Archives For Stocks

Quiz!

During a big decline, is selling stocks until the storm passes conservative?

  1. Yes.
  2. It is conservative at the moment, and likely riskier beyond that.
  3. No, it is risky to sell low.

2 Hidden Risks of Selling Stocks Temporarily Now

It may seem appealing to sell stocks now, and buy lower, when seeing signs of the end of the coronavirus damage. There are two hidden risks in such a strategy:

  1. Hidden Risk #1: A decline never comes, so you buy 10%+ higher. After the gain, the portfolio turns much lower. Now your investments bottom at an even lower point than without the temporary selling.
  2. Hidden Risk #2: Fast forward to the next peak. Another big decline follows. During the entire decline – from peak to bottom – you have less money.

A variation is to sell stocks now, and wait to buy until we are completely done with the coronavirus impact. This is likely to eliminate Hidden Risk #1, but it makes Hidden Risk #2 far worse. By the time we are completely done with the coronavirus impact, your investments could potentially be 100%+ higher. The impact on all future declines can be devastating.

You may be desperate for some relief from the stress of staying invested at a low point, and are still tempted to sell. The relief is an illusion:

  1. If you are stressed now, imagine the stress after selling, reinvesting higher and then going to the bottom with less money.
  2. You may be tempted to sell and not buy until far into the future. As strong as it is at relieving the current stress, it is devastating at the depths of the next decline – lowering its bottom dramatically.

By holding onto your investments, you ultimately get the portfolio returns. While stocks may face long periods with poor returns, it is much better than risking making future declines deeper and longer.

Mirroring the risks above, if you still have income and are able to invest at today’s low levels, you can boost your financial security in future declines for the rest of your life.

Quiz Answer:

During a big decline, is selling stocks until the storm passes conservative?

  1. Yes.
  2. It is conservative at the moment, and likely riskier beyond that. [Correct Answer]
  3. No, it is risky to sell low.

Explanation: See this month’s article.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

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

In late March the yield on short-term bonds (3-month) was higher than longer-term bonds (10-year) for a week. Normally you would expect higher returns for offering a 10-year loan than for offering a 3-month loan, leading to an upward sloping curve of yields of bonds of different maturities. What we saw in late march is called a “yield curve inversion” – longer-dated bonds providing lower yields than shorter ones. This often occurs when the Fed raises short-term rates fast relative to current conditions, and can be a precursor to a recession. It was true in both 2000 & 2008. Should you expect a decline to start soon? No. There is usually a significant lag between the inversion and stock declines. Here are the returns between the inversion and the stock decline for the S&P 500 and Extended-Term Component (ET) in the 2 prior cases of 2000 and 2008:

Inversion 1 Peak 1 Duration S&P 500 Return ET Return
9/30/1998 1/31/2000 16 months +39% +165%
01/31/2006 10/31/2007 21 months +18% +95%

1 I used month-end dates, given better access to historic return data on a monthly basis. The missing/extra partial-month impact on the results should be minimal.

These ET surges that are typical leading to peaks are a reason for you not to be concerned, and even be optimistic. Additional thoughts:

  1. Leading to peaks, ET tends to significantly outperform the S&P 500. It is great for your risk plan to be in a much stronger position in the face of future declines.
  2. The recent inversion was very short-lived, and current interest rates are still very low historically. It is possible that a recession is even further away than typical after inversions.
  3. While the statistics above provide a reason for optimism, I continue to be prepared for declines at any point – there are no guarantees on timing and results in investing.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

If you add annually to a portfolio that drops 50% in one year and recovers the next year, what penalty or benefit do you get when compared to a portfolio with the same returns (0%) and no volatility?

  1. -50%
  2. No impact.
  3. +50%

How to Use Volatility to Make Money

Investment volatility is the investment’s movements up and down away from its average growth. It is commonly viewed as a negative, but for a disciplined long-term saver, it is typically a positive. A hypothetical example can demonstrate it. Let’s compare 2 portfolios with identical returns, and different volatility:

Portfolio 1

Portfolio 2

Year 1

0%

-50%

Year 2

0%

100%

Average

0%

0%

If you start with $100, both portfolios will be worth $100 after 2 years. Specifically, Portfolio 2 will go through the following values: (Year 1) $100 – 50% = $50. (Year 2) $50 + 100% = $100. The portfolios have identical average growth, but Portfolio 2 is far more volatile.

Let’s see the final balance if you add $100 in the beginning of each year:

Portfolio 1

Portfolio 2

Year 1

($100 + 0%) = $100

($100 – 50%) = $50

Year 2

($100 + $100) + 0% = $200

($50 + $100) + 100% = $300

Even though both portfolios have the same average growth, when adding to both portfolios identical amounts each year, the more volatile portfolio ended up 50% higher ($300 vs. $200).

How is this possible? The percentage going back up is greater than the original percentage going down. When a portfolio recovers from a 50% decline it goes up 100%. This is because the percentage going up is relative to a lower starting amount. While old money simply recovers, new money that was invested low goes up $100 – double the -$50 impact of the decline.

Notes:

  1. Some investors lose faith in their portfolio after declines, and hold off on investing (or even sell). If you do that, you can negate the entire benefit of volatility and even hurt your returns.
  2. Even with discipline, there is a special case that can lead to a negative effect. The case involves no up period after a down period, for example, only up years followed by only down years. This is not a concern for disciplined lifelong investors, because such a sequence is limited to one cycle or less.

Quiz Answer:

If you add annually to a portfolio that drops 50% in one year and recovers the next year, what penalty or benefit do you get when compared to a portfolio with the same returns (0%) and no volatility?

  1. -50%
  2. No impact.
  3. +50% [The Correct Answer]

Explanation: See this month’s article for an analysis of this scenario.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

If you are retired, can stick to an investment plan, and spend 3%-4% of your money per year, which of the following are important for handling your biggest risks (any number of answers may be correct):

  1. Limiting yourself to fast growing investments.
  2. Picking the right stocks, to avoid big losses.
  3. Diversifying into various asset types, including stocks, bonds & real estate.
  4. Staying disciplined with your plan, and avoiding panic sales.

Outpacing the Longevity Escape Velocity

Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google & inventor, predicts that in 10-12 years we will reach longevity escape velocity. This is the point when science and technology will add more than a year to our lifespan for every year we remain alive, leading to an infinite life. With an 86% accuracy rate for his prior predictions about the future, there is some chance that this will be true as well. He may be almost completely wrong, with a lifespan of a mere 200 years or 2,000 years, instead of infinity. When planning my investments, I wouldn’t bet with 100% confidence that he is completely wrong, especially when losing the bet would mean spending most of my long life broke.

Unfortunately, many retirement plans do make this bet. A retirement plan with a 95% chance of providing 30 years of retirement income is typically considered appealing. That means a 1-in-20 (5%) chance that if you live for 30 years, you will go broke later in life, just when financial stress is the toughest to handle. If you live longer than 30 years, the odds of failure go up. I have personally known a retired woman that gradually depleted her assets, and faced one of two tough cases: dying soon or going broke. This memory is carved in my mind, and I am not ready to see any of my clients reach the same position.

Accepting some chance of an infinite life, or simply a very long one, requires infinite income. While the word infinite sounds dramatic, it is not impossible to plan for infinite income with very high odds. You simply need to apply a similar principle of escape velocity to your investments, with more growth than spending, in an average year. Stable investments (bonds, money market) grow too slow to support long-lasting withdrawals that accelerate with inflation. So, we need to seek faster growing investments, and handle the volatility, by accounting for withdrawals during downturns. By using investments that grow fast enough, you can make up for the penalty of withdrawals during declines, as long as the investments are diversified, and the withdrawal rate is low enough. Two stock portfolios fit the requirements:

  1. Long-Term Component (LT) is likely to support 4% withdrawals forever.
  2. Extended-Term Component (ET) is likely to support 3% withdrawals forever.

For the disciplined investor with low withdrawal rates, longevity risk turns some common risk-planning principles on their heads: bonds and cash become risky, and diversified stocks become safe! This is because running out of money becomes a greater risk than losing it all during a temporary decline (through small withdrawals).

Once your withdrawal rates from these portfolios go below the stated rates, you would likely reach escape velocity, providing you with income for as long as you live, even infinitely. But instead of just solving the longevity financial risk, you get a big bonus. After reaching a sustainable withdrawal rate, your portfolio is expected to keep growing over full cycles despite your withdrawals. You can choose between higher security or higher income (or some of each) with every new peak.

My clients tend to be conservative, and don’t count on any specific limited lifespan. I tend to reject more aggressive investors.

Quiz Answer

If you are retired, can stick to an investment plan, and spend 3%-4% of your money per year, which of the following are important for handling the biggest risks you may face (any number of answers may be correct):

  1. Limiting yourself to fast growing investments. [The Correct Answer]
  2. Picking the right stocks, to avoid big losses.
  3. Diversifying into various asset types, including bonds, stocks & real estate.
  4. Staying disciplined with your plan, and avoiding panic sales. [The Correct Answer]

Explanations:

  1. If you end up living a long life, you need high enough growth to support annual withdrawals that grow with inflation. With low growth, you can run out of money.
  2. Trying to pick the right stocks introduces the risk of picking the wrong ones – this is a big risk to take when your lifelong income depends on it.
  3. Low-volatility investments are necessary for high withdrawal rates for a short horizon, and for people who panic during stock declines. You have the benefit of discipline and low withdrawal rates, and may face a long horizon.
  4. It is critical to stay disciplined with your plan, and avoid panic sales. A couple of panic sales can negate the entire benefit of the high average gains.
Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data

Quiz!

Which of the following is typically true?

  1. It is best to buy insurance for most risks for peace of mind.
  2. It is best to avoid insurance and invest money in stocks, because stocks grow fast and can be used to cover the otherwise insured risks.
  3. It is best to insure against devastating risks.
  4. It is best to insure against non-devastating risks, and buy stocks to handle devastating risks.

Insurance vs. Diversified Stocks

The table below presents a basic comparison between diversified stocks and insurance. The first two rows show similar benefits, while the remaining rows show where each approach shines.

Topic Diversified Stocks Insurance Comments
Distribute risk at any point The growth of 1,000 stocks overshadows one company’s bankruptcy. By pooling 1,000 homeowners, the premiums paid cover the cost of one flooded house. Both help diversify risks at a given instant.
Distribute risk over time The growth of stocks over a full cycle overshadows the decline periods within the cycle. The premiums paid by a large group of homeowners over time cover hurricane damages to a large group of homeowners. Both help diversify risks over time.
Devastating risks House burns down without big money saved => bankruptcy. House burns down => covered by insurance. Insurance is critical for covering risks that would devastate you.
Non-devastating risks Can sell from stocks to cover the low risks. Otherwise, the saved insurance premiums that are invested in stocks are likely to grow dramatically over a lifetime. The insurance premiums are lost. Stocks are typically more beneficial for risks that are not devastating.
Availability The money is available for you at all times, without being at the mercy of an insurance company, but the value will be lower during stock declines. Claims can be declined for various reasons. Insurance: Read carefully the exclusions list for insurance, and have money set aside for declined claims.
Stocks: Have plenty more than the self-insured amounts, to account for stock declines.
Negotiated pricing Not applicable This applies for some types of insurance. Health insurers negotiate lower prices. You get negotiated healthcare costs even with high deductible health insurance, in case this item tips the scale for you.
Risk of under-treatment Risk of avoiding treatment that would otherwise be covered by insurance. Having low-deductible health insurance can encourage treating high-risk problems that seem minor at first If choosing self-insurance using stocks (e.g. by having high-deductible health insurance), be careful to not avoid necessary treatments that you would get with low-deductible insurance.
Overhead No overhead Insurance involves administrative costs and profits to the health insurer, that you pay for. Unless you are a high risk person for using the insurance, your overall average cost may be higher with insurance.

Quiz Answer:

Which of the following is typically true?

  1. It is best to buy insurance for most risks for peace of mind.
  2. It is best to avoid insurance and invest money in stocks, because stocks grow fast and can be used to cover the otherwise insured risks.
  3. It is best to insure against devastating risks. [The Correct Answer]
  4. It is best to insure against non-devastating risks, and buy stocks to handle devastating risks.

Explanations: Read the article for explanations.

Disclosures Including Backtested Performance Data