The Yield Illusion (or Delusion?): Another Follow-Up! (SWR Series Part 31)

Welcome to the follow-up to the follow-up post on the “Yield Illusion.” Again, here’s the context: a few weeks ago, I wrote a post (SWR Series Part 29) on why I don’t believe that chasing higher yields is necessarily a good hedge against Sequence of Return Risk. A very well-received post! It was picked up by as one of their Best of the Web in February, it was featured on RockstarFinance on Monday, and we had a great discussion in the comments section. So I wrote a follow-up post on Monday (SWR Part 30) and since that post was running way too long already, here’s some more material that got cut; some more thoughts on my asset class outlook, international vs. U.S. stocks, dividend vs. value stocks, and more. So let’s get rolling…

Continue reading “The Yield Illusion (or Delusion?): Another Follow-Up! (SWR Series Part 31)”


The Yield Illusion Follow-Up (SWR Series Part 30)

Welcome to a new installment of the Safe Withdrawal Series! The last post on the Yield Illusion (Part 29) was definitely a discussion starter! 140 comments and counting! Just as a quick recap, fellow bloggers at Millenial Revolution claim that the solution to Sequence Risk is to simply invest in a portfolio with a high dividend yield. Use the dividend income to pay for your retirement budget, sit back and relax until the market recovers (it always does, right?!) and, boo-yah, we’ve solved the whole Sequence Risk issue! Right? Wrong! As I showed in my last post, it’s not that simple. The Yield Shield would have been an unmitigated failure if applied during and after the 2008/9 Great Recession. So, not only did the Yield Shield not solve Sequence Risk. The Yield Shield made it worse! And, as promised, here’s a followup post to deal with some of the open issues, including:

  • A more detailed look at the reasons for the Yield Shield Failure over the past 10 years (attribution analysis).
  • Past performance is no guarantee for future returns. How confident am I that the Yield Shield will fail again in the future?
  • Dividend Yield vs. Value
  • Are non-US investors doomed? Probably not!

So, let’s look at the details:

Continue reading “The Yield Illusion Follow-Up (SWR Series Part 30)”

The Yield Illusion: How Can a High-Dividend Portfolio Exacerbate Sequence Risk? (SWR Series Part 29)

Welcome, everyone, to another installment of the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series! See here for Part 1, but make sure you also check out Part 26: Ten things the “Makers” of the 4% Rule don’t want you to know for a more high-level, less technical intro to my views on Safe Withdrawal Strategies! Today’s topic is something that has come up frequently in reader inquiries, whether through email or in the blog post comments. Let me paraphrase what people normally write:

“Here’s how I can guarantee my withdrawal strategy won’t fail: I simply hold a portfolio with a high enough yield! Now the regular cash flow covers my expenses. Or at least enough of my expenses that I never have to worry much about Sequence Risk, i.e., liquidating principal at depressed prices.”

I’ve seen several of those in the last few weeks and it’s a nice “excuse” to write a blog post about this very important topic. So, what do you think I normally reply? Want to take a guess? It’s one of the two below:

A: Oh, my God, you got me there. This is indeed the solution to once and for all, totally and completely eliminate Sequence Risk! I will immediately take down my Safe Withdrawal series and live happily ever after.

B: Your suggestion sounds really good in theory but there are serious flaws with this method in practice. It will likely be no solution to Sequence Risk. And in the worst case, your “solution” may even exacerbate Sequence Risk!

Anyone? Of course, it’s option B. It sounds like a great idea in theory but it has very serious flaws once you look at the numbers in detail. Let’s take a look…

Continue reading “The Yield Illusion: How Can a High-Dividend Portfolio Exacerbate Sequence Risk? (SWR Series Part 29)”

How can a drop in the stock market possibly be good for investors?

I hope everybody checked out the ChooseFI Roundup episode in early January, where I talked with Jonathan and Brad about the recent stock market volatility. They invited me for a short appearance on their Friday show after reading my piece from two weeks ago. That post was on how the recent stock market volatility will probably not obliterate the FIRE community. One issue that came up is the potential for people on their FIRE path to actually benefit (!) from the drop in the stock market. How can one possibly benefit from a drop in the stock market? It’s certainly not a guarantee. It depends on the personal circumstances and on the nature of the stock market drop! Generally speaking:

  • How permanent or how transitory is the drop in the market? If your portfolio dropped because one of the equity or bond holdings went bankrupt (or you were a victim of the OptionSellers meltdown) then that’s not something to cheer about. It’s about as permanent as it gets. Not good for the investor! But frequently, the market drops without much of a change in fundamentals. Be it a “flash crash” that reverses within a few hours or even minutes or the (likely) overreaction of the stock market drop in December, one could argue that since nothing (or not much) changed in the fundamentals (GDP growth, earnings growth, etc.) the drop may be only temporary and will eventually revert to the mean. Or even during a recession (the definition of weaker fundamentals!) stocks often overreact on the downside and then stage a strong comeback, i.e., return expectations going forward could be higher than long-term average returns. In other words, that paper loss you see now could be at least cushioned by higher returns on your additional savings going forward. And if this admittedly uncertain advantage of higher expected returns is large enough and over time more than offsets the paper loss then we could be looking at a net gain.
  • How far along are you on your path to FIRE? The further along you are the more damage a bear market will cause even if you can expect a bounce in future expected returns from a transitory shock to the market. On the other hand, if you’re just starting out saving for retirement and all you lost is a few hundred or thousand bucks in your 401k/IRA and you still got 10-15 years ahead of you then you might benefit from the drop!

So, in other words, if the loss in your existing portfolio is offset by enough of a rise in future expected returns, then a drop in the stock market can be a net positive. Seems pretty obvious from a qualitative point of view. But quantitatively? How early is early along the FIRE journey? How much of a rise in expected returns do we need to make this work? Even if there isn’t a net benefit, how much of the paper loss is at least cushioned by higher future returns? These are all inherently quantitative questions. This blog post is an attempt to shine some light on the math behind the tradeoffs…

Continue reading “How can a drop in the stock market possibly be good for investors?”

Will FIRE turn into “Fake Independence Rapidly Evaporating?” Relax! We’re going to be fine, despite the recent stock market volatility!

Happy New Year! Geez, are you all glad that 2018 is over? What a rough fourth quarter! It started quite harmlessly with Suze Orman poking fun at the FIRE movement. Not a big deal, we hit back and even had some fun with it. But the quarter ended with Mr. Market taking our stock portfolio to the woodshed. The S&P500 Total Return Index (dividends reinvested) was down 19.36% at some point (closing value Oct 3 to closing on Dec 24, total return). Not only was the fourth quarter brutal on your stock portfolio, but the FIRE movement has also become the target of continued ridicule. It looks like FIRE critics have come up with some cool and creative new acronyms:

  • FIRE = Foolish Idealist Returns to Employer (MarketWatch)
  • DIRE = Delay Inherit Retire Expire (Financial Samurai)
  • And even I made up one, just for fun, see the title. Just to get everyone’s attention!

But how serious are the gloom and doom predictions? I posted two months ago why I’m not worried yet but that was before the precipitous drop in stocks. Has anything changed now? Readers have asked me that and I have asked myself what the recent equity plunge will do to the FIRE movement. So, that’s what I will do in today’s post. First, my take on the wild equity market moves and then why I think that this is obviously not the end of the FIRE movement. Continue reading “Will FIRE turn into “Fake Independence Rapidly Evaporating?” Relax! We’re going to be fine, despite the recent stock market volatility!”

The Ten Commandments of Whole Life Insurance

Whole Life Insurance has a bad reputation in the FIRE community! Does anyone here have a Whole Life Insurance (WLI) policy? Anyone? It seems so toxic that even if anyone had a WLI policy they’d be afraid to admit it for fear of ridicule. I only recently “came out of the closet” when I was chatting with folks at the April CampFI over lunch and the topic came up. People were astonished: Huh? Big ERN has a WLI policy? And his wife, too? Isn’t WLI only for naïve and unsophisticated folks that fall for the insurance salespeople’s pitches? Sometimes! But just like many all other issues in personal finance, there’s rarely a simple, clear-cut and universally applicable recommendation. I would argue that WLI is not a bad option if certain conditions are satisfied! And it’s a loooong laundry list of issues to consider and conditions to satisfy. I came up with no less than ten things to consider and in an absolutely shameful, “clickbaity” kind of way, I call them the Ten Commandments of Whole Life Insurance.

Let’s take a look… Continue reading “The Ten Commandments of Whole Life Insurance”

An Updated Google Sheet DIY Withdrawal Rate Toolbox (SWR Series Part 28)

Since I first published Part 7 of the SWR Series with the accompanying Google Sheet in early 2017, I’ve made several changes and enhancements. Sometimes without much explanation or documentation. So, it would be nice to do a quick update and itemize the changes since then. Whether this is the first time using the toolbox or you check it out again after more than a year, I hope you all find the new features useful… Continue reading “An Updated Google Sheet DIY Withdrawal Rate Toolbox (SWR Series Part 28)”

Why is Retirement Harder than Saving for Retirement? (SWR Series Part 27)

Welcome back! It’s time to add another piece to the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series (see here for Part 1). After churning out over 20 parts in this series so far I wanted to sit back and reflect on some of the things I’ve learned from my research. And something occurred to me: Withdrawal strategies in retirement aren’t easy! Contrast that with Mr. Money Mustache’s Shockingly Simple Math of Early Retirement post and Jim Collins’ Equity Series that was rewritten into a book The Simple Path to Wealth. Very influential posts and they are among my favorites, too!  So, naturally, I agree 100% that saving for retirement is relatively simple!

Saving for Early/traditional retirement: three simple ingredients!

Disclaimer: Saving for retirement with a savings rate of 50% or more as is common in the FIRE crowd requires a great deal of discipline. Especially over a 10+ year time span. It’s not easy! Only the math behind it is simple! It’s a bit like dieting; conceptually very simple – healthy diet plus exercise – but it’s not that easy to implement and stick to the plan!

Then, shouldn’t retirement be just as simple? Why am I making everything so complicated? I’m approaching 30 parts in this series, many of them with heavy-duty math and simulations and still a few topics on my to-do list! Am I making everything more complicated than necessary? Am I just trying to show off my math skills? Of course not! Just because saving for retirement is relatively simple it doesn’t mean we can just extrapolate that simplicity to the withdrawals during retirement. And that’s what today’s post is about: I like to go through some of the fundamental factors that make withdrawing money more complicated than saving for retirement. Think of this as an introduction to the SWR Series that I would have written back then if I had known what I know now! 🙂 Ironically, some of the issues that make saving for retirement so simple are the very reason that withdrawing during retirement is more challenging! So, let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading “Why is Retirement Harder than Saving for Retirement? (SWR Series Part 27)”

A Reader Case Study: Whole Life Insurance

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a great 4th of July Holiday (U.S. Independence Day for non-U.S. readers)! Before we get started I have a small favor to ask: At the upcoming FinCon in Orlando in September, it’s time again for the Annual Plutus Awards. As you may recall, last year, my small blog was one of the finalists in the “Blog of the Year” category, thanks to the support of the many faithful readers. If you like what I’m doing here on the blog please nominate the ERN blog again in the relevant categories! Please head to the Plutus Award Nomination site and enter your ballot! You can nominate up to three choices per category and you don’t even have to fill out all categories. Only one submission per IP address, please! Thanks in advance for your support!

Today I have a case study about whole life insurance. Not the most popular investment vehicle among the FIRE enthusiasts, see, for example, an excellent summary of the disadvantages of Whole Life by White Coat Investor (though, for full disclosure, I don’t agree with all of his claims and calculations). But let’s face it: a lot of folks have policies and now wonder what to do about them. Here’s a case study about the tradeoffs when considering either cashing out the policy or keeping it intact. Let’s look at the numbers…

Continue reading “A Reader Case Study: Whole Life Insurance”

Ten things the “Makers” of the 4% Rule don’t want you to know (SWR Series Part 26)

For today’s post, I thought it was time to add another installment to the Safe Withdrawal Rate Series. 25 posts already! What have I learned after so many posts? Well, I started out as a skeptic about the so-called “4% Rule” and I thought it might be the time to poke a little bit of fun at the “makers of the 4% Rule.” Just to be clear, this post and the title are a bit tongue-in-cheek. Obviously, the “makers” of the 4% Rule, the academics, financial planners and bloggers that have popularized the rule aren’t part of any conspiracy to keep us in the dark. Sometimes I have the feeling they are still in the dark themselves! So here are my top ten things the Makers of the 4% Rule don’t want you to know… Continue reading “Ten things the “Makers” of the 4% Rule don’t want you to know (SWR Series Part 26)”