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Saturday, November 3, 2012
The need to generate the paycheck and the increased sensitivity to declining markets raises the potential for emotional factors to derail the whole process for the retiree. This was seen in 2008. With a drop in stocks of 37%, it was easy to understand the fears of those living off their nest egg.
One approach to this problem is the so-called "bucket approach" to asset allocation. This approach provides a structure for riding out market downturns. Although it seems unique, it actually is not so different from a standard approach--as I'll explain later. The bucket approach is very nicely described by Christine Benz, Morningstar's Director of Research in A Bucketed ETF Portfolio for Moderate Retirees.
This article lays out a specific allocation in terms of 3 buckets with recommended ETFs for each bucket. This creates a nice visual effect for the retiree to understand the purpose of each part of the portfolio. The first bucket is intended to meet expenditures over the first few years and is comprised of low-risk cash equivalent types of ETFs. The second bucket is primarily fixed income and is positioned to meet the middle years, and the 3rd bucket is riskier stocks, high-yield bonds and commodity ETFs intended to produce growth.
The advantages of the bucket approach is that, as mentioned above, it should enable the retiree to weather market downturns and visually see how the portfolio replenishes its needs. Furthermore, it is efficient and doesn't require retirees to spend their retirement managing their portfolios. Ms. Benz argues that her recommended portfolio should enable a retiree to withdraw 5% of assets, inflation adjusted, over a 20-year time frame.
I believe that her article is useful reading for anyone in retirement or nearing retirement.
As mentioned above, though, the bucket approach is not much different from the standard asset allocation approach. For example, for some of the retirees I manage assets for and advise, I use the 40% stocks/60% fixed and cash allocation model. Ten percent of this allocation is cash; so, right off the bat, the usual approach will have the 2 years' cash needs met as in the bucket approach. Also, the 10% allocation will be replenished on an ongoing basis via portfolio re-balancing. The 40% stocks is, as above, intended for growth; but, if stocks do very well, they could be used to replenish the other parts of the portfolio and, in fact, could be used to meet cash needs.
One stipulation I put in for retirees drawing down their nest egg is that the yield on the overall portfolio be at least 60% of cash needs. Thus, if the retiree is drawing down 4%, the portfolio needs to yield at least 2.4%. This may mean some jockeying into dividend ETFs, etc. Thinking about this a bit, you'll realize that more than 2 years' protection is built in !
Furthermore, if the market is down, all cash flows go to cash. We live in a world where markets have always recovered (at least in the U.S.) and, thus, people believe they always will. Those in retirement need to be careful, I believe, in making this assumption.