customization, a production and distribution technique that will allow individual investors to gain access to scalable and cost-efficient forms of goal-based investing solutions.”

 

For the record, as reported by the Institutional Investor: For the 20-year period ending June 30, Yale’s endowment earned a 12.1 percent annualized return, beating its benchmark Wilshire 5000 stock index, which gained 7.5 percent. A passive portfolio with a 60 percent stock allocation and 40 percent in bonds, meanwhile, had a 20-year return of 6.9 percent.

 

Lastly, I am a very big fan of Buffet, and one should read the two books by the two key people who have reportedly had a big influence on him, number one is obvious, Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligence Investor, and the other Philip A Fisher, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits.  I preferred the later to the former.

It is also well worth reading David Swensen’s book: Pioneering Portfolio Management. Yale has generated the highest returns among its peers over the last 20 years.

 

Build robust investment portfolios.  As Warren Buffet has said: “Predicting rain doesn’t count.  Building arks does.”

Invest for the long-term.

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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Shortcomings of Target Date and Life Cycle Funds

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.

They do this on the premise that as we get older we cannot recover from financial disaster because we are unable to rebuild savings through human capital (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 that does not take into consideration the individual circumstances of the investor nor market conditions.

Target Funds are becoming increasingly popular.  Particularly in situations where the Investor does not want or can afford investment advice.  The “Product” adjusts the investor’s investment strategy throughout the Life Cycle for them, no advice provided.

 

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

No, it is not that they are moving investors into cash and fixed interest at a time of record low cash returns and over-valued fixed interest markets.  This is an issue, but a topic for another Blog.  Albeit this is touched on below from a slightly different angle.

 

Essentially, Target Date Funds have too main short comings:

  1. They are not customised to an individual’s consumption liability, human capital or risk preference e.g. they do not take into consideration future income requirements or likely endowments, level of income generated up retirement, or the investors risk profile, appetite for risk, or risk tolerance.
  • 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.
  1. Additionally, the 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, prices display volatility to the upside and downside.
  • Therefore, linear glide paths, most target date funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:
    • Delays in the pace of transitioning from risky assets to safer assets
    • May require step off the glide path given extreme market risk environments

 

Therefore, there is the risk that some Target Date Funds will fall short of providing satisfactory outcomes and meeting the key requirement in retirement of sufficient income.

 

Target Date Funds, Life Cycle Funds, focus on the investment horizon without protecting investors’ retirement needs, they focus on one risk, market risk.

The focus is not on producing retirement income or hedging risks in relation to investment risk, inflation risk, interest rate risk, and longevity risk.

As noted above, most target date funds don’t make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions.  This is inconsistent with academic prescriptions, and also common sense, both of which suggest that the optimal investment strategy should also display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.

 

The optimal target date or life cycle 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

 

All up, this requirements a more Liability Driven Investment approach, Goal Based Investing.

My first blog outlines the revolution required within the industry to Mass Customisations.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement