Stock Picking Robots

This week, from SmartMoney, I’m going to feature a story about a supposed scam about two brothers from England who developed a magical strategy for picking stocks and selling advice. The SEC charges that this scam involved the brothers selling newsletter subscriptions to unwitting investors who believed in the ability of a mythical robot to pick winning trades in the market.

Read the article here… Wall Street is Full of Stock-Picking Robots

Apparently investors were told “the ‘robot’ was a highly sophisticated computer trading program and the product of extensive research and development.” Over several years roughly 75,000 investors handed out more than $1.2 million in subscription fees for the service. The whole thing gets a little dicier when we learn that the duo had a separate business where they were paid to promote certain stocks. In turn, for a price, the robot would pick the paid-for stock in the next newsletter.

The article actually suggests what would be my biggest question with this whole story. How is that different from what happens on Wall Street on a daily basis? Hedge funds and asset managers are constantly promoting their proprietary computer trading systems as a reason for you to place business with them. Not to mention the fact that there are plenty of firms who pump an enormous amount of money into certain stocks as a way to artificially inflate the stock’s price, only to sell it moments later at a profit.

I certainly don’t condone these actions in any way but I will tell you that for the average investor, the game is rigged. Have you ever felt powerless as you watched your hard-earned assets evaporate? Well, in many cases you are. Fundamentals favor the long haul while many of today’s trading practices emphasize short-term profits. The problem is that short-term dips in the market cause emotions to drive decisions for many people.

It’s hard to ignore the healthy returns available in many market cycles. But as you approach retirement, wouldn’t it be wise to protect your baseline first? That allows you to take the risks needed to capture real growth over time without threatening your ability to retire when you want.

So, protect the assets that are needed for sustainable retirement income first. Then you are free to chase massive returns with whatever ‘stock picking robot’ most appeals to you.

If you’re tired of the Wall Street games, give us a call.

Have a great week!

Bryan J. Anderson
[email protected]

On Cashing Out In Retirement

Retirement Annuities

Retirement Annuities

The tools used to maximize pre-retirement asset accumulation are not the tools of retirement  income generation.  Maximizing retirement income is just outside the scope of expertise  for most traditional advisors and individuals because  of the biggest unknown: life expectancy.

An  individual seeking to maintain full control over their money, and setting their own withdrawal rate,  is carrying their entire longevity risk on their shoulders.  And an advisor that recommends a withdrawal rate or a stock / bond allocation to a client is making that client shoulder their entire longevity risk perhaps unknowingly.

This excellent article looks at various ways people consider using their assets in retirement.  It’s worth reading in its entirety, but what is fascinating is that annuities rightfully get their mention at the top of the list as a smart allocation for a portion of your assets.  This is uncharacteristic for main stream media, which  usually scoffs at annuities.

How to Cash Out in Retirement

A look at four strategies that could help make a retiree’s savings last a lifetime


There’s no rest for retirement investors. They spend decades worrying about the best way to put money into their accounts—and then they have to find the best way to take it out.
While saving for retirement can be tough, finding the right way to spend down your nest egg may be an even bigger challenge. Francis Kinniry, a principal at Vanguard Group, discusses some spending strategies with WSJ’s Eleanor Laise.

It’s a problem that’s starting to hit home for the oldest baby boomers, who turn 65 this year. Many don’t have traditional pension plans to dole out steady paychecks for the rest of their lives. They have to figure out the best way to pull money from retirement accounts so that they get a livable income each year—and the money doesn’t run out too soon.

And that means they have to account for a host of factors that are impossible to predict. “You can’t control how long you’ll live, which is a huge determinant of retirement income,” says Francis Kinniry, a principal at Vanguard Group. “And you can’t control the markets.”

Many people are dealing with the uncertainty by simply working longer. But for those who were looking forward to a more retiring retirement, there’s fresh hope.

Financial advisers are rethinking retirement-spending rules of thumb and coming up with new withdrawal strategies that help clients maintain their standard of living regardless of the stock market’s ups and downs. And financial-services firms are introducing new products to turn lumps of retirement savings into steady income without requiring people to lock up their money in an annuity. (Annuities, of course, may still be a good retirement-income solution for some people.)

Making the Case to Buy an Annuity

Below, we explain various strategies for spending down retirement savings. But don’t feel compelled to choose one and follow it for a lifetime. The key to developing a successful strategy is flexibility, retirement experts say. Given all the variables in retirement spending, advisers suggest that investors regularly revisit their approach rather than religiously following a preset path. Those who are willing to make small adjustments along the way will run the smoothest course through retirement.

Regular readers of Annuity Straight Talk should smile at this line, above. Flexibility has always been one of our guiding principles, together with Profitability and Safety.

Reviewing the 4% Rule

Faced with the question of spending in retirement, many financial advisers fall back on “the 4% rule.” With this approach, investors withdraw 4% of their retirement balance in the first year of retirement, or $40,000 from a $1 million portfolio. The dollar amount of the withdrawal is adjusted each year to keep up with inflation, and the remaining portfolio is rebalanced to the desired mix of stocks and bonds.

See how long a $2 million portfolio might last.

Different investors may follow different versions of the rule, such as initially withdrawing 5% or 6%. That initial withdrawal amount can have a major impact on the strategy’s success. Assuming a mix of 60% stocks and 40% bonds, an investor initially withdrawing 4% has a 10% chance of running out of money at age 97, according to T. Rowe Price Group Inc. With a 6% initial withdrawal, he has a 10% chance of running out of money at age 82. Many advisers have settled on 4% as the “safe” initial withdrawal rate.

The 4% rule helps manage two big risks in retirement: longevity and inflation’s tendency to gnaw away at your purchasing power, says Stuart Ritter, a financial planner at T. Rowe Price.

The rule also has the allure of simplicity, and at least in the short term, it gives investors steady amounts of spending money each year. The problem, critics say, is that this approach matches a rigid spending rule with an investment portfolio that can bounce all over the place. Given strong markets, investors may wind up with lots of money to leave their heirs. Given weak markets, they could run out of money halfway through their retirement.

“This is a prescription for getting people into serious trouble,” says Laurence Kotlikoff, economics professor at Boston University.

The 4% rule should be viewed as “a starting point,” Mr. Ritter says, adding that it “gives people the ability to adjust along the way.”

Getting Flexible
Another simple approach to retirement spending is to withdraw a set percentage of the portfolio each year.

Unlike the 4%-plus-inflation rule, this approach automatically adjusts an investor’s spending in response to market performance: If the portfolio grows, the withdrawal is larger; if the portfolio shrinks, the withdrawal is smaller. And investors will never completely run out of money.

Of course, that means there can be major fluctuations in the amount of spending money from one year to the next. Given that many people want to maintain a steady standard of living in retirement, those ups and downs can be stomach-churning.

Vanguard suggests a more flexible version of this strategy. Aim to withdraw a set percentage of the portfolio each year, but place upper and lower limits on the dollar amount, based on the prior year’s spending.

For example, an investor may decide that he’ll withdraw 4% of his portfolio each year, but he doesn’t want his spending amount to change more than 5% from one year to the next. Let’s say he took out $40,000 from his $1 million balance last year, and this year strong markets have boosted his portfolio to $1.1 million. A strict 4% withdrawal would give him $44,000 in spending money this year, but given his 5% spending band he’ll limit his withdrawal to $42,000.

This is “a middle-of-the-road approach,” says Vanguard’s Mr. Kinniry. Spending levels remain relatively steady year to year, but the strategy also responds to changes in investment performance, helping the portfolio last through retirement.

The bands around the dollar amount of spending don’t have to be symmetrical, of course. Mr. Kinniry suggests allowing for more flexibility on the downside than on the upside. For example, you might cap the year-over-year increase in the withdrawal amount at 3%, so that in a good year you keep more of your profits in your portfolio—but if your investments take a beating allow withdrawals to fall as much as 5% or 10%. If markets perform poorly, “you don’t want to compound” the effect on your portfolio by taking a large withdrawal, he says.

Let’s again assume that the investor took $40,000 last year from his $1 million portfolio. But this year his investments fell in value to $850,000. A strict 4% withdrawal would be $34,000. With a maximum 5% drop in the dollars he withdraws compared with last year’s $40,000, he would take out $38,000. With a 10% maximum drop, he would take out $36,000.

Build a Solid Foundation

To build confidence that a portfolio will sustain a lifetime of spending, it helps to take a page from the playbook of defined-benefit pension plans, advisers say. With this approach, investors should think of each year’s spending as a liability that must be matched with a chunk of your portfolio.
The best match for those liabilities is a bond ladder, advisers say. With high-quality bonds such as Treasurys maturing in each year of retirement, creating a “spending floor,” investors can feel confident their future spending needs will be met.

Umm…. Might I introduce Secondary Market Annuities??? These fantastic fixed income investments are of comparable credit quality as the best bonds, yet with yields in the 5-6 and even 7% range….  Hello!! Opportunity is Knocking!

Pouring all your money into bonds, of course, can reduce your portfolio’s growth potential. But it’s possible to create a mix of steady income, upside potential and some longevity protection by starting retirement with a blend of 80% bonds and 20% stocks, says Jason Scott, managing director of the retiree research center at investment advisers Financial Engines Inc.

With bonds to meet your basic spending needs, “you’re not subject to the vagaries of the [stock] market for that spending,” Mr. Scott says. And if the equity allocation does well, investors can use the stock-market proceeds to extend their bond ladder further into retirement or raise their spending floor. So payouts won’t drop when the stock market falls, but they can rise when stocks are rallying.

You can read the rest of the article here.  Annuity Straight Talk focuses on the maximum profitability portion of your Safe Money allocation- get the most income with the least risk.  Come talk to us and see what we can do for you.