Have bonds lost their diversification potential?

If you are a regular reader of this blog you’ll notice that we don’t like bonds very much:

Add to that our series on safe withdrawal rates where we found that over a long retirement horizon bonds become much less attractive. In the Trinity Study with retirement horizons of 15-30 years, you can get away with a bond share as high as 50%. But over long horizons of 40-60 years in the FIRE community, the low expected returns of bonds can jeopardize the sustainability of the portfolio as we showed in part 2 of our series.

Has anything changed since last year? Are we now a bit more optimistic about bonds? After all, yields have risen. The 10-Year Treasury yield reached 2.6% earlier this year but has since fallen again to about 2.2-2.3% just last week.

Let’s look at the numbers in more detail

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Five Unfortunate Facts about Student Debt in America

Our first guest post on the ERN blog! Ever! Let me introduce Drew Cloud who runs the fascinating blog studentloans.net. Not too long ago, I remember U.S. student loans surpassing one trillion dollars (a one with 12 zeros!) for the first time. Now we’re at $1.4t and the amount just keeps growing. Make sure you check out Drew’s blog, too, especially the treasure trove of data on the topic. Take over, Drew!


A quick online search of student loan debt in America reveals the astonishing truth about the widespread, increasing expense of attending a college or university. Currently, more than 44 million borrowers have amassed over $1.4 trillion of student loan debt, and each year, the total continues to climb. While taking out student loans is now firmly embedded in the college experience for the majority of students, the picture remains bleak for borrowers. Here are five unfortunate facts about student loan debt in America to prove that point.

Student Loans Owned and Securitized, Outstanding. Source: Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

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The Ultimate Guide to Safe Withdrawal Rates – Part 13: Dynamic Stock-Bond Allocation through Prime Harvesting

Welcome back to the Safe Withdrawal Rate series. 13 installments already! As requested by many readers, both in the comments section and via email, I wanted to look into one intriguing method, called “Prime Harvesting” (PH) to dynamically shift the stock vs. bond allocation during retirement. Where does this post fit into the big picture? Recall that parts 1-8 of our series dealt with fixed withdrawals and fixed asset allocation (same % stocks and bonds throughout retirement). Make sure you check out our SSRN working paper, now downloaded over 1,000 times!

Parts 9-11 dealt with how to adjust the withdrawal amounts while keeping the asset allocation fixed (Guyton-Klinger, VPW, CAPE-based rules, etc.). Prime Harvesting does something completely different: Keep the withdrawal amount constant, but use a dynamic stock/bond asset allocation to (hopefully) squeeze out some extra withdrawal wiggle room; the Northwest corner in the diagram below. Almost uncharted territory in our series!

13 parts of Safe Withdrawal Rate research and where they all fit in.

Eventually, of course, we like to move to that Northeast corner: Dynamic withdrawals and Dynamic Asset Allocation. But let’s take it one step at a time! Let’s see what this Prime Harvesting is all about.

Let’s get cranking!Read More »

Our Net Worth (as of 3/31/2017)

We were surprised by how many personal finance bloggers publish their net worth numbers. J. Money over at RockstarFinance maintains the world’s first and only (to our knowledge) blogger directory and out of almost 1,000 bloggers, over 250 publish their net worth. So, should we publish ours? What good is all that stealth wealth business (see the excellent posts from Physician on FIRE and The Retirement Manifesto) if I post our net worth on the blog? Well, if someone were to find out who we actually are then with or without the precise number it would be pretty obvious that we’re well off. Whether our net worth is $500,000 or $5 million, what’s the difference, then? People get mugged on the street every day for much less. So we might as well show our numbers, right?

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You want to know our savings rate? Which one?

Last week, I read a nice post on Chief Mom Officer on the challenges of calculating savings rates. Right around that time I was also revisiting our 2017 budget and the projections of how much we are going to save this year. This is the last full calendar year before our planned retirement in early 2018 and it’s imperative that we stay on track and keep a high savings rate on the home stretch. But how high is our savings rate? Is there even a generally accepted way of calculating a savings rate? What are some of the pitfalls? We were surprised about how easy it is to mess up a calculation as seemingly trivial as the savings rate.

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The Ultimate Guide to Safe Withdrawal Rates – Part 12: Six reasons to be suspicious about the “Cash Cushion”

When we read about withdrawal strategies in early retirement, the cash cushion is often one crucial ingredient. Simply keep a little bit of cash sitting around on the sidelines, dig into that cash during an equity market drawdown and avoid selling equities until the next recovery. How much cash? Well, the Global Financial Crisis raged for “only” 18 months and the average garden-variety recession should last a year or even less. Thus, even if we assume that the equity market takes a little bit longer to recover it will take only very little cash and very little opportunity cost to achieve this. The whole issue of Sequence of Return Risk is solved! Who knew this was so easy? This is almost too good to be true! Well, unfortunately, it might be just that; too good to be true.

Here are our top six concerns about the cash cushion:Read More »

The end of CAPE Fear? What happens to the Shiller CAPE ratio when we roll out the weak 2008/09 earnings?

In last week’s post on dynamic withdrawal rates, one of the withdrawal rules we actually liked quite a bit was based on the Shiller CAPE ratio. One disadvantage of any such rule: The CAPE is at a high level by historical standards, 29.30 to be precise as of this morning (March 22, 2017). Today’s CAPE-based withdrawal rates will be very stingy, only around 3% per annum.

So, what to do about our CAPE Fear? One reader recently made an interesting observation: The CAPE uses ten-year rolling S&P500 earnings. So, once we roll out the low earnings from the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) in 2008/9, average earnings should move up again and the CAPE should come down. But by how much? Probably not below 20. Still, how much of a decline in the CAPE can we realistically expect: 10%? 20%? We have to start a new Excel Spreadsheet for that. Let’s get cranking!

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The Ultimate Guide to Safe Withdrawal Rates – Part 11: Six Criteria to Grade Withdrawal Rules

After a three week hiatus from our safe withdrawal rate research, welcome back to the next installment! If you liked our work so far make sure you head over to SSRN (Social Science Research Network) and download a pdf version. It’s a free 47-page (!) pdf working paper covering parts 1 through 8:

Our SSRN working paper

But let’s move on to part 11. In our previous posts (Part 9 and Part 10), we wrote about the Guyton-Klinger dynamic withdrawal rule and why we’re not great fans. Add to that our two-month-long bashing of the static 4% rule and people may wonder:

What withdrawal rule do we like?

True, we proposed a lower initial withdrawal rate (3.25-3.50% depending on future Social Security income), but that’s just the starting point. We have written here and elsewhere that this withdrawal rate is not set in stone. How do we go about adjusting the withdrawals in the future? How did different dynamic withdrawal rules perform in the past? How do we even measure how much we like a withdrawal rate rule? Today, we like to take a step back and gather a list of criteria by which we like to evaluate different (dynamic) withdrawal rules. Then simulate a bunch of withdrawal rules and assign grades.Read More »

Happy Birthday, Bull Market!

If you’re waiting for part 11 of the Safe Withdrawal Rate series, please be patient. It’s scheduled for next week and will dive deeper into variable withdrawal rate rules! For this week we have some other pressing business because tomorrow will be the eighth birthday of a very good friend of ours:

The Bull Market that started on March 9, 2009.

Almost eight years ago to the day we saw the trough of the stock market during the Global Financial Crisis when the S&P500 index closed at 676.53 and the Dow Jones Industrial at 6,547.05. The intra-day low on March 6 was even a bit lower – the very ominous 666 points in the S&P500. Everyone pretty much thought the world would end soon!

Screenshot from the WSJ.com on March 9, 2009: The Dow Jones hit a low (6,547.05) on March 9, 2009, and some pundits warned of a fall all the way to 4,000!

How bad was the March 2009 trough?

  • From its previous high in October 2007, the S&P 500 index fell by almost 57% and even with dividends reinvested the drop was a still staggering 55%.
  • This drop was even more severe and at a faster pace than the Dot-Com bust in the early 2000s, which was “only” a 49% drop over 2.5 years!
  • In March 2009, the S&P500 fell all the way back to its September 1996 (!) level, so it wiped out 12 years worth of equity gains.
S&P500 index 1996-2017: What a ride!

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