March 2023 Market and Moral Hazard Musings

March 16, 2023

After the tumultuous year 2022, it looked like 2023 was off to a great start. But banks threw a monkey wrench into the machine, with the S&P almost erasing the impressive YTD gains, several bank failures, and the prospect of a worldwide banking crisis that all changed. So folks contacted me and asked me if I could weigh in on this and some other issues.

Here are some of my musings about bank failures, government failures, moral hazard, and why the FDIC should eliminate the $250k limit and simply insure all deposits…

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The Basics of FIRE

March 10, 2023

After seven years of blogging in the personal finance and FIRE community, I realize that there’s one type of post I’ve always avoided: How to explain FIRE to a complete newbie. Until now, I’ve outsourced that task and simply referred to the Links Page. But where’s a good overview, all in a simple and comprehensive post to give a one-stop overview of what FIRE is and how one can pull it off? I’ve come across a lot of good information, but it’s all in bits and pieces and here and there. I’m not going to dump a reading/listening list of 20 different posts/shows on 18 different blogs/podcasts on someone new to the community. And my Safe Withdrawal Rate Series? Great stuff. But it’s also the deep end of the pool, and I would likely scare away any new recruits. That series is targeted at folks already retired or nearing early retirement.

So how would I explain or even pitch FIRE to someone new to the community? Let’s take a look…

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Discussing Retirement Bucket Strategies with Fritz Gilbert – SWR Series Part 55

January 25, 2023

Welcome to another part of my Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. Today’s topic: Bucket Strategies in retirement. As you know, my blogging buddy Fritz Gilbert has written extensively on this topic at his Retirement Manifesto blog, for example:

And likewise, I have written about my skepticism of bucket strategies in Part 48 of the series: “Retirement Bucket Strategies: Cheap Gimmick or the Solution to Sequence Risk?

Fritz’s most recent post on the Bucket Strategy started a lively back-and-forth on Twitter, and it seemed appropriate to pursue a more detailed discussion with more than 280 characters per answer in a “fight of the titans” blog post. So if you haven’t done so already, please check out our awesome discussion over on Fritz’s blog:

Is The Bucket Strategy A Cheap Gimmick?

The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we decided to craft a follow-up post here on my blog. We came up with two new questions, and we also need to address two major themes from the comments section in Part 1, specifically, the role of simplicity and behavioral biases in retirement planning.

So, let’s take a look…

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Passive income through option writing: Part 10 – Year 2022 Review

January 9, 2023

Happy New Year, everyone! I haven’t written any updates on my put-writing strategy in a while, so I thought this is an excellent opportunity to review the year 2022 performance and some of the changes I have made since my last write-up in late 2021.

Let’s take a look…

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A Post-Mortem for a Crypto Exchange: Is FTX worse than Bernie Madoff?

December 7, 2022

The number one story in the crypto world this year (or decade? or century?) must be the FTX crypto platform collapse. It’s mindblowing how quickly FTX went from one of the largest crypto exchanges with a 150-second Superbowl commercial in February 2022, naming rights to sports arenas, numerous A-list celebrity endorsements, etc., to become the pariah of the financial world in just one short week in November 2022.

And likewise, FTX’s founder Sam Bankman Fried (SBF), went from a modern-day J.P. Morgan to Bernie Madoff 2.0. Is it even appropriate to compare SBF with Bernie Madoff? Isn’t that a bit of an insult? You bet! It’s an insult to the late Bernie Madoff! Along several dimensions, the FTX collapse is actually more outrageous than Bernie’s decadelong Ponzi Scheme. Let’s take a look at why…

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Who’s afraid of a housing crash?

November 16, 2022

After the big jump in the stock market last week, everybody’s worries should be over, right? Well, maybe not. Real estate looks a bit shaky now! Prices have come down just a notch, but is there more to follow? Are the wheels coming off? Is the market going to crash? What’s the impact of the much higher mortgage interest rates? Are we going to see a replay of the 2008 housing crash? How did interest hikes impact the housing market back in the 1970s and 80s?

Lots of interesting questions! Let’s take a look…

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Could 2022 be worse than 2001?

November 2, 2022

In my post three weeks ago, I happily declared that the 4% Rule works again, thanks to the much more attractive equity and bond valuations. It’s always fun to deliver pleasant news. But keep in mind, everyone, that this refers to today’s retirees with their slightly depleted portfolios. But how about the folks who were unlucky enough to retire earlier this year in January 2022, when equities were at their all-time high? That cohort is off to a bad start, to put it mildly. Of course, it’s too early to tell what should have been the appropriate safe withdrawal rate for that cohort. We’re only less than a year into a multi-decade retirement. My recommendation back then would have been that due to the wildly expensive equity valuations and low bond yields one should have treaded a bit more cautiously. Maybe do 3.50-3.75% for a 30-year traditional retirement and 3.25% for a 50 or 60-year early retirement. And maybe raise that a little bit again depending on your personal circumstances, especially if you expect large supplemental cash flows from pensions and Social Security later in retirement, see my Google Simulation sheet (Part 28 of my SWR Series). Also notice also that with my estimates, I’m a bit more aggressive than the widely-cited Morningstar study recommending a 3.3% safe withdrawal rate for a 30-year retirement.

But recently, I’ve come across some rumblings that put into question all this cautious retirement planning. The reasoning goes as follows: First, the year 2000 retirement cohort actually did reasonably well with the 4% Rule. Second, the Shiller CAPE at the peak of the Dot-Com bubble was higher than in 2022. Bingo! The 4% Rule should do really well and even better for the 2022 cohort, right? I’m not so sure. That line of reasoning is flawed, for (at least) two reasons: First, the pre-Dot-Com-Crash retirement cohort experience wasn’t as pleasant as some people want to make it now. And second, I actually believe that the fundamentals in late 2021 and early 2022 were not very attractive at all. In fact, in some crucial dimensions, they were significantly worse than at the height of the Dot-Com bubble. Hence today’s post with the slightly scary and ominous title. Two days late for Halloween, I know.

Let’s take a look…

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The 4% Rule Works Again! An Update on Dynamic Withdrawal Rates based on the Shiller CAPE – SWR Series Part 54

October 12, 2022

As promised in the “Building a Better CAPE Ratio” post last week, here’s an update on how I like to use the CAPE ratio calculations in the context of my Safe Withdrawal Rate Research. I have studied CAPE-based withdrawal rates in the past (see Part 11, Part 18, Part 24, Part 25) and what I like about this approach is that we get guidance in setting the initial and then also subsequent withdrawal rates based on economic fundamentals. That’s a lot more scientific than the unconditional, naive 4% Rule. In today’s post, I want to specifically address a few recurring questions I’ve been getting about the CAPE and safe withdrawal rates:

  1. Can a retiree factor in supplemental cash flows like Social Security, pensions, etc. when calculating a dynamic CAPE-based withdrawal rate, just like you’d do in the SWR simulation tool Google Sheet (see Part 28 for more details)? Likewise, is it possible to raise the CAPE-based withdrawal rate if the retiree is happy with (partially) depleting the portfolio? You bet! I will show you how to implement those adjustments in the CAPE calculations. Most importantly, I updated my SWR Simulation Google Sheet to do all the messy calculations for you!
  2. With the recent market downturn, how much can we raise our CAPE-based dynamic withdrawal rate when we take into account the slightly better-looking equity valuations? Absolutely! It looks like, the 4% Rule might work again! Depending on your personal circumstances you might even be able to push the withdrawal rate to way above 4%, closer to 5%!
  3. What are the pros and cons of using a 100% equity portfolio and setting the withdrawal rate equal to the CAPE yield?

Let’s take a look…

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Building a Better CAPE Ratio

October 5, 2022

After a bit of a hiatus from the blog – thanks to our ambitious summer travel schedule – it’s time for another post. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the Shiller CAPE Ratio and if it’s still relevant. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll likely be familiar with the CAPE concept, but just as a refresher, Prof. Robert Shiller, economist and Nobel Laureate, came up with the cool idea of calculating a Price-Earnings (PE) ratio based not just on 1-year trailing earnings, which can be very volatile, but on a longer-term average to iron out the corporate earnings fluctuations over the business cycle. Hence the name Cyclically-Adjusted Price Earnings (CAPE) Ratio. If we use a 10-year moving average of inflation-adjusted earnings as the denominator in the PE ratio, we get a measure of market valuations that’s more informative in many instances. For example, historically the CAPE ratio has been significantly negatively correlated with subsequent equity returns. It’s not useful for the very short-term equity outlook, but over longer horizons, say 10+ years, the CAPE ratio has been highly informative. Especially retirees should take notice because your retirement success hinges a lot on those first 10 or so retirement years due to Sequence of Return Risk. In fact, all failures of the 4% Rule occurred when the CAPE was above 20! A high initial CAPE ratio signals that retirees should probably be more cautious with their withdrawal rate!

But the CAPE has been elevated for such a long time, people wonder if this measure is still relevant. In the comments section, people ask me all the time what kind of adjustments I would perform to “fix” the CAPE. Can we make the Shiller CAPE more comparable over time, to account for different corporate tax environments and stock buybacks and/or dividend payout ratios over the decades? Yes, I will present my ideas here today. And even better, I will post regular updates (potentially daily!) in my Google Drive for everyone to access for free.

So, what do I find? The adjustments certainly lower the CAPE, but don’t get your hopes too high. Even after the adjustments, the CAPE is still a bit elevated today! Let’s take a look at the details…

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Recession Or Not?

August 5, 2022

Last week we got the Q2 GDP numbers and the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) confirmed that GDP has now declined for two consecutive quarters. What do I make of that? Are we in a recession now? Since several people asked me to comment on this issue, here are my thoughts…

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