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«David Blanchett, CFA, CFP® Head of Retirement Research Morningstar Investment Management Michael Finke, Ph.D., CFP® Professor and Ph.D. Coordinator ...»

-- [ Page 1 ] --

Low Bond Yields and Safe Portfolio

Withdrawal Rates

David Blanchett, CFA, CFP®

Head of Retirement Research

Morningstar Investment Management

Michael Finke, Ph.D., CFP®

Professor and Ph.D. Coordinator at

the Department of Personal Financial

Planning at Texas Tech University

Wade D. Pfau, Ph.D., CFA

Professor of Retirement Income

at the American College

January 21, 2013

Morningstar Investment Management

Executive Summary

3Yields on government bonds are well below historical averages. These low yields will have a significant impact for retirees, who tend to invest heavily in bonds, because portfolio returns in the earliest years of retirement have a larger impact on the likelihood that a retirement income strategy will succeed than returns later in retirement; this is known as sequence risk.

3The majority of research on sustainable withdrawal strategies has used a stochastic (Monte Carlo) simulation process based on long-term averages, where the expected return of an asset class is the same for each year of the simulation. While this approach is reasonable when markets are near long-term averages, we believe it is less useful when there is a significant and sustained deviation such as the current low bond yield market.

3In this paper we introduce a model that takes into account current bond yields and allows them to “drift” toward a higher value during retirement using an autoregressive model based primarily on historical relationships between asset classes. This approach can better replicate the actual bond returns a current or near retiree can expect during retirement both now and in the future.

3Using this model, we find a significant reduction in “safe” initial withdrawal rates, with a 4% initial real withdrawal rate having approximately a 50% probability of success over a 30-year period.

3We find a retiree who wants a 90% probability of achieving a retirement income goal with a 30-year time horizon and a 40% equity portfolio would only have an initial withdrawal rate of 2.8%. Such a low withdrawal rate would require 42.9% more savings if the retiree wanted to pull the same dollar value out of the portfolio annually as he or she would get with a 4% withdrawal rate from a smaller portfolio.

Page 2 of 16 ©2013 Morningstar. All rights reserved. This document includes proprietary material of Morningstar. Reproduction, transcription or other use, by any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Morningstar is prohibited. The Morningstar Investment Management division is a division of Morningstar and includes Morningstar Associates, Ibbotson Associates, and Morningstar Investment Services, which are registered investment advisors and wholly owned subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc. The Morningstar name and logo are registered marks of Morningstar.

Low Bond Yields and Safe Portfolio Withdrawal Rates Bond yields today are well below historical averages. This has significant implications because portfolio returns in the earliest years of retirement have a larger impact on the likelihood that a retirement income strategy will succeed than returns later in retirement. The majority of research on sustainable withdrawal strategies has used a stochastic (Monte Carlo) simulation process based on long-term averages, where the expected return of an asset class is the same for each year of the simulation. While this approach is reasonable when markets are near long-term averages, we believe it is less useful when there is a significant and sustained deviation such as the current low bond yield market.

In this paper, we introduce a model that takes into account current bond yields and allows them to “drift” toward a higher value during retirement using an autoregressive model. This approach can better replicate the actual bond returns a current or near retiree can expect during retirement both now and in the future.

Using this model, we find that a 4% initial real withdrawal rate has approximately a 50% probability of success over a 30-year period. This success rate is materially lower than past studies and has significant implications on the likelihood of success for retirees today as well as how much those nearing retirement may need to have saved to ensure a successful retirement.

Bond Yields Today These are trying times for bond investors. The yield on 10-year government bonds is approximately 1.8% and the yield for the High Quality Market Corporate Bond Yield Curve at 10 years is approximately 3.2%.

These are both considerably below long-term averages.

Low bond yields have important implications for different types of investors, especially older investors, who tend to invest more conservatively than younger investors. This concept is depicted visually in Figure 1, which includes the median equity allocation for household’s financial assets (FIN), given different asset levels and ages.

–  –  –

A high allocation to low-yielding bonds limits a retiree’s ability to generate income from retirement wealth.

Unfortunately for today’s retiree, there is a very strong historical relationship between bond yields and the future returns realized by bond investors, even over prolonged periods. Figure 2 demonstrates the relationship between bond yields and the future average annualized total return of bonds using the Ibbotson Intermediate-Term Bond Index.





Figure 2: Relationship Between Bond Yields and Future Average Annualized 10 Year Bond Return Average Annual 10 Year Future Compounded Bond Return (%)

–  –  –

The historical relationship between bond yields in one period and the future average annualized total return of bonds has been quite strong, with a coefficient of determination (R²) of 92.03%. This means that the current yield on bonds can describe 92.03% of the average annual 10-year future compounded bond total return. If we assume a current bond yield of 1% (which is slightly higher than the yield on the Ibbotson Page 4 of 16 ©2013 Morningstar. All rights reserved. This document includes proprietary material of Morningstar. Reproduction, transcription or other use, by any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Morningstar is prohibited. The Morningstar Investment Management division is a division of Morningstar and includes Morningstar Associates, Ibbotson Associates, and Morningstar Investment Services, which are registered investment advisors and wholly owned subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc. The Morningstar name and logo are registered marks of Morningstar.

Intermediate-term Government Bond Index as of December 2012), the average annualized bond total return over the next 10 years is expected to be 1.8% using the linear regression model in Figure 2. This return is almost 4% less than the 5.5% average annual return on the Ibbotson Intermediate-Term Government Bond Index from 1930 to 2011.

While rising bond yields would result in higher returns for new bond investors, it would negatively affect those currently holding bonds as the values of their low-yield bonds decline. One method to approximate the impact of a change in interest rates on the price of bonds is to multiply the bond’s duration by the change in interest rates times negative one. For example, if interest rates increase by 2%, a bond with a duration of five years (the approximate current duration of the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index) would decrease by 10%.

The impact on bonds with longer durations would be even more extreme.

While there is a negative relationship between bond yield changes and bond returns, there is also a slight negative relationship between the change in bond yields and the return on stocks. Figure 3 includes the real (inflation-adjusted) annual stock and bond returns for different historical changes in interest rates. While the R² between changes in bond yields and the subsequent real return on stocks has been relatively small (5.91%), there is still a negative relationship. This negative relationship implies stock returns may be lower in the foreseeable future as well.

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-40

-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4

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Why Return Sequence Matters Retirement income portfolios are sensitive to poor portfolio returns early in retirement - a concept known as sequence risk. Figure 4 illustrates differences in the real growth of a portfolio with an initial balance of $1,000, assuming a 5% initial withdrawal rate when early returns are favorable and unfavorable.

–  –  –

1,000 For the Forward scenario in Figure 4, the individual is assumed to retire on December 31, 1971. By the end of the 24th year (December 31, 1995), the portfolio would be exhausted and no longer able to fund the income goal of the retiree. If, however, we use the same real returns but assume the retiree would experience them in reverse (the Backward scenario), the portfolio would still have a healthy balance (in fact, higher than the initial investment) by the end of the 24th year. Although the average annual return of the simulations is identical, the outcomes are very different.

The vast majority of models used to determine sustainable initial withdrawal rates from a portfolio use a single set of long-term values (e.g., returns, standard deviation, correlations) for the entire simulation.

The values are either historical (e.g., based on a set of indices) or forward looking. The obvious problem with this approach is that it assumes the returns an investor is able to achieve are equally likely over the entire retirement period. In other words, the returns from one period to another do not show momentum or serial correlation. While this may generally be the case for equities, it is not the case with fixed income securities.

While the average annual arithmetic return on the Ibbotson Intermediate-Term Government Bond Index from 1930 to 2011 was 5.5%, the interest rate available on an intermediate-term government bond today is closer to 2.0%, which is 3.5% lower than the historic average. An analysis that assumes an average bond return of 5.5% in the first year (with a 6.5% standard deviation) will significantly overestimate early retirement portfolio returns.

The approach taken in this paper assumes that bond yields will eventually revert toward their long-term averages, but reflects the actual yields available to investors today for the first years of the simulation. This makes the analysis somewhat time sensitive (because bond yields are always changing), but provides a better estimate of the likely future bond returns available to investors within the context of interest rates today.

Research on Sustainable Withdrawal Rates For most practitioners, the methodology for generating a safe retirement income from an investment portfolio was first addressed in Bengen (1994). Like most of the so-called safe withdrawal rate research that has folPage 6 of 16 ©2013 Morningstar. All rights reserved. This document includes proprietary material of Morningstar. Reproduction, transcription or other use, by any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Morningstar is prohibited. The Morningstar Investment Management division is a division of Morningstar and includes Morningstar Associates, Ibbotson Associates, and Morningstar Investment Services, which are registered investment advisors and wholly owned subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc. The Morningstar name and logo are registered marks of Morningstar.

lowed, Bengen uses an outcomes metric similar to Roy’s (1952) Safety-First rule, which uses the probability of achieving a goal over some time period to define the optimal withdrawal amount from a portfolio.

The term “initial withdrawal rate” is commonly used within portfolio withdrawal strategy research to describe the initial percentage withdrawn from the portfolio. This withdrawal amount is assumed to increase thereafter by inflation. For example, an initial portfolio with a $1 million balance and 4 percent initial withdrawal would yield $40,000 in the first year. If inflation was 3 percent during the first year, the withdrawal for the second year would be $41,200 ($40,000 * 1.03 = $41,200). This inflation adjusted withdrawal rate is deducted from the portfolio balance until retirement assets are exhausted. This represents a static approach to portfolio income because the income amount is determined initially (upon retirement) and is not revisited.

Bengen (1994) recommends a 4 percent initial withdrawal rate from a portfolio made up of 50 percent stocks and 50 percent intermediate-term treasuries, is sustainable for a minimum of 33 years for retirees age 60–65.

Bengen (2006) later coined the term SAFEMAX to describe the maximum inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate that would allow for at least 30 years of withdrawals without exhausting one’s savings during all of the rolling periods available in the historical data.

Later research by Cooley, Hubbard, and Waltz (1998), often called the Trinity study, generally confirmed Bengen’s findings but increased the scope to different period lengths, initial withdrawal rates and types, and asset allocations. For example, Cooley, Hubbard, and Waltz (1998) note that if a retiree seeks a 75 percent probability of success, a 4-to-5 percent initial withdrawal would be a good place to start (assuming portfolios of 50 percent or more composed of large-company common stocks using historical data from 1926-1995).

These findings have been affirmed by other research such as Milevsky, Ho, and Roberson (1997) and Jarrett and Stringfellow (2000), among others.

Asset allocation can significantly affect a portfolio’s ability to sustain a given cash flow during retirement.

Research by Ervin, Filer, and Smolira (2005), Tezel (2004), Cooley et al. (2003), and Kaplan (2005) demonstrate that portfolios with lower equity allocations tend to generate higher probabilities of ruin (in particular over retirement periods). These findings flow primarily from the use of historical market return averages in a Monte Carlo setting, since returns are generally assumed to be stationary and equities are assumed to have a higher return than bonds. Pfau (2011) used more forward-looking estimates when determining sustainable withdrawal rates and notes significant differences in the safety of different withdrawal rates.



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