Best Portfolio Does Not Mean Optimal Portfolio

The best portfolio is not necessarily the optimal portfolio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

It is also more consistent with a behavioural bias approach.

 

As the paper concludes:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

The Regret Proof Portfolio

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

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

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

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

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

 

Background Discussion

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Investment Solution

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

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

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

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

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

 

I would note a few important points:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance useful again

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

This is my last Post of the year.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Happy investing.

 

#MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

#flexicure

#goalbasedinvesting

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

 

 

Is variability of retirement income a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital?

This is the second Post on why a greater focus should be placed on generating a level of Income in retirement as an investment goal. The first Post outlines why income matters as an investment goal.

This Post covers why variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

A greater focus on Income is different to the current industry approach, where accumulation of wealth has a higher priority. This is important of course. Yet a greater focus on generating Income as an investment goal is not that radical. It is consistent with the age of the Defined Benefit investment solution. Therefore, it is not a new concept.

The inspiration and material for these Posts comes from a Podcast between Steve Chen, of NewRetirement, and Nobel Prize winner Professor Robert Merton. The Podcast is 90 minutes in length and full of great conversation about retirement income. Well worth listening to.

 

To set the scene Merton discusses the difference between the high and low in longer term interest rates in the United States in the last 10 years, if you retired … with a given pot of money, if you retired and you got an income of a hundred, whatever that means, at the peak of interest rates, when they’re high, you get a hundred. At the trough, at the low end of interest rate, the same amount of money, you’d only get 74.

As he says, in other words your income will be 26% lower. “Think about that, 26% less of income, that’s a big hit especially for working middle class people but for any of us.”

 

You may well argue, that the last 10 years was an extraordinary period of time and corresponding fall in interest rates. Which would be correct.

Nevertheless, this does not detract from the point being made, how can we determine if a pot of money is enough to retire on? This can only be known by focusing on income generated from that pot of money.

Importantly, if you don’t monitor this risk, generating a stable level of income in retirement, you cannot manage it. And I would argue, such a focus will lead to you making better informed investment decisions that will likely result in a more stable and secure income in retirement.

This could well mean that as interest rates rise, you need a smaller pot and don’t need to take on as much risk as thought to support your life style in retirement.

 

Back to Merton, he uses another example, and highlights a number of times, the industry focuses on the wrong metric, the value of the pot (accumulated value).

If the value of the pot rises, we are happy, if the value declines, ‘you’re frowning’!

But, that’s not reality and in most cases it is not telling how you are going to go in retirement because you really want to know what income you are going to get in retirement.

Therefore, you should not be worried about the value of your pot, but what income the pot can generate in retirement.

That is the goal, and we should measure ourselves relative to that goal.

 

Defining risk around the risk of not being able to achieve income

Merton uses the following thought piece:

You’re 62, you’ve done well in your retirement account and I say to you, “Hey, you’ve got enough money to basically lock in your goal. I can buy you inflation protect, US Treasuries with funding that will take care of you throughout retirement guaranteed full faith and credit, the government protected for inflation at this level income, that’s your goal. Then I say, “You do want to increase your goal?” You said, “No, I’m happy with that, that’s my lifestyle. If I have some extra money, I’ll do something with it but basically, I’m happy with that. That’s what I want to live on and the safety and security, that is what matters to me.”

As Merton argues, in this situation the rationale thing to do would be to implement such an investment strategy. (This is Liability Driven Investing, or Goal Based Investing. Such investment approaches can be implemented now. Such approaches are aligned with how Insurance Companies and some Pension Funds implement.)

Such strategies as outlined above will closely match a desired level of income (subject to availability of appropriate securities – which is an area Government Policy could help in securing better retirement outcomes).

Under such an investment strategy retirement income is safe and largely predicable – reflecting the use of Government securities that are linked to inflation.

 

Nevertheless, while Income is stable, the value of the portfolio of fixed interest securities is not stable.

As interest rates rise, the price of bonds, fixed interest securities such as Government Bonds, fall.

However the Income from the bond does not change.

Using Merton’s example:

“Income is absolutely stable in a bond. Its value will fluctuate with interest rate. If interest rates, especially long-term bonds, which is what you would need for retirement, if the interest rates go up and let’s say your bonds go from 100 to 85 and I send you or put it on your account that your account has gone down 15% and you’re 62, you see that, you’ll go berserk. You’re going to say, “You told me you’re being safe for me and I’ve lost 15% of my retirement.”

“In fact, that’s not correct statement. Your retirement is defined by how much income you get for life. That hasn’t changed. The value of that has, that example is the problem at the core. It’s misinformation because we show them the wrong number”.

As Merton notes, investors get happy when the value of their portfolio goes up, but they are not actually better off if interest rates have fallen (meaning the price of a bond goes up).

Under this scenario buying new bonds will mean a lower level of income in the future.

This highlights that we focus on volatility of a capital as risk, the changing value in the pot of money, rather than volatility of future income.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

What matters for Retirement is Income not the value of Accumulated Wealth

This is the first of two Posts on why a greater focus should be placed on generating a level of income in retirement as an investment goal.

This Post outlines why income matters as an investment goal and the second Post covers why variability of retirement income is a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital.

A greater focus on income is different to the current industry approach, where accumulation of wealth has a higher priority. This is important of course. Yet a greater focus on generating income as an investment goal is not that radical. It is consistent with the age of the Defined Benefit investment solution. Therefore, it is not a new concept.

The rationale for the focus on income is provided below.

The inspiration and material for these Posts comes from a Podcast between Steve Chen, of NewRetirement, and Nobel Prize winner Professor Robert Merton. The Podcast is 90 minutes in length, full of great conversation about retirement income, and well worth listening to.

 

During the Podcast discussion on why the focus should be on income and not accumulated wealth a definition of the standard of living in retirement needed to be determined.

From this perspective, Merton argues a standard of living in retirement is better defined as an amount of income, not a pot of money (accumulated wealth).

He argues the focus on income is consistent with what the Government provides you in retirement, a level of income. It is also much like a Defined Benefit where a level of income is provided and not a pot of money.

Also, the concept of income is easier to understand. You can see how rich I am with X amount of capital, but when converted to income that can be generated from that capital one can quickly see that the amount of capital may not be sufficient to support a desired standard of living in retirement. This is a key point.

Merton makes a strong case income is what matters in retirement and not how big your pot of money is.

As he says, people say, “If I have enough money, I’ll get the income. It will be fine.”

This may be true for the super wealthy but is not reality for many people facing the prospect of retirement.

Merton provides an example: twelve years ago in the US, if you had a million dollars you could generate $50k in interest, three years ago you could get a tenth of 1%, an income of $1k per million.

You’ve lost 98% of your income. As Merton says, what would you do if I lost 98% of your wealth!

The point being, knowing you had a million dollars did not tell you about a lifestyle that could be supported in retirement.

Merton is more direct with the following: “Let’s be clear the goal, the purpose for retirement. Not for the silly other things but for retirement is a stream of income sufficient to sustain a standard living and that standard of living is measured by income.”

“Just knowing the amount of money you have doesn’t tell you how you can live. That’s the message and we have to get that clear both so that savers and people in plans are trying to figure out how they’re doing. We need to tell them the amount they can buy as an indicator of how close to where they are.”

What Merton is saying here, is we should let people know what level of income can be generated from their pot of money. This provides a better measure and insight as to how they are placed for retirement.

Further to this point, volatility of accumulated wealth is not a good measure of how well we are doing.

More importantly, we should focus on the volatility of expected income in retirement, not current volatility of capital. This is covered in the next Post – What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth – Focus on likely variability of Income not variability of Capital

For the time being: “What matters for retirement is income not the value of the pot of money” Merton.

The investment knowledge is currently available to design investment solutions that can better meet client’s income requirements in retirement to support the standard of living they wish to attain. It will result in the implementation of different investment strategies based in Liability Driven Investing (Goal Based Investing). A more Robust Retirement Income Solution is required.

The benefit being, there will be an increased likelihood that investment outcomes are more consistent with Client’s retirement objectives.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Is the 4% rule dead? – Approaches to Generating Retirement Income

The 4% rule of thumb equals the amount of capital that can be safely and sustainably withdrawn from a portfolio over time to provide as much retirement income as possible without exhausting savings.

Bill Bengen developed this rule in 1994.

There have been numerous other studies since and the rule has gained wide acceptance.

Essential to these studies is the expected returns from markets. By and large previous studies have been undertaken using US Equity market data.

Nevertheless, this raises several key questions: are returns from the US representative of other country’s expected equity market returns? and will the historical returns generated in the US be delivered in the future?

 

The 4% rule has been challenged in a recent article by Wade Pfau.

Pfau has expanded the research to include other developed nations (17 in total) and lengthening the analysis to 30 – 40 years.

Pfau concluded:

  • the 4% real withdrawal rule has simply not been safe;
  • even with perfect foresight, only 4 of 17 countries had a safe withdrawal rate above 4%; and
  • a 50/50 allocation to bonds and stocks had zero successes for the 17 countries.

 

At a minimum, investment outcomes can be improved from:

  • Increasing levels of portfolio diversification e.g. the use of alternatives;
  • A dynamic asset allocation approach that adjusts withdrawals to market conditions; and
  • An appropriate rebalancing strategy.

 

Pfau’s article is well worth reading, he concludes “It may be tempting to hope that asset returns in the twenty-first century United States will continue to be as spectacular as in the last century, but Bogle (2009) cautions his readers, “Please, please please: Don’t count on it” (page 60).”

 

The most insightful observation

In my mind the most important insight from Pfau’s study was that safety of generating retirement income does not come “from conservative asset allocations, and the findings from this figure suggest that from an international perspective, stock allocations of at least 50 percent during retirement should be given careful consideration.”

I say this given the sharp reduction in equities by many Target Date Funds and many Target Date Funds have limitations, see a recent post and another I posted earlier in the year.

 

More robust and innovative retirement solutions are required

We are living longer, and the concept of retirement is changing. New and more sophisticated investment solutions are required.

Thankfully the investment knowledge and approaches are available to provide a safer and sustainable level of retirement income.

These new strategies are based on Goal Based Investing, drawing on the insights of Liability Driven Investing (LDI) approaches employed by the likes of Insurance Companies and Defined Benefit plans.

The new generation of retirement investment solutions involve a more goal-based investment approach and something more akin Target Date Fund 2, which involves the adoption of a more sophisticated fixed interest solution.

 

EDHEC-Risk Institute

From this perspective I like the EDHEC-Risk Institute framework which places a greater emphasis on generating retirement income.

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. There is no predetermined path. Investment decisions are made relative to increasing the probability of achieving a level of retirement income.

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 requirements, matching of future cashflows. This is akin to what Insurance companies do to match their future liabilities (LDI).

The investment framework developed by EDHEC has intuitive appeal and is robust in the context of developing an investment solution for the retirement challenge. It looks to address the shortcoming of many Target Date Funds.

 

The EDHEC framework is a more efficient framework than the rule of thumbs that reduce the growth allocations towards defensive/income, and 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. The industry, by and large, has a too greater focus on accumulated wealth.

Accumulated wealth is important, but more importantly will it deliver the required replacement income in retirement.

 

In summary, the retirement investment solution needs to focus on generating a sufficient and stable stream of replacement income in retirement. 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 like many of the current Target Date Funds may lead to insufficient replacement of income in retirement for some investors.

Lastly, and not least, a good advice model is vital and technology also has a big role to play in the successful implementation of these strategies.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Are Kiwi-saver investors too conservative?

Fisher Funds recently released research suggesting those nearing retirement, and in retirement, should reduce their growth assets allocation more slowly than currently implemented in New Zealand (NZ) and that the NZ Funds Management industry should do more to help shake Kiwis out of their too conservative approach to investing.  As reported on Good Returns.

This is an interesting piece of research.  At the very least, credit where credit is due.

The NZ industry should be discussing these issues more broadly.

It is disappointing to see these discussions transcend into a debate over fees.  Fees are important.  So too is the appropriateness of the investment strategy being implemented.  And arguably, investment strategy is more important.  Investment strategy and fees can be debated independently.  Perhaps the comment by Fisher Funds, as reported by Good Returns, “too-conservative investment was a bigger concern than fees, which gets more attention”, was too much for some.

 

I’d imagine in some circumstances Fisher’s comment would be true, subject to the level of fees being paid and mismatch of investment strategy relative to a Client’s investment objectives.

And that is where I would like to jump in.  The focus on the growth / income split and rule of thumb of reducing the growth allocations with age is potentially misleading.

The investment strategy is obviously subject to the individual’s circumstances, including age, level of current income, other assets, risk appetite, risk tolerance, planned retirement age to name a few, but most important is required level of replacement income in retirement and any aspirational goals e.g. legacies.

Therefore, the investment strategy should focus not only on wealth accumulation but also the level of replacement income in retirement.

Many of the Life Cycle Funds based on cohorts of age and only managing market risk (through the reductions in growth assets) have a number of shortcomings.  e.g. many are not managing inflation risk and longevity risk.  Lastly, most Life Cycle Funds don’t make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions, it is a naïve glide path.

More importantly, the vast majority of the Life Cycle Funds, particularly in Australasia, are not focusing on generating or hedging replacement income in retirement.

The New Zealand industry is behind global developments in this area, more robust approaches are being developed.

Globally the retirement income 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.  See my post A more Robust Retirement Income Solution

 

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

A good advice model recognises this issue.

 

The underlying investment solutions need to be more targeted in relations to investment objectives.  For example the “conservative” allocation (described by EDHEC-Risk as the Goal-hedging portfolio, see post above) is a 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.  Investment decisions are made with the view to match future income replacement requirements, matching of future cashflows and client liabilities.  This is akin to what Insurance companies do to match their future liabilities.

The investment strategy required to generate a stable stream of replacement income is much more sophisticated that a fixed interest laddered approach or investments into term deposits.  Particularly with retirement lasting for 20 – 25 years.  NZer’s are lucky, as they have had, at least historically, high real interest rates.

From this perspective, the Good Returns article noted that a Kiwi Fund providers Life Cycle Fund was invested 100% in Cash for those over 65, if this is true, this is a very risky investment solution for someone in retirement.  Let’s hope they are getting the appropriate level of  investment advice.

 

Of course this leads into the fee debate.  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.  True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, 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 return sources outlined above.  There has been a disaggregation of returns.

Not all of these risk exposures can be accessed cheaply.

 

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 their unique investment objectives.  Sophisticated investors such as endowments, insurance companies, pension funds, and Sovereign Wealth Funds, are taking a different perspective.  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.

 

A balanced and appropriate approach is required, with the focus always on achieving the investment objective.

 

So are Kiwi Saver investors invested too conservatively?  Quite likely.  Is the solution to have higher equity allocations? Not necessarily.

The answer is to have more goal orientated investment solutions with a focus on managing the biggest investment risk, failure to meet your investment objectives.  To achieve this, may require a higher level of fees than the lowest cost “products” in the market.  Lastly, the goal is not about beating markets, it’s about meeting investment objectives.  Risk is not solely measured by the level of equities you have in a portfolio.  Risk is the probability of meeting your investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

cropped-title-picture-enhanced.jpg

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.

Goal Based Investing – Retirement Solutions

Goal based investing

 

EDHEC-Risk Institute, along with the Princeton Operations Research and Financial Engineering Department, are in the process of developing new indices to address the key problems in retirement:

  1. Level of replacement income in retirement
  2. Performance of investment strategy invested in a goal-hedging portfolio and performance seeking portfolio

These indices are based on the application of goal-based investing principles to help solve the key retirement problems.

 

EDHEC has undertaken this initiative because they argue “existing retirement products do not fit with an individual’s actual retirement needs and could be improved by applying Goal-Based Investing principles.”

I agree.  There is much work and improvement to be undertaken in this area.

This EDHEC work goes to the heart of my first post around Advancements in Portfolio Management, Mass Customisation 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, and Liability Driven Investing.

 

It is well worth keeping an eye on the EDHEC develops in this area and I hope to make this a continued focus of future blogs.

 

Happy Investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement