Tag Archives: economy

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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Parsing the Drop in the Japanese Stock Market

One of the most interesting market stories in the last week is the big drop in the Japanese stock market.  Japan is the third-largest economy in the world, ranked by GDP.  The values of the Japanese stock market, as measured by the Nikkei 225 index, dropped by 7.3% on May 23rd, and then suffered another fairly dramatic one-day decline of 3.2% on May 27th.

Over the last five sessions, the iShares MSCI Index ETF, EWJ, has dropped by almost 10% (see chart below). Continue reading

The Meaning of the New Highs in the S&P500

The S&P500 has recently been hitting new all-time highs, which would seem to suggest that the economy is recovering and that the U.S. economy is back on track.  The story does not look quite so rosy when you account for inflation, as Mark Hulbert has recently noted.  The current level of the S&P500 is, in fact, still about 24% below its high in 2000 once inflation is considered.  Economists and finance people would say that, measured in real terms, the S&P500 is 24% lower than it was at its 2000 peak.  What this means is that the proceeds from the sale of a share of an S&P500 index fund purchases considerably less in real goods today than it did thirteen years ago.  Continue reading

Harvard’s Michael Porter Shares His Economic Outlook

Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter is a familiar name to almost anyone who has graduated from business school in the last twenty years or so.  He recently gave an interview on CNBC in which he shares his analysis of the U.S. economy.  Porter is best known for his work in competitive strategy, a field in which he is considered the preeminent expert, so his views of what ails the U.S. economy and how we can get back on track are of considerable interest.  He has analyzed the forces that provide one country or region with relative competitive advantages vs. others and he applies this perspective in his commentary. Continue reading

Choosing and Paying for Higher Education

I am now at an age at which many of my friends have kids preparing for, or going to, college.  I have a few more years to figure out the details, but this is an issue that I have followed for a long time.  My local in-state university, the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU), estimates the all-in cost of attendance at $26,000 per year.  This varies a bit, based on which program you choose.  Tuition, fees, and books cost about $14,000 per year (though this varies by program) and the estimated cost of room and board is about $12,000 per year.  Continue reading

Unemployment: Part of the Economic Cycle or Secular Shift?

Bob Huebscher just published an outstanding article on the sustained high level of unemployment in the United States.  The question that he seeks to address is whether we are in the recovery phase of a major recession or we are actually in the midst of a long-term shift in the economy.  The article calls these two possible explanations ‘cyclical’ and ‘structural.’  It is worth understanding the key factors that have resulted in the current persistent unemployment levels in order to put the recent modest reduction in unemployment into context.  Are we seeing signs of the long-awaited recovery that will bring us back to full employment or is the recent growth in employment simply variability around a long-term shift in the U.S. economy in which unemployment will remain well-above historical levels? Continue reading

Saving and Investing for Retirement: Part Five

Effective Actions in an Uncertain World: Part Five of Our Special Five Part Series

There are a number of factors that we need to predict in order to come up with saving and investing strategies for retirement.  The values that we assign to these factors will have a huge impact on whether or not we will be able to meet our goals.  First, there is the expected return that investors will make on their retirement savings.  Second, there is the common estimate that people will need about 85% of their pre-retirement income to support them once they stop working.  Finally, there is the potential impact of behavior on savings rates, investing, and spending.  Continue reading

Saving and Investing for Retirement: Part Two

Figuring Out Whether You Are On Track: Part Two of Our Special Five Part Series

Fidelity just came out with a study that estimates that people will need about eight times their final salary level, assuming they work until age sixty seven, to be able to retire and subsequently to have 85% of their pre-retirement income provided from retirement savings plus social security.  Fidelity also helpfully provides estimates of what they believe people need to have acquired at different ages. Continue reading

Saving and Investing for Retirement: Part One

We Are In Trouble: Part One of Our Special Five Part Series

As the presidential election season of 2012 has gotten underway, there is a massive issue that has gotten very little attention: how Americans will sustain themselves in retirement.  In 2010, there were 40 million Americans over the age of 65.  By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 70 million, which represents 20% of the total population.  At the same time, we have moved from a workforce with traditional pensions to one in which each person chooses how much to save and how to invest that money.

Only 42% of American private-sector workers between ages 25 and 64 have any type of retirement plan in their current job. The majority of Americans (67%) who have access to a pension plan have only self-directed accounts such as 401(k)’s and similar accounts (such as 457(b) plans which cover those who work at non-profits or who are employed by the state or local government organizations).  A large number of Americans also have IRAs.  We refer to these types of retirement plans as Defined Contribution (DC) plans as opposed to Defined Benefit (DB) plans, the traditional pensions that used to be the norm. Continue reading