Nervous about sky-high stock prices? Five ways to cope with “CAPE Fear”

Another month, another record close for the major stock indices on November 30. How long can this go on? Is this a bubble? The Shiller CAPE Ratio certainly looks “bubbly,” now that it’s solidly above 30, see the chart below. It’s almost as high as in September 1929, right before the crash. And significantly above the 2007 peak right before one of the stock crashes in recent history. Should we scale back our equity positions now? It sounds tempting now that we are so close to retirement. As of Wednesday morning, while doing the final edits it definitely looks as though stocks are off to a bumpy start in December!

CapeChartNov2017
Shiller CAPE: Closing in on the 1929 peak!

But hold your horses! Let’s look at some of the reasons not to throw in the towel yet…

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Ask Big Ern: A Safe Withdrawal Rate Case Study for “Mr. Corporate Refugee”

Welcome! It’s time for another Safe Withdrawal Rate case study! Please click here for the other seven installments. Today’s volunteer is “Mr. Corporate Refugee,” not his real name, obviously. But as the name suggests he is ready to pull the plug on the corporate grind. He and his wife did everything right to prepare for early retirement. Pay off the mortgage on their house (as recommended by yours truly) and accumulate a nice nest egg close to seven figures. The only problem: they reside in a high-cost-of-living area in California and more than half of their net worth is tied up in their primary residence. Even a portfolio as large as $1 million will likely not be sufficient to cover expenses in your current location. What to do now? I’ll propose two routes to early retirement. Move to a cheaper location, a “secret” low-income-tax paradise – more on that below, and be able to retire now. Or work for only four more years and retire in the current location. Let’s go through the math…

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See that house over there? It’s an investment!

Few topics in personal finance and in the early retirement community stir up emotions as nicely as the pros and cons of homeownership. Some folks in the FIRE community are renters and swear by it and others are very happy homeowners and/or real estate investors. Neither side is wrong. Those with more nomadic lifestyles probably prefer renting and the those with kids in school and strong ties to the local community are apparently happy homeowners. Normally, the two sides just coexist peacefully but discussions normally get heated and sparks fly when one side accuses the other of doing something wrong. If I had to distill the arguments of the two sides into bumper stickers it would be:

  • Homeowners: Renting is just throwing away money!
  • Renters: A house is not an investment at all. Or it’s a terrible investment!

But of course, both claims are just that: bumper stickers. And both claims are demonstrably false and/or crude generalizations! Let’s look more into the math of the rent vs. own tradeoff…Read More »

Ask Big Ern: A Safe Withdrawal Rate Case Study for “Ms. Almost FI”

Welcome to a new installment of our “Ask Big Ern” series with case studies on safe withdrawal calculations. This is already the seventh part, see here for the other parts of the series! Today’s volunteer is Ms. Almost FI and that’s not her real name, of course. She’s planning to retire early in 2019 and this causes a lot of anxiety: Does she have enough money? When should she take her pensions? What about long-term care insurance? All very valid questions, all impossible to answer without a careful customized analysis!Read More »

The Shockingly Simple/Complicated/Random Math Behind Saving For Early Retirement

One of my favorite Mr. Money Mustache articles is the “Shockingly Simple Math” post. It details how frugality is able to slash the time it takes to reach Financial Independence (FI). That’s because for every additional dollar we save we reduce the time to FI in two ways: 1) we grow the portfolio faster when we save more and 2) we reduce the savings target in retirement by consuming less.

That got me thinking: Is the math really that simple? How sensitive is the savings horizon to different rates of returns? What happens if we use historical returns instead of one specific expected return assumption? How important is the asset allocation (stock vs. bond weights) on the path to early retirement? How much does the equity valuation regime (e.g. the initial CAPE ratio when starting to save) matter?

So, in typical Big ERN fashion, I take an ostensibly simple problem and make it more complicated!

Let’s get the computer warmed up and start calculating…

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This fund returned over 100% year-to-date. I’m still not buying it!

I was hoping to tell you about a great new investment I researched recently. It’s an ETN (ETN=Exchange-Traded Note, similar but not identical to an Exchange-Trades Fund) with a phenomenal track record; year-to-date (as of October 20 when writing this) it’s up 141%! Since inception (November 30, 2010) it’s up by 1,079%, over 40% annualized compound return! But, as you can see from the title, I’m still skeptical!

Why do I even look at some exotic ETN/ETF? Aren’t we all supposed to be index investors? Buy your VTSAX and be done? Nope! I consider myself an index investor with an open mind. It’s very hard to outperform the index by picking individual stocks, but there are many other ways to deviate from index investing. For example, I like real estate investing and options trading. In both cases, it’s not really about beating the VTSAX but I like the return profiles and the diversification benefits.

So, back to that amazing ETN. The ticker is XIV and here’s the cumulative return chart since 2010. $100 would have grown to almost $1,200!

XIVstudy Chart02
XIV (inverse VIX ETN) and SPY (S&P500 index ETF) returns. 11/30/2010=100.

That looks like a pretty impressive run. It definitely got my attention! But after doing some more detailed analysis I realized this ETN is not for me. At least not right now. But what’s not to love about 1,000% return since 2010, when the S&P500 returned “only” 150% since then? That’s the topic of today’s blog post…Read More »

Ask Big Ern: A Safe Withdrawal Rate Case Study for “Mr. Corporate”

Welcome to the sixth installment of our “Ask Big Ern” series where I perform case studies in safe withdrawal calculations. See here for the other parts of the series.

Let’s make this Geographic Arbitrage Week because after Monday’s guest post on “Geographic Arbitrage,” I will now feature a case study with the same theme! Meet Mr. Corporate (not his real name) who reached out a while ago for advice on whether he’s ready to leave the corporate life. Just looking at his numbers I knew immediately that there is no way he and his wife can retire in their current location. But Mr. C found that moving to another country with lower living expenses will cut years off the time it takes to reach FIRE. And we’re talking about a country in Europe (he wouldn’t mention which one), with a high quality of life, nice climate, and a good healthcare system! Can he retire now? Let’s look at Mr. C.’s numbers…

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Guest Post: Why geographic arbitrage is so important to retire early and what you can do to about it

Today we feature a Guest Post from my blogging buddy Benjamin Davis. A very exciting and important topic: Geographic arbitrage! Benjamin holds a Ph.D. and decided to become a landlord to retire early. He writes on From cents to Retirement, a blog about early retirement and real estate investing. He also wrote the book My strategy to retire early and runs a real estate and investment consulting business in Portugal. His goal is to build a real estate portfolio with 100 units before he turns 35 and turn From Cents To Retirement into a reference blog for early retirement through Real Estate investments, while he inspires others with his own story. Take it away, Ben!

I was born in Portugal and divided my childhood between Portugal and Italy. I lived in Canada and Germany after that. My family is Canadian and Italian so you can imagine how much I have been exposed to different cultures.

When I decided I was going to retire early, I needed to select the country I was going to live in. I decided to move to a country that would allow me to take advantage of geographic arbitrage, which is defined as the practice of taking advantage of different prices and tax rates in different markets.

There are multiple reasons why I selected Portugal. It would be very easy to talk about the food, the weather, the overall quality of life, etc. But this post is to talk about the financial aspects of this decision.Read More »

The Ultimate Guide to Safe Withdrawal Rates – Part 21: Why we will not have a mortgage in early retirement

Welcome back to the newest installment in our Safe Withdrawal Rate Series! If you are new to our site please go back to Part 1 to start from the beginning. And there are quite a few new visitors these days. That’s because our small blog is one of the finalists in the “Blog of the Year” category at the upcoming 2017 Plutus Awards. How awesome is that? Thank you to all of our faithful readers and followers for supporting and nominating Early Retirement Now!

But back to the topic at hand. It’s been on my mind for a long time. It’s relevant to our own situation and it’s come up in discussions on other blogs, in our case study series and in numerous questions and comments here on the ERN blog:

Should we have a mortgage in Early Retirement?

The case for having a mortgage is pretty simple: You can get a 30-year mortgage for about 4% right now. Probably even slightly below 4% when you shop around. Equities will certainly beat that nominal rate of return over the next 30 years. Open and shut case! End of the discussion, right? Well, not so fast! As we have seen in our posts on Sequence of Return Risk (Part 14 and Part 15), the average return is less relevant than the sequence of returns. Having a mortgage in retirement will exacerbate your sequence of return risk because you are frontloading your withdrawals early on during retirement to pay for the mortgage; not just interest but also principal payments. In other words, if we are unlucky and experience low returns early during our retirement (the definition of sequence risk) we’d withdraw more shares when equity prices are down. The definition of sequence risk!

How badly will a mortgage mess with sequence risk and safe withdrawal rates? That’s the topic for today’s post…Read More »