Archives For November 2019

Quiz!

Imagine this simplified case: You make 100k net income per year starting at age 30, put your savings in an investment with 8% annual growth, and spend 3% per year in retirement. Compare the following 2 scenarios:

  1. You work for 40 years, save 10k per year (and spend 90k), and enjoy 20 years of retirement.
  2. You work for 20 years, save 50k per year (and spend 50k), and enjoy 40 years of retirement.

Scenario #1 involved doubling the number of working years + spending an extra 40k per year during 40 years of work. How much extra lifelong spending was provided, and what was the extra ending investment balance?

  1. +8M lifelong spending, with -8M investments left.
  2. +4M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
  3. +1M lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
  4. Nearly equal lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
  5. -3M lifelong spending, with -9M investments left.

8 Principles for Happiness in the FIRE Movement

FIRE stands for: “Financial Independence, Retire Early”. People aiming for FIRE save aggressively, as much as 50%-75% of their income, aiming to retire at a young age. They typically retire once they reach enough savings to support 3%-4% annual spending.

While the result may sound very appealing, the plan can result in an unhappy life or be abandoned, if not done right. Here are 8 principles that helped me in my process, and may help you:

  1. Spend for happiness: Drop all expenses that won’t make you much happier in life today or in the future, but keep and emphasize the expenses that are important to the core of your happiness, or to build a good future.
  2. Experiment and adapt: Keep dropping additional expenses, even if everyone tells you that the expense is as important as drinking water. Question every conventional wisdom, and you are bound to enjoy some pleasant surprises. When needed, reintroduce expenses.
  3. Keep low-frequency & lower-scale expenses: Eating out once a week (or month) instead of never can add to your happiness far more than the 5th weekly meal out. Going on a road-trip to a national park off season, and sleeping outside the park costs a small fraction of a flight to another continent with a stay in a nice hotel. Such a trip still gives you time away, with family or friends, nature, and relaxation – providing the bulk of the happiness.
  4. Save most when your spending/investment ratio is high: You will save more (1) early, compounding every dollar saved exponentially for longer – giving you free extra money, and (2) when your investments are low, and expected returns are higher.
  5. Invest for high growth: High growth helps reach independence earlier. In addition, high growth investments tend to be more volatile, providing excess gains to a consistent saver (read https://www.qualityasset.com/2018/07/31/how-to-use-volatility-to-make-money/ to understand). Two caveats: (1) Stay highly diversified across sectors and countries; (2) Be prepared to stay consistent through multi-year declines – something that comes with all high-growth investments.
  6. Aim for a conservative outcome: Aim for a 3% annual spending rate, to support a potential of many decades in retirement. Spending includes non-recurring and surprise expenses, including car upgrades, major home repairs, and healthcare costs, to name a few.
  7. Keep working at what you love: Once you reached financial independence, keep working at something you love. It can be your current job, a new lower- or higher-paying job, or a new business.
  8. Maintain 3% spending: As your investments reach higher peaks, you can raise your spending proportionately to enjoy the fruit of the optimizations leading to that point. You can call this modification the FIRES movement = Financial Independence, Retire Early, then Spend, Save or whatever makes you happiest. Whatever you choose, the compounded growth of investments is expected to grow the benefit exponentially over time.

There are several benefits to these principles:

  1. Maximum happiness gained from every dollar spent.
  2. Enjoying work in retirement from a position of power with no pressure.
  3. Decades of financial independence + growing spending. You are likely to enjoy far greater lifelong spending than the typical person.

Quiz Answer:

Imagine this simplified case: You make 100k net income per year starting at age 30, put your savings in an investment with 8% annual growth, and spend 3% per year in retirement. Compare the following 2 scenarios:

  1. You work for 40 years, save 10k per year (and spend 90k), and enjoy 20 years of retirement.
  2. You work for 20 years, save 50k per year (and spend 50k), and enjoy 40 years of retirement.

Scenario #1 involved doubling the number of working years + spending an extra 40k per year during 40 years of work. How much extra lifelong spending was provided, and what was the extra ending investment balance?

  1. +8M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
  2. +4M lifelong spending, with -2M investments left.
  3. +1M lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
  4. Nearly equal lifelong spending, with +1M investments left.
  5. -3M lifelong spending, with -9M investments left. [Correct Answer]

Explanation:

The frontloading of spending created a disadvantage that was impossible to recover from, despite doubling the number of working years. Details:

  1. The extra spending in the first 20 years of scenario #1, led to a balance of 460k relative to 2.3M in scenario #2.
  2. 7 years later, with 13 years of work remaining for scenario #1, the annual spending of 90k was lower than the spending level of the person who retired already 7 years earlier.
  3. By the end of the working career, the 90k spending compares to 173k for the person retiring 20 years earlier. The investment balance grew nicely to 2.6M, but short of the 6.1M of the early retiree.
  4. By the end of retirement, the spending jumped to 196k relative to 460k for the early retiree. The investment balance reached nearly 7M vs. 16M for the early retiree.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Which are good ways to reduce your risk after 10 years of poor returns for a diversified investment? (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. Diversify and include some lower risk investments that performed well in the past 10 years.
  2. Lower your risk by holding some bonds.
  3. Lower your risk by holding some cash.
  4. Don’t make any change.
  5. Increase your allocation to the investment.

5 Rules of Thumb to Avoid Making a Painful Investment Change

Have you ever seen your diversified investments perform poorly for an extended period of 5-10 years, and felt that it would be prudent to diversify to reduce your risks? Have you moved money to an investment that felt much safer based on those years? In most cases, such activity would increase your risk – the opposite of your intended action. In some cases, the results could be painful.

How can a shift to reduce risk end up being painful? Diversified investments tend to be cyclical. The risk of a tough decade following a tough decade is lower than typical, not higher. Furthermore, the risk of a tough decade after an exceptional decade is higher than typical. Here is a case that may be familiar to you: In the late 1990’s US Large Growth stocks seemed like the safest stocks in the world. A switch to these seemingly safe stocks could have led you to losing 30% of your money over the following 10 years (total returns, including dividends, starting 3/1999). If you would have switched away from the seemingly risky Value or Emerging Markets stocks, your pain would have compounded, by missing phenomenal growth.

How can you avoid making a flawed change? Here are a few rules of thumb:

  1. Compare your investment performance in the past 10 years to the long-term performance (ideally 30+ years). If the past 10 years were below average, the investment is likely to be less risky than usual, not more. Don’t make a change!
  2. Do the same for the target investment you want to diversify into. If the past 10 years were above average, the investment is likely to be more risky than usual, not less. Don’t make a change!
  3. Do the same when comparing valuations, as presented by Price/Book. If the change would increase your Price/Book, you would sell low and buy high, something that can hurt you.
  4. Imagine living through a period with the opposite recent performance – would you still feel that you are reducing your risk with the intended change? If not, the alarm bells should be ringing.
  5. Say that someone urges you to diversify your portfolio, given the risk of your current portfolio, as presented by recent performance. Check how diversified your current portfolio is. If it includes 100’s or 1,000’s of stocks, split over many sectors in many countries, you are probably already diversified. The phrase: “You should diversify”, is a disguise for the real intent: “You should buy the recent winners, no matter what it does to your diversification.”

How can you use the information above today?

  1. Just like in the 1990’s, US Large Growth stocks performed far better than their long-term average. They averaged about 13% per year over 10 years, compared to a 10% long-term average. You should realistically expect the returns in the next 10 years to be much lower, not just below 13%, but far below 10%. In addition, the P/B of these stocks is far above average, another warning sign for poor upcoming returns.
  2. The reverse is true for Emerging Markets stocks. They grew far below their average. For example, the portfolio Extended-Term Component grew by a mere 2% per year in the past 10 years, compared to 15%+ long-term average (includes simulated data). In addition, the valuations of this portfolio are far below average. Returns above the 15%+ average in the next 10 years are the likely outcome.

A few words of caution: cycles don’t have a fixed length. Returns that are better or worse than average can continue longer or shorter than expected. In addition, long-term averages can fluctuate. While no result is guaranteed, the information above can help you work with the odds, and not against them.

Quiz Answer:

Which are good ways to reduce your risk after 10 years of poor returns for a diversified investment? (There may be multiple answers.)

  1. Diversify and include some lower risk investments that performed unusually well in the past 10 years.
  2. Lower your risk by holding some bonds.
  3. Lower your risk by holding some cash.
  4. Don’t make any change.
  5. Increase your allocation to the investment. [Correct Answer]

Explanations:

  1. Answers 1-3: Diversified investments tend to be cyclical – selling after 10 tough years, is likely selling low. Buying an investment that performed unusually well at the same time, is likely buying high. This will likely increase your risk.
  2. Answer 4: While future returns are likely to be above average, and risks below average, no change will keep your risk profile at the same reduced level.
  3. Answer 5: Buying extra at a very low point may reduce your risk, if valuations (Price/Book) are far below average and the investment is diversified.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data