A Balanced Approach To Investing

  |     |   1,374 posts since 2011

I have noted before that "savers" are those who spend less than they earn, irrespective of the investment vehicle chosen for the monies thus saved. Folks who plunk 100% of the amount in excess of the amount spent in equities might be unwise, but they are no less "savers". Folks who plunk 100% of the amount in excess of the amount spent in cash, bonds, or other fixed-income products (such as CDs) might be unwise, but they are no less "savers".

An approach i have found useful over the years is "age-in-bonds" aka "fixed-income". It is similar to "glide-path" mutual funds which reduce one's equity exposure over time, such that a major decline in equities does not torpedo retirement.

My approach, however, has a major difference. Unlike "glide-path" or "target-retirement" funds, I suggest folks look seriously at CDs as a major chunk of the "bonds/fixed-income" component of the "age-in-bonds" asset allocation. To my knowledge, no major investment company (Vanguard, Fidelity, you-name-it) does this. The weakness of these "target" or "glide-path" funds is that the fixed-income (read: bonds) component is just that, bonds. You might get a smidge of "stable value" in the mix, but it's still mostly bonds. In a rising-rate environment (yes, Virginia, whether you believe it or not, we have turned the corner), bond funds get hurt. You have to have a lot of patience, and a firm belief in the concept of "duration", to keep the faith while that NAV keeps dropping more than the dividend keeps pumping.

The solution is to build a CD ladder, which is, in effect, a personalized bond ladder, with one big difference. Unlike a bond fund (whose NAV is adversely affected by rising rates), your CD ladder will (by definition) never suffer a reduction in par value. Your interest rate may seem paltry, but, trust me, a 2.5% yield with no par value risk is infinitely better than a 2% SEC yield in a bond fund with rates going up. Compare your PenFed 7-year CD to your gerden-variety intermediate-term bond fund over the past month, and you'll see what I'm talking about.

Purists hate this argument, since they state (with some credibility) that "nobody can predict interest rates" (Bill Gross being the perfect example).

At the risk of being hooted down, I would say Bill Gross was right, he was just off by a year. Treasuries are turning (finally) and, frankly, bond funds are not where I'd put new money these days. A month ago, I was probably indifferent. Now, not so.

A balanced approach, the one I take (and have for some time) is to have one's age in fixed-income. The balance in equities. That's not exactly rocket-science, nor is it new. But the "mix" of fixed-income, there I am somewhat of an outlier, as I would advocate a goodly amount of that FI in CDs. Personally, in FI, I am around 75% CDs, 25% bond funds.

Just my $.02 and good luck to all.

PS: As an aside, I should note that I have been hedging and re-balancing into the market froth over the past month. As a firm subscriber to the "greater-fool" theory, I whack off profits in equities in silly periods (such as now) and plunk said profits in good, old-fashioned, cash. Inflation risk aside, cash has a certain appeal. I doubt anyone seriously thinks Mr. Market will continue this parabolic uptrend for long. Even though I've been harvesting and hedging diligently, my equity positions are up YTD 12%, and that's just unsustainable. I suspect I'll sell a bit more into this rally tomorrow. It tends to be a tad easier to sell into a rising market. For those doubters among you, my sell order is in for about 80% of my trading account. Stated another way, to the extent possible, my money and my mouth are intact.

  |     |   783 posts since 2010

I am not sure the bond market has turned the corner, as you suggested. The Fed is still committed to maintaining their zero interest policy until late 2014 and the improvement in the economy could be a temporary phenomenon. Bernanke hasn't ruled out further QE's. Last year at this time rates were rising and there was an upturn in the economy; however, it didn't last very long. Many people are jumping into stocks now; we will see how that turns out.
  |     |   95 posts since 2010
I subscribe to a modified "age adjusted CD" approach.  Instead of (100 - age = equity %) the upper bound reduces to life expectancy (~80) whenever above the prior market cycle median.  Reducing whipsaws = increased longevity.

"Many people are jumping into stocks now; we will see how that turns out."

 People or banks & dealers shenanigans?  Muppets smell a ploy.
Retail investors continue to pull their cash out of the stock market with every thrust higher. Just last week another $1.4 billion in cash was pulled from domestic equity funds.  The truth is that the banks are desperate to start offloading their risk exposure to retail investors, and instead of selling, are furiously trying to send the market ever higher just to get that ever elusive "investor" back. Alas, the damage has been done: between the Great Financial Crisis, the Flash Crash, a massively corrupt regulator, rehypothecating assets that tend to vaporize with no consequences, and a central bank which effectively has admitted to running a Russell 2000 targeting ponzi scheme, the investor is gone. 

  |     |   1,374 posts since 2011
Lou, you are correct, many folks are jumping into stocks now. Which is why, contrarian that I am, I am jumping out.

Do the math. If one is up 12% in two and a half months, that annualizes to what? I'm a bit shabby when it comes to math, but 12% times four is 48%, right? I doubt this melt-up is sustainable.

Which is why, when I re-balanced last month, I took the proceeds in cash. I'm not a huge fan of bond funds these days. Actually, I'm not a huge fan of anything right now. I'll plunk my gains in cash for now.

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