Tag Archives: Behavioral Finance

How Much Do You Need to Save for Retirement?

In the financial advisory business, one of the most pressing and controversial topics is how much money people need to save during their working years in order to provide for long-term retirement income.  The research on this topic has evolved quite a lot in recent years, and a recent issue of Money magazine features a series of articles representing the current view on this critical topic.  These articles, based around interviews with a number of the current thought leaders on this topic, deserve to be widely read and discussed.

The series of articles in Money kicks off with perspectives by Wade Pfau.  Pfau’s introductory piece suggests a difficult future for American workers.  A traditional rule-of-thumb in retirement planning is called the 4% rule.  This rule states that a retiree can plan to draw annual income equal to 4% of the value of her portfolio in the first year of retirement and increase this amount each year to keep up with inflation.  Someone who retires with a $1 Million portfolio could draw $40,000 in income in the first year of retirement and then increase that by 2.5%-3% per year, and have a high level of confidence that the portfolio will last thirty years.  It is assumed that the portfolio is invested in 60%-70% stocks and 30%-40% bonds.  The 4% rule was originally derived based on the long-term historical returns and risks for stocks and bonds.  The problem that Pfau has noted, however, is that both stocks and bonds are fairly expensive today relative to their values over the period of time used to calculate the 4% rule.  For bonds, this means that yields are well below their historical averages and historical yields are a good predictor of the future return from bonds.  The expected return from stocks is partly determined by the average price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, and the P/E for stocks is currently well-above the long-term historical average.  High P/E tends to predict lower future returns for stocks, and vice versa.  For a detailed discussion of these relationships, see this paper.  In light of current prices of stocks and bonds, Pfau concludes that the 4% rule is far too optimistic and proposes that investors plan for something closer to a 3% draw rate from their portfolios in retirement.  I also explored this topic in an article last year.

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Economic Inequality

Income inequality is increasingly acknowledged as a key economic issue for the world.  The topic is a major theme at Davos this year.  Economic inequality is also an increasingly common topic in U.S. politics.

A new study has found that economic mobility does not appear to have changed appreciably over the past thirty years, even as the wealth gap has grown enormously.   The authors analyzed the probability that a child born into the poorest 20% of households would move into the top 20% of households as an adult.  The numbers have not changed in three decades.

On the other hand, there is clearly a substantial accumulation of wealth at the top of the socioeconomic scale.  The richest 1% of Americans now own 25% of all of the wealth in the U.S.  The share of national income accruing to the richest 1% has doubled since 1980.  In contrast, median household income has shown no gains, adjusted for inflation, since the late 1980’s and has dropped substantially from its previous peak in the late 1990’s.

Why is this happening?

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Apple’s Share Price and Behavioral Finance

The price of a share of Apple (AAPL) is almost 30% below the high that it set back in September 2012—about five months ago.  Even before its peak, the price of Apple shares had already made it the most valuable company in history.  In those heady times, Apple shares reached $702.  Today, they are at $503.  Even today, however, Apple remains the largest single holding in the S&P 500 at about 3.6% of the total index.  It is mind boggling to consider that the market value of the most valuable public firm in history could decline by 30% in five months, without some sort of catastrophic event.  But this is the situation and there are some lessons to be drawn. Continue reading

Game Theory, Behavioral Finance, and Investing: Part 1 of 5

Watching the market this year has been like observing an exercise in game theory and behavioral finance, and the two fields are closely related.  Game theory is the study of how a rational person makes decisions in uncertain situations.  As the name suggests, game theory was developed with the intent of developing optimal strategies in games in which chance or the decisions of an opponent play a role in your outcome.  Game theory focuses on how rational players can make the best decisions to maximize their satisfaction.  Behavioral finance adds the nuance that, in real life, people do not necessarily have all available information and, even if they do, they often make decisions that are inconsistent with those made by a perfectly-rational and fully-informed decision maker. Continue reading

The High Cost of the July 4th Cookout

Many Americans will be feeling the effects of higher commodity prices this 4th of July.

If you have been to the grocery store lately, you’ve probably done a double-take at the register as your outdoor grilling essentials are being scanned. Steak and ground beef prices are up almost 6% over the last 12 months and a persistent drought in the mid-West is driving corn prices up dramatically. USDA recently reported that the average price that Americans pay for food will be up between 2.5% and 3.5% vs. what we paid in 2011.

However, before you ration the hot dogs and burgers and put a hold on serving steaks at your BBQ this year, lets take a look at the long-term history of food prices in the U.S.

Don’t Blame Inflation This Time

The good news is that Continue reading

Safety Not Guaranteed

Guest post by Contributing Editor, Robert P. Seawright, Chief Investment and Information Officer for Madison Avenue Securities.

I haven’t seen it yet,  but I love the conceit behind the indie film Safety Not Guaranteed, which has opened to excellent reviews.  The words of the title are found in a mysterious classified ad in a local paper seeking a partner for time travel.  The ad also states that applicants will need their own weapons and, ominously, “safety not guaranteed.”

That’s a pretty good metaphor for investing and for life in general. Continue reading

Is Your Brain a Barrier to Smart Investing?

Guest blog by Daniel Solin, Mint.com.

The evidence showing that most individual investors significantly underperform the market is compelling. A study done by Dalbar, a leading financial services market research firm, found that, during the 20 years from 1991 through 2010, the average stock fund investor earned returns of only 3.83% per year, while the S&P 500 returned 9.14%.

The ramifications of this study are startling. It’s very easy to capture the returns of the market. All you have to do is purchase index funds that track the returns you are seeking to replicate. You will pay low transaction fees, but your returns should be pretty much in line with the indexes.

There is overwhelming support for buying Continue reading

Just Put the Ball in Play

Guest Blog by Robert P. Seawright, CIO, Madison Avenue Securities. 

On account of the success of Moneyball (both the book and the movie, nicely satirized here), baseball management is often compared to investment management, and with good reason. Moneyball focused on the 2002 season of the Oakland Athletics, a team with one of the smallest budgets in baseball.  At the time, the A’s had lost three of their star players to free agency because they could not afford to keep them.  A’s General Manager Billy Beane, armed with reams of performance and other statistical data, his interpretation of which was rejected by “traditional baseball men” (and also armed with three terrific young starting pitchers), assembled a team of seemingly undesirable players on the cheap that proceeded to win 103 games and the division title.

Unfortunately, much of the analysis of Moneyball from an investment perspective is focused upon the idea of looking for cheap assets and outwitting the opposition in trading for those assets.  Continue reading

“A Little Late” by Carl Richards

Carl Richards’ is a favorite contributor here at the Portfolioist. We’ve interviewed him in the past (see, “How to Pick an Investment Advisor (Part 3): Carl Richards’ 3 Key Questions” by Nanette Byrnes) and remain a fan of his website, behaviorgap.com.

Using a Sharpie and a piece of card stock, Richards captures complex financial ideas in simple, easy-to-understand sketches.

Here’s his latest sketch and commentary on the recent market volatility. Enjoy–we certainly did. Continue reading

The Hidden Costs of Index Funds

While it is widely understood that index funds represent a low-cost way for investors to achieve broad diversification, a recently published research study sheds light on a “hidden cost” associated with investing in index funds.

Antti Petajisto, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, conducted the original research for “The Index Premium and its Hidden Cost for Index Funds,” as part of his Ph.D. thesis at Yale in 2003.

The study examines the ways that stock prices change between the time that it is announced that a company will be added or removed from a stock index (such as the S&P500) and when the company’s stock is actually added.  The research suggests that canny institutional investors can make a profit in this period that results in a drag on performance for index fund investors.

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