Are Investment products meeting people’s needs over their working life?

A key finding by the Australian Productivity Commission is that “Well-designed life-cycle products can produce benefits greater than or equivalent to single-strategy balanced products, while better addressing sequencing risk for members.

There are also good prospects for further personalisation of life-cycle products that will better match them to diverse member needs, which would require funds to collect and use more information on their members.

Some current MySuper life-cycle products shift members into lower-risk assets too early in their working lives, which will not be in the interests of most members.”

 

This is one of many findings from of the 2018 Australian Productivity Commission Inquiry Report, Superannuation: Assessing Efficiency and Competitiveness.

Mysuper is a default option in Australia, similar to the Default Options by Kiwisaver providers in New Zealand and around the world.

 

The above findings are from the Section 4, Are Members needs being met, of the report (pg 238). This section, 4.3, Are products meeting people’s needs over their working life?, focuses on Life Cycle Funds. (Lifecycle Funds are often referred to as target-date funds in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries. They are popular in the US, accounting for 25% of their saving for retirement assets, and growing.)

Life cycle Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement.

 

Section 4.3 concludes “the Commission now recognises the value of well-designed MySuper life-cycle products, and the potentially significant gains that could arise from further personalisation.”

As covered in the report, they highlight that the poorer products currently on offer “requires some cleaning.”

 

Two areas of Section 4.3 are of interest to me.

 

The relative attractiveness of Lifecycle Funds

The report covers the varying views on Lifecycle Funds.

On this the Commission notes that the underperformance of some Lifecycle Funds does not “repudiate the principle of varying the management of risk as a person ages.”

Importantly, the “costs and benefits of life-cycle products depend on their design and on the characteristics of fund members (for example, the size of their balance).”

They note “the determinant of the variation between life-cycle products is the glide path from growth to defensive assets as the member ages”

“The lowest average retirement balances occur for life-cycle products with accelerated transitions to defensive assets as the member ages.”

 

As noted by several submissions, Lifecycle Funds can provide better outcomes if they maintain a higher growth allocation in the earlier years of saving for retirement. They also offer additional benefits in market downturns, particularly closer to retirement, they produce less poor outcomes than a standard single-strategy product, such as a Balanced Fund i.e. they manage sequencing risk better.

 

The criticism of Lifecycle Funds is often associated with poor design, as covered in this Post.

 

Increased Customisation of the Investment Solution

It is important to appreciate that not one investment product can meet all investor’s needs.  It does not make sense for a 29 year old and a 50 year to be in the same Default Fund.

This is an attractive feature of Lifecycle Fund offerings, they can be more tailored to the investor.

Specifically, they can be tailored for more than just age, such as Balance size, and this can in the majority of cases result in better outcomes for those saving for retirement. As outlined in this research article by Rice Warner.  Tailored investment solutions boost retirement savings outcomes.

 

On this point the Commission’s Report notes “There is significant scope for more personalised MySuper products”…

Specifically there is the scope to customise the investment strategy of Lifecycle Funds beyond age.

The report outlined a submission that observed that “… data and technology provide the opportunity for giant advancements in the design of personalised lifecycle strategies. Such strategies could account for: age, balance, contribution rate (which entails non-contribution due to career breaks etc), gender, expected returns, [and] risk.”

“Ultimately, individualised product design could also take into account other member characteristics, such as household assets, income from any partner and the potential capacity to extend a working life if there are adverse asset price shocks.”

 

The following two submissions in relation to Lifecycle Funds by David Bell and Aaron Minney are well worth reading for those wanting a greater understanding and appreciation of broader topics associated with Lifecycle Funds.

These submissions are also well worth reading by those interested in designing effective investment solutions for those saving for retirement.

 

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Tailored Investment solutions boost superannuation outcomes – Lifecycle Funds outperform Balanced Funds

A greater level of customisation leads to better investment outcomes for investors.

For example, Multifactor Lifecycle Funds that focus on age and size of account balances are best placed to last the distance as we live for longer in retirement, compared to a Balanced Fund and Lifecycle Funds that focus on age alone.

Multifactor Lifecycle Funds:

  1. Generate higher expected lifetime income relative to a Balanced Fund (70% equities and 30% Fixed Income and Cash); and
  2. Outperform a Balanced Fund over 90% of the time based on a numerous number of different market and economic scenarios.

These are the key findings of the Rice Warner’s research paper: Lifecycle Design – To and Through Retirement.

Lifecycle Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds, Target Date Funds, or Lifestages Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor approaches retirement.

 

Rice Warner found that somebody aged 30 with an opening balance of $26,000 and invested in a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund had a 91.8% chance of outperforming a Balanced Fund by the time of retirement at age 63.

Their research also found that by investing in a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund the expected retirement income is up to 35% higher than that expected from a Balanced Fund (Source: Australian AFR The product that can boost super by 35pc).

For somebody aged 60 with an account balance of $118,300, a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund had a 72.4 per cent chance of outperforming a Balanced Fund.

Lastly, Second Generation Lifecycle Funds, which reduce their growth allocation later, outperformed a Balanced Fund 91.2% of the time. A Multifactor Lifecycle Fund outperforms a Second Generation Lifecycle Fund 84.6% of the time.

 

A key conclusion from the Rice Warner research is that Lifecycle strategies that use factors in addition to age, such as superannuation account balance size, provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to enhance outcomes for those saving for retirement. Therefore, they often outperform other investment strategies.

 

They achieve this by adopting a more growth-oriented stance while an investor has a long investment horizon and shifting to defensive assets when the investor’s investment horizon grows short.

Importantly, an individual’s investment horizon is a function of not only age but also the size of their superannuation account. This is an important concept, the rationale is provided in the section below – The Benefits of a Multifactor Lifecycle Fund.

 

A summary of the Rice Warner analysis is provided below, along with key Conclusions and Implications for those aged 30 and 60.

A copy of the Rice Warner analysis can be found here.

 

To my mind, there is going to be an increased customisation of investment solutions available for those saving for retirement that will consider factors beyond age e.g. account size, salary, and assets outside of Super.  Some are available already.

Technology will enable this, Microsoft and BlackRock are well advanced in collaborating, BlackRock and Microsoft want to make retirement investing as easy as ordering an Uber.

 

In relation to Lifecycle Funds, they are subject to wide spread criticism.

Some of this criticism is warranted, nevertheless, often the criticism is the result of the poor design of the Fund itself, rather than concept of a Lifecycle Fund itself. This is highlighted in the Rice Warner research, where the first Generation of Lifecycle Funds de-risk to early.

I covered the criticism of Lifecycle Funds in a previous Post, in the defence of Lifecycle Funds.

 

Lifecycle Funds can be improved upon. For example 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.

 

In my opinion, all investments strategies would benefit from a greater focus on tangible investment goals, this will lead to a more robust investment solution.

A Goals based investing approach is more robust than the application of “rule of thumbs”, such as the 4% rule and adjusting the growth allocation based purely as a function of age.

Goals based investing approaches provide a better framework in which to assess the risk of not meeting your retirement goals.

Greater levels of customisation are required, which is more relevant in the current investment environment.

 

 

Rice Warner – The benefits of Multifactor Lifecycle Funds

Investment literature indicates that an investor’s investment horizon is a key determinant of an appropriate investment strategy.

The consequence of longer investment horizons allows an investor to take on more risk because even if there is a severe market decline there is time to recover the losses.

Furthermore, and an important observation, Rice Warner’s analysis suggests that as we enter retirement investment horizon is a function of age and size of the superannuation account balance.

A retiree with a larger account balance has in effect a longer investment horizon. They are in a better position to weather any market volatility.

This reflects, that those with a small account size typically withdraw a greater proportion of their total assets each year, indicative of largely fixed minimum cost of living, resulting in a shorter investment horizon.

 

A very big implication of this analysis is that an investor’s investment horizon is “not bounded by the date that they choose to retire (though this point is relevant). This is as a member is likely to hold a substantial proportion of their superannuation well into the retirement phase, unless their balance is low.”

“One consequence of this is that investment strategies which consider this retirement investment horizon may deliver better outcomes for members – both to and through retirement. This is because as a member’s account balance grows, sequencing risk becomes less relevant allowing higher allocations to growth assets.”

For those wanting a better understanding of sequencing risk, please see my earlier Post.

 

Rice Warner conclude, Lifecycle strategies that use factors in addition to age, such as superannuation account balance size, provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to provide enhanced outcomes for those saving for retirement. Therefore, they often outperform other investment strategies.

Thus, the title of their research Paper, Lifecycle Design – To and Through Retirement, more often than not investors should still hold a relatively high allocation to growth assets in retirement.  They should be held to the day of retirement and throughout retirement.

The research clearly supports this, a higher growth asset allocations should be held to and through retirement.  In my mind this is going to be an increasingly topically issue given the current market environment.

 

 

Rice Warner Analysis

Rice Warner considered several investment strategies applied to various hypothetical members throughout their lifetime.

They assess the distribution of outcomes of the investment strategies to establish whether adjustments can be made to provide members with better outcomes overtime.

Rice Warner considered:

  1. Balanced Strategy which adopts a fixed 70% allocation to Growth assets.
  2. High Growth strategy which adopts a fixed 85% allocation to Growth assets.
  3. First-generation Lifecycle (Lifecycle 1 (Age)) with a focus on defensive assets and de-risking at young ages.
  4. Second-generation Lifecycle (Lifecycle 2 (Age)) with a focus on growth assets and de-risking at older ages.
  5. Multi-dimensional Lifecycle (Lifecycle (Age and Balance)) which adopts a high allocation to growth assets unless a member is at an advanced age and has a low balance.

Six member profiles selected to capture low, moderate, and high wealth members at ages 30 and 60.

Rice Warner then considered the distribution of expected lifetime income under a range of investment scenarios using a stochastic model.

This allowed for a comparison of the income provided to members under each strategy in a range of investment situations for comparative purposes.

 

Conclusions

Rice Warner Conclude:

  • Investment horizon is a critical driver in setting an appropriate investment strategy. Investment strategies should take into consideration a range of investment horizon, both before and after retirement.
  • Adopting high allocations to growth assets is not inherently a poor strategy, even in cases where members are approaching retirement. These portfolios will typically provide:
    • Improved outcomes in cases where members are young, or investment performance is strong;
    • Marginally weaker outcomes where members are older and investment performance is weak.
  • Second-generation Lifecycle investment strategies (focused on growth assets and late de-risking) will typically outperform first generation strategies (which are focused on defensive assets and de-risking when a member is young).
  • Growth-oriented constant strategies will typically outperform First-generation Lifecycle strategies, except where investment performance is poor.
  • Designing Lifecycle strategies that use further factors in addition to age (such as balance) provide the ability to better tailor a portfolio to provide enhanced outcomes by:
    • Adopting a more growth-oriented stance while a member has a long investment horizon.
    • Shifting to defensive assets when a member’s investment horizon grows short.

 

Implications

Overall the results, aged 30:

  • High Growth strategies can provide significant scope for outperformance with minimal risk of underperformance relative to a Balanced Fund due to the members’ long investment horizon.
  • First-generation Lifecycle strategies will typically underperform each of the other strategies considered except where investment outcomes are poor for a protracted period. This underperformance is a result of the defensive allocation of these strategies being compounded over the member’s long investment horizon.
  • Second-generation Lifecycle can mitigate the risk faced by the members over their lifetime, albeit at the cost of a reduced expected return on their portfolio relative to a portfolio with a higher constant allocation to growth assets.
  • Lifecycle strategies which adjust based on multiple factors are able to manage the risk and return trade-off inherent to investments in a more effective way than single strategies or Lifecycle strategies only based on age. This is a result of the increased tailoring allowing the portfolio to adopt a more aggressive stance when members are young and thereby accumulate a high balance and extend their investment horizon further. This leads to this portfolio often outperforming the other strategies considered.

 

For those aged 60

  • High Growth strategies can provide significant outperformance in strong investment conditions. This comes at the cost of a modest level of underperformance in a poor investment scenario (a reduction in total lifetime income for members ranging between 2% and 5% relative to a Balanced fund).
  • First-generation Lifecycle strategies will underperform in neutral or strong market conditions due to their lack of growth assets. In cases where investment performance is poor these strategies outperform the other strategies considered particularly for those with low levels of wealth (due to their short investment horizons).
  • Two-dimensional Lifecycles provide enhanced risk management (but not necessarily better expected performance) by providing:
    • Protection for members who are vulnerable to sequencing risk with short investment horizons (low and moderate wealth profiles) by adopting a Balanced stance.
    • High allocations to growth for members whose investment horizon is long (high wealth profiles).

 

Good luck, stay healthy and safe.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

An Alternative Future for Kiwisaver Funds

I have blog previously on the benefits of Alternative investments for a robust portfolio.

They would benefit Target Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds) and they have benefited Endowments and foundations for many years.

As the Funds Under Management (FUM) grows within Kiwisaver there will be an increasing allocation to Alternative investments. This will include the likes of unlisted assets (Private equity, direct property, and direct infrastructure), hedged funds, and liquid alternative strategies such as Alternative Risk Premia strategies.

 

A recent paper by Preqin, Preqin-Future-of-Alternatives-Report-October-2018, assesses the likely size, shape and make-up of the global alternative assets industry in 2023, the emphasis being on private capital and hedge funds.

Preqin are specialist global researchers of the Alternative investment universe and provide a reliable source of data and insights into alternative assets professionals around the world.

 

Needless to say, Alternatives are going to make up a large 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.  Therefore, manager selection will be critical.

 

Preqin outlined the drivers of future growth as the following:

  • Alternatives’ track record and enduring ability to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns to its investors, Investors need to access alternative sources of return, and risk, such as private capital.
  • They note the steady decline in the number of listed stocks, as private capital is increasingly able to fund businesses through more of their lifecycle;
  • A similar theme is playing out in the debt markets, there are increasing opportunities in private debt as traditional lenders have exited the market; and
  • The emerging markets are seen as a high growth area.

 

According to Preqin the following factors are also likely to drive growth:

  • Technology (especially blockchain) will facilitate private networks and help investors and fund managers transact and monitor their portfolios, and reduce costs vs public markets.
  • Control and ESG: investors increasingly want more control and influence over their investments, and the ability to add value; private capital provides this.
  • Emerging markets: the Chinese venture capital industry already matches that of the US in size; further emerging markets growth will be a ‘double whammy’ of GDP growth + higher penetration of alternative assets.
  • Private individuals: the ‘elephant in the room’, as the mass affluent around the world would like to increase their investment in private capital if only the structures and vehicles (and regulation) permitted; technology will help.

 

The Preqin report covers many other topics and interviews in relation to the Alternative sector.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

I have written previously about the short comings of Target Date Funds (TDF). They would certainly benefit from the inclusion of Alternative investment strategies.

Nevertheless, this is not to dismiss them. TDF have some notable advantages e.g. they have an inbuilt advice model. TDF automatically de-risk the portfolio with the age of the investor by down weighting the equity allocation and increasing the allocation to cash and fixed interest. This is attractive to those who are unable to afford investment advice or are not interested in seeking investment advice.

Nevertheless, it is important to understand their short comings given their growing dominance international. (According to the FT “Assets held in US target date mutual funds now stand at $1.1tn, compared with $70bn in 2005, according to first-quarter data compiled by the Investment Company Institute, a trade body.”

Locally, TDF have also been raised as a possible addition to the KiwiSaver landscape as a Default Fund option. They are very much part of the investment landscape in Australia.

 

In my mind TDF don’t address the inherit weaknesses of current investment products that overly simplify the retirement investment solution by focusing on:

  • Accumulated wealth as the primary goal; and a
  • Formulaic (prescribed) approach of adjusting allocations to equities over the period up to retirement based on age.

 

TDF may not be the investment solution that addresses key retirement issues, just as Annuities are also not the solution.   Arguably, TDF don’t have an investment objective.

A more goal orientated investment approach is required.

Improvements in the investment solution and a more robust portfolio can be developed by engaging in a more goal orientated investment approach that:

  • Has a focus on the generation of retirement income as an investment goal; and
  • Employs a more sophisticated cash and fixed interest solution that generates a more stable level of retirement income (much like insurance companies employ to meet future liabilities (insurance claims).

 

The investment knowledge is available now to implement these investment solution enhancements.

This new approach will bring more rigor to the investment strategy and a move away from rules of thumbs such as the 4% Rule and adjusting the equity allocation based on age alone.

 

At the centre of a more robust approach is the focussing on the generation of retirement income.

Accumulated wealth is important, you can say you are rich with a million-dollar investment portfolio.

However, this million-dollars does not tell you the standard of living you may be able to support in retirement. Some may well say a very good one! And that may well depend on whether you live in Auckland or Gore.

How about the volatility of income in retirement?

By way of example, prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) a New Zealand investor could get 7-8% on cash at the bank, lets say $70k in income on your million dollar investment.

Current term deposit rates are around 3.5%, that’s a 50% fall in income!! And interest rates have been at these levels for some time and if the Reserve Bank of New Zealand is right they will continue to remain at these levels for some time.

 

Of course, these issues are not the concern of the ultra-wealthy. They are nevertheless vitally important for the less wealthy. They could have a detrimental impact on the standard of living in retirement for many people.

Furthermore, with an income focus, as interest rates rise (they will some day!) more informed investment decisions can be made and importantly investment strategies can be undertaken to help minimise the volatility of income in retirement.

 

Therefore, we should not just focus on the generation of retirement income as the investment goal but also consider how we can manage the volatility of income in retirement. As I say, the knowledge to do this is already available.

 

I have recently written a Post on why focus on Income and one on why focus on the volatility of Income.

 

This FT article on the short comings of TDF may be of interest.

 

The article highlights the risk to the industry.

 

The following section of the FT article is most relevant to the discussion above:

…….. “This underscores the importance of crafting investment products that generate sustained income for retirees, says Lionel Martellini, a professor at Edhec currently seconded to Princeton.

Prof Martellini says the key shortcoming with target date funds the group has identified is the fact that the bond allocation, intended to be the safe portion of the portfolio, is often risky. This risk hinges on the fact that bond portfolios offer — but do not guarantee — income, according to the researchers.

The fixed income allocation should look more like an annuity, Prof Martellini says, a financial product that pays a steady stream of income to the holder. But it must avoid the pitfalls of annuities, namely a lack of flexibility that means they cannot be passed on to a next of kin, for example.

“That’s what we’re talking about — a bond portfolio that is a good proxy for the cash flow that people need. Such a simple move will add a large benefit to how much replacement income you can generate,” Prof Martellini says. Critics say target date funds fail to achieve this because their fixed income portfolios are composed of short-term bonds that are beholden to market risks and do not take into account retirees’ different income expectations.” ………………..

 

The final comments are consistent with the point made above with having a more sophisticated cash and fixed interest investment solution.

 

Happy investing.

 

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

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Is All-Passive Really the Best Thing for Target-Date Funds?

A recent AB article highlights the limitation of some Target-Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds).

AB propose:

“With market returns expected to be lower going forward, target-date funds that invest in passively managed underlying components are at risk of underdelivering. We think diversifying beyond traditional asset classes and tapping alpha opportunities with a multi-manager structure can increase the chances of success. “

 

I would argue more broadly, despite the market outlook, any passive portfolio that only invests into the traditional markets of equities, bonds, and cash are not well diversified for a range of possible economic and market outcomes. They are further at risk if they take a set and forget approach to the overarching strategic asset class positioning of the fund i.e. these short-comings are not limited to passively managed Target-Date Funds.

 

In short, AB argue that the outlook for traditional markets (beta) is challenging. As a result, this environment pose:

“major headwinds to target-date funds as they work to provide the growth participants need. Target-date funds that invest only in traditional asset classes, such as large-cap equities and core bonds through indices, face limitations in their glide path designs. This can make it a struggle for target-date funds to meet participants’ needs in anything but a high-return, low-risk market environment. And in terms of environments, that ship has likely sailed for now.”

Further: “A lower-beta landscape challenges a popular line of thinking that says investing in funds with the lowest fees will ensure compliance with plan sponsors’ fiduciary responsibilities. Low fees aren’t the end all and be all. For one thing, focusing too much on fees could cause sponsors to overlook other factors in retirement investing that also have fiduciary implications.”

The bold is mine.

 

My Opinion and solution

Increase the diversification of the Target-Date Fund and more actively manage the glide path of the strategy.

There could well be a blend of active and passive strategies.

Quite obviously increasing true portfolio diversification is paramount to building robust portfolios and increasing the likelihood of achieving investment objectives.

The prospect of a low returning environment only reinforces this position.

As mentioned in my last post, Reports of the death of Diversification are greatly exaggerated, also see my post Invest more like an Endowment, which also touches on the fee debate, investors should seek true portfolio diversification. The portfolio should be constructed to meet an investor’s objectives “through a range of potential outcomes”. There would appear to be a diverse range of likely economic and market outcomes currently.

Robust portfolios are positioned for a range of outcomes and are “forecast-free as possible”.

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.

 

Limitations of Target Date Funds

The AB article touches on the limitations of most Target-Date Funds, weather the underlying asset classes are actively or Index (passively) managed.

Essentially, most Target-Date Funds have two main short comings:

  • They are not customised to an individual’s consumption liability, human capital or risk preference e.g. they do not take into consideration by way of example future income requirements or likely endowments, level of income earned to retirement, or investor’s risk profile.

They are prescribed asset allocations which are the same for all investors who have the same number of years to retirement, this is the trade-off for scale over customisation.

  • The glide path does not take into account current market conditions.

Therefore, linear glide paths, most target date funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:

      • Delays in pace of transitioning from risky assets to safer assets
      • May require step off the glide path given extreme risk environments

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, which both suggest that the optimal strategy should also display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.

 

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. See A more Robust Retirement Income Solution is needed.

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. A better solution is required.

 

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

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

 

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.

 

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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