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Is the 60:40 portfolio really dead?

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Are you sick and tired of hearing that the 60% stock and 40% bond portfolio is dead?

That would be understandable. This portfolio’s obituaries have been written for nearly a decade, and yet it keeps on delivering. Last year was no exception: It produced a gain of 14.1%, assuming the stock portion was invested in the S&P 500
SPX,
-1.93%

 and the bond portion in an index fund benchmarked to the U.S. investment grade bond market.

To be sure, this portfolio’s gain last year was well above the average of the last 150 years. So it would be unrealistic to expect a repeat. And it is true that interest rates are low, creating stiff headwinds for the bond portion of the portfolio going forward. Should retirees continue to have faith in the 60:40 portfolio?

That question in effect boils down to whether retirees should have a healthy allocation to bonds, since no one has suggested that the stock portion be eliminated. And I think retirees should not be too quick to give up on bonds, for a variety of reasons.

Stock-bond correlations are low when rates are low

For starters, it’s helpful to stand back and review why retirees are urged to have a healthy bond allocation in the first place. One of the most important reasons is the low correlation between stocks and bonds, because of which bonds are likely to perform well when stocks are performing poorly (and vice versa). A 60% stock and 40% bond portfolio will therefore incur much lower volatility, or risk, that an all-stock portfolio.

This background is important because the stock-bond correlation tends to be lower when interest rates are low. Like now, in other words, as you can see in the accompanying chart. Far from suggesting that low rates are a reason to give up on the 60:40 portfolio, the historical data suggests that the portfolio is more useful than ever.

To be sure, stock-bond correlations aren’t always low. They likely would rise in coming years if inflation were to heat up, since that would most likely lead to the Fed tightening its monetary policy—which, in turn, would be negative for both stocks and bonds. AQR this week released its latest analysis of the stock-bond correlation, and it concluded that “on balance, given the continued strong anchoring of inflation expectations, the negative stock-bond correlation also seems likely to continue over the medium term, though episodes of higher correlation are also possible.”

Bonds aren’t necessarily a bad idea when rates are headed higher

Another reason not to give up on the 60:40 portfolio is that bonds don’t automatically lose money even when rates are rising.

I know this goes against everything you’ve been told about the relationship between rates and bond prices, so let me explain. The key is to own a bond ladder or bond fund with a fixed average duration. If you do, provided you hold on long enough, the return you earn with a bond portfolio will be very close to its initial yield—regardless of what happens to rates along the way.

Duration, of course, refers to a bond portfolio’s sensitivity to changes in interest rates. If it has an average duration of five years, for example, it would be expected to gain 5% for every 1% reduction in interest rates—and vice versa. According to research that was published in the December 2018 issue of the Journal of Portfolio Management, your bond portfolio’s return will be equal to its initial yield so long as you own it for one year less than twice its average duration. In my example of a portfolio with a five-year average duration, this would mean holding it for nine years.

The reason this formula works is that a bond fund or ladder with a fixed duration will reinvest any maturing bond in a new one with a sufficiently long maturity as to maintain the portfolio’s average duration. In a rising-rate environment, the higher yields of these newly-bought bonds will eventually make up for the loss incurred by previously-held bonds.

Diversification is a virtue

It’s also helpful to remember that the broader lesson here is that diversification is a virtue. The origins of the 60:40 portfolio trace back to a long-ago era in which stocks and bonds were the only two major asset classes. That is no longer the case, needless to say.

Research Affiliates this week proposed a more diversified basket than the 60:40 portfolio, divided three ways between equities (both domestic and foreign), bonds, and inflation hedges (assets such as the Treasury’s Inflation-Protected Bonds, or TIPS, commodities, and real-estate investment trusts). Including this third pillar would be especially welcome in the event, as mentioned above, inflation heats up and stock-bond correlations increase. Over the last 45 years this more diversified portfolio performed admirably, according to the firm’s calculations.

The bottom line? Don’t give up on the 60:40 portfolio, or on diversification generally.

Mark Hulbert is a regular contributor to MarketWatch. His Hulbert Ratings tracks investment newsletters that pay a flat fee to be audited. He can be reached at mark@hulbertratings.com.



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As the market nosedived last year, my older brother advised me to sell. I lost $80,000. How can I ever forgive him?

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Dear Quentin,

This time last year, when the market was nosediving, my older brother advised me to get out of the market, and go to cash to conserve my assets. It was only going to get worse, he proclaimed, and he had 40 years’ experience in the market.

Granted, it was an ugly drop. Following his lead, I said hello to a $80,000 loss, while thinking I’d say goodbye to an even worse disaster. That same downturn soon ended, and the market recovered. It took me months to get back into the market.

If I’d ignored his advice and stayed the course, I’d be way ahead instead of way behind. To this day, I’m behind $55,000, so I’ve recovered some. I don’t feel good about being led down this path. Perhaps I have no one to blame for listening but myself.

Any thoughts on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

The Brother

Dear Brother,

Accountability is everything. You can start forgiving your brother by forgiving yourself. But in order to do that, you must repeat after me: “I, and I alone, was responsible for buying these stocks while the going was good, and I, and I alone, am responsible for selling them.”

Intent also matters. Your brother, whether he has four years or 40 years of experience, did not mean you harm. He may have been feeling concerned himself, and projected that worry onto you. You didn’t say whether he sold stocks too. Regardless, rinse and repeat the above quote.


‘It was a hard lesson. But the fun part is figuring out what it is you have learned.’


— The Moneyist

You are responsible for making money, you are responsible for saving money, and you are responsible for investing money. When you ask for advice and give 100% of your decision-making over to that person, you are making a choice. You are also handing over your power.

It was a hard lesson. But the fun part is figuring out what it is you have learned. 1. Don’t sell your stock during tumultuous times based on fear. 2. Don’t give up your own agency. 3. Don’t torture yourself by counting every rise and fall. That is what got you into this situation in the first place.

The situation, by the way, is temporary — so you can now choose to suffer, or you can take an action and choose NOT to suffer. Close your laptop, call your brother and ask how he is doing, stick with it for the long haul this time, and take a walk and get in some steps.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

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I married the ‘life of the party’ who was a regular at Royal Ascot. But all he does is take his financial troubles out on me

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I don’t know where to start. So I will start at the beginning. I met a man at a friend’s wedding a few years ago. He was charming in that British-man-in-America sort of way (Hugh Grant has a lot to answer for), he told jokes (perhaps too many jokes, in retrospect) and made me laugh (at first). He was the life of the party, with a wide circle of friends and everyone seemed to love him.

He also had a very lavish, conspicuous lifestyle: a house upstate where he entertained his friends at weekends, he sailed in the summer, and he was regularly photographed at charity events on both sides of the Atlantic. He posted photos of himself on Facebook at Royal Ascot for several years (before the coronavirus pandemic). He seemed like the most popular guy in the world.


‘The first six months were good, the next three years? There are three topics: My husband, his business and his family.’

He was a generous man an d financially stable, or so I thought. Of course, his success and ease with which he seemed to navigate the world made him attractive to me, but I fell in love with him, and when he proposed, I said yes. The first six months were good, the next three years? Let’s just say there are three topics of conversation: My husband, his failing business and his terrible family. The pandemic hurt the already shaky family firm.

As his financial troubles worsened over the course of our marriage, he became short-tempered. I attributed that to the stress he was under. He actually shared this business with two brothers, so his expense account and “champagne lifestyle” was being funded by his family as much as actual profit. In fact, it soon became clear that he was neither the brain or the brawn of the operation.

Our life has descended into stress and instability. His flashes of anger appear with increasing frequency, as do his allegations that I am a gold-digger, which conveniently cast me as a villain deserving of no respect. For the record, I always work and pay my own way. (Six months ago, he pushed me and I fell backwards over the arm of a sofa. Fortunately, it broke my fall.)

I have no idea who this man is. His friends, as much as one could call them that, deserted him a couple so years ago when the expense account ran out. He ridicules me, holds the fact that I wanted a child over my head (I’m 38), and last year he did not hide his disgust at the birthday gift I got him (a photo album of our courtship, in addition to a dinner and silver cufflinks) in my face.

I’m exhausted. There is only one person in the world who matters, and it’s him. Some days he’s up and friendly, usually when we are on Zoom calls with family and (my) friends, but when that camera is off you better watch out. I’m living with a stranger. I have no clue what will happen next. His birthday is coming up in March, and I am dreading choosing a gift for him after last year.

What would you get him for this birthday? Any other suggestions about what I should do?

Trapped & Exhausted

Dear Trapped & Exhausted,

A ticket to London, England. One way.

But your situation is quite different from my hypothetical one. I wills say this: I’m not sure it’s possible to know who you married if he doesn’t know who he is himself. Hugh Grant has actually come into his own playing villains and rogues (Jeremy Thorpe in “A Very British Scandal” on Netflix
NFLX,
+2.19%
,
Phoenix Buchanan in “Paddington 2” and Jonathan Fraser in “The Undoing” on HBO). In each role, he was playing a man with many faces, but was not who others believed him to be in either role, and I’m not sure Thorpe, a real-life British politician, Fraser, a fictional murderer, and Buchanan, a cartoon villain of many disguises, knew who they were either.

I suspect the same is true for your husband. Is he an amusing socialite and risk-taking business mogul by day and a bumbling, ne’er-do-well, Black Sheep of his family by night? If he doesn’t know who he is and where his own values lie — and value lies — I can’t blame you for not knowing. I do not believe you are a “gold digger,” but I do believe that you bought into whatever it was he was selling to the world: a debonair, bicontinental bon vivant who had not a care in the world and who got by on chutzpah, smarts (let’s assume), likability and talent for navigating “high society.” That’s natural. We tend to believe who people say they are, unless we have reason to doubt them.

For every Jeffrey Epstein or Robert Maxwell, there are a thousand Phoenix Buchanans. Everything and nothing in life is about money. A child is not a bargaining chip. A marriage certificate or property deed is not a life sentence. A birthday present is not a time bomb. Presenting oneself as a success on social media is not real life. It is the 21st Century version of Buchanan’s act at the village fête. When domestic violence or emotional abuse rear their head, the fear persists. When will it happen again? Today? Tonight? Tomorrow? Any moment now? Close your eyes. Imagine your dream life. And choose that.

The door is waiting for you, if you choose to walk through it.

Are you experiencing domestic violence or coercive control? Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline. FreeFrom works to establish financial security for domestic-violence survivor and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence supports efforts that demand a change of conditions that lead to domestic violence and coercive control.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

Also see: ‘We’ve seen an alarming spike in domestic violence reports:’ For some women, it’s not safe to leave the house OR stay home

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My brother owes $10K to our late father’s estate. There’s no loan agreement and I’m executor. How should I approach repayment?

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Dear Quentin,

My father passed and I am the executor of his will.

We sold the house and Dad’s assets with my brother’s help. Probate is done. We are ready to distribute the remainder of my father’s estate, but my brother owes the estate $10,000.

He feels that if he had paid this money back before Dad passed, he would still get half back, and therefore owes $5,000. (Dad also told me that he owed the money before he passed.)

My father’s will says his estate should be split 50/50. I feel my brother owes $10,000 to the estate. I do not want to rock the boat, and will do the right thing in order to keep peace.

What is the proper way to split $200,000 in cash when he owes the estate $10,000? For the record, my brother will abide by whatever I decide. Thank you in advance for your help.

Trying to Do the Right & Proper Thing

Dear Right & Proper,

You are right to not look for trouble where there is none.

Given that there is no notarized loan agreement between your brother and your late father and there is money to be distributed, it would seem simpler and faster to have him sign a note now saying he owes the estate $10,000 and deduct the $5,000 from his eventual inheritance. Done and done. He could, after all, say that the loan was only due to be repaid when your father was alive or, indeed, say the loan was a gift. (The subject of countless episodes of “Judge Judy.”)

Your story is a cautionary tale of what could go wrong. “A hug or a handshake is not sufficient to bind someone to loan repayment. Loans and repayment obligations should be spelled out in writing and include repayment terms upon the testator’s death,” according to the Absolute Trust Counsel, a California law firm. “It is the responsibility of the executor to collect the balance due. An estate cannot be settled until all loans are collected and all debts settled or paid.”

“When an estate is insolvent, the collection of outstanding loans becomes especially important. Creditors want to be paid and will pursue all available resources to accomplish that,” the firm adds. “Many times, unpaid loans create dissension among heirs. In some cases, heirs who owe money still expect to receive an equal share of an estate.”

There is a healthy cash sum from which to deduct your brother’s loan: $105,000 for you and $95,000 for him. It could get sticky otherwise.

Thankfully, your brother also wants to do what’s right and proper.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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 group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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