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Historical Worst Time for a Retiree
Old 07-27-2013, 07:06 PM   #1
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Historical Worst Time for a Retiree

It's a perennial talk here as well as on other financial sites about how a retiree's financial fate depends so much on when he starts his retirement. That explains the family of curves FIRECalc displays: many soar to the sky after 30 years, but some crash into a crater like a kamikaze plane.

OK, OK, enough lousy metaphorical prose, you say. What's the beef?

Many here have studied historical return data for stocks and bonds, but I only now get interested in this. What was the worst time for a retiree who had to live off his investments? The idea is that even though "history does not repeat, it rhymes", so perhaps we can watch out for signs of a similar period and take some actions, not preemptive as it is not possible, but sufficiently timely to perhaps save our buns.

It is most likely there have been numerous threads on this topic, but not since my time. So, I would appreciate some links if possible.

Meanwhile, I have made some runs with FIRECalc and also another similar simulator using historical data. Here's the result.

* Assumptions: Constant buying power WR. 50/50 portfolio. No other incomes.

* Result: a $1MM portfolio with an initial 3.5%WR got down to $165K in 30 years, if one started in 1966. It would not survive a 4%WR.

If one started in 1965, or particularly 1967, the results were a lot better. So, I looked at the investment returns and also inflation in the time frame 1965-1975, and did not really spot anything that stood out. How can this period be worse than the Great Depression? I am sure a more astute member would be able to enlighten me here.

Another related question which may be difficult to answer is that for people who were completely in CDs, how would they fare over the same period? Can we know?
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Old 07-27-2013, 07:09 PM   #2
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The human psyche suffers from recency bias. And it tends to overstate pessimistic attitudes. Taken together I think it's not surprising people think this is the worst time ever.

The main thing I would say is that right now there is *no* attractive place to move a load of cash. Cash is yielding zero, bonds are starting to lose ground with interest rate increases while yields are still very low, and stocks are already strongly priced (in large part because the Fed's War on Savers makes "safe" savings and investment a guaranteed loser with inflation).

It's hard to imagine someone retiring today being worse off than if they retired in 1929 or in 2000 or in 2008... unless they panic-sold all their stocks in 2008 and watched the equity recovery from the sidelines.
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Old 07-27-2013, 07:15 PM   #3
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But as I said, I looked at stocks/bonds returns in the time frame 1965-1975 when the hapless retiree started his retirement in 1966.

At first look I did not spot anything as drastic as during the Great Depression, nor high inflation like the early 80s, nor even anything like the stock market crash in 2008-2009 that we just experienced.

So, what makes 1966 the worst ever time to start one's retirement? Of course for people like me who just started out recently, we do not know a priori that our time may not be worse.

PS. Make a FIRECalc run and you can see that the portfolio just keeps going down and down, without any sudden drop indicative of a crash. It's like a frog getting boiled slowly in a heated pan.
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Old 07-27-2013, 07:23 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
So, what makes 1966 the worst ever time to start one's retirement? Of course for people like me who just started out recently, we do not know a priori that our time may not be worse.

PS. Make a FIRECalc run and you can see that the portfolio just keeps going down and down, without any sudden drop indicative of a crash. It's like a frog getting boiled slowly in a heated pan.
I strongly suspect there was less dependence on personal investments to make or break a retirement in 1966 than there is today.
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Old 07-27-2013, 07:24 PM   #5
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Retiring in the 60s, leading into the major stagflation of the 70s is by and far the worst combination that FireCalc, and other simulators that user historical data, can tell you.

If you use other simulators that use historical data, and allow you to input cash as an investment (CD's), you'd see that you would have needed to be 100% in CD's with at least a rate of 6.5% to survive that period. (at 4% WR). That pretty much is the break even point of the massive inflation during that time.

The shiller data shows us that from 1965-1995, CPI was a 381% jump. Compared to the meager 135% from 1983-Present.

Trying to adjust your spending for inflation is killer. What made the great depression so bad was a huge market drop, but more importantly was job loss. If we take that out of the picture, it was a walk in the park comparatively.
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Old 07-27-2013, 07:33 PM   #6
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I strongly suspect there was less dependence on personal investments to make or break a retirement in 1966 than there is today.
True, but most of us are relying on our own portfolio now, and if history rhymes, what can we do? The 50/50 portfolio would not do well.

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Retiring in the 60s, leading into the major stagflation of the 70s is by and far the worst combination that FireCalc, and other simulators that user historical data, can tell you.

If you use other simulators that use historical data, and allow you to input cash as an investment (CD's), you'd see that you would have needed to be 100% in CD's with at least a rate of 6.5% to survive that period. (at 4% WR). That pretty much is the break even point of the massive inflation during that time.

The shiller data shows us that from 1965-1995, CPI was a 381% jump. Compared to the meager 135% from 1983-Present.

Trying to adjust your spending for inflation is killer. What made the great depression so bad was a huge market drop, but more importantly was job loss. If we take that out of the picture, it was a walk in the park comparatively.
OK. At first look I did not see that inflation was that bad until the earlier 80s, when it went double-digit. I still remember that time.

However, as you said, perhaps the higher-than-normal inflation of the late 60s and early 70s already doomed our hypothetical retiree, though it might not be noticeable to the casual eye. A 1/2 percent here and there, and it all added up.

Thanks for the suggestion to try inputting CDs. It is at least of academic interest, even if one plays the Monday quarterback game.

Back then, whether one could get a CD that beat inflation is the next question. That was before my time.


PS. I need to go back and study the data some more. I think that the subpar return of both stocks and bonds, plus a bit higher-than-normal inflation were the combination that doomed the 50/50 portfolio. But when both stock and bond were so lousy, what rate would they pay for CD?
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:29 PM   #7
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I thought this thread was about this article: Is this the worst time ever to retire? - Encore - MarketWatch

Quote:
Kahn writes in a piece this week, “baby boomers may be leaving [the workforce] at the worst time in a generation or more.”
Quote:
The heart of Kahn’s critique, though, is the fact that both bond yields and dividend yields are so low today. Working with Research Affiliates, an investment-management company, he looks at likely investment outcomes for people who retire with $355,000 in a portfolio with a 60-to-40 ratio of stocks to bonds. Someone who retired in 1980, he notes, would have been able to withdraw 4% a year from such a portfolio and would still have had plenty of savings left 30 years later; someone with that profile now, however, “would run out of money in 25 years.” And good luck backstopping your retirement with an annuity, since, as Kahn explains, a 65-year-old man today would need to invest $15 to earn $1 of guaranteed annual income, compared with a ratio of about $9 to $1 in 1990.
Here is the Bankrate.com article: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/reti...tistics-1.aspx

Quote:
Timing is everything. A typical portfolio (60 percent stocks, 40 percent bonds) enjoyed great success in the 1980s. A retiree could have withdrawn 4 percent a year and still watched the investment grow, thanks to a confluence of strong yields, bull market returns and low inflation. That wasn't the case in other years. A similar portfolio from which funds were withdrawn beginning in 1960 and 1970 each would have run out of cash before 30 years elapsed, due to high inflation.

Read more: http://www.bankrate.com/finance/reti...#ixzz2aIed7oxD
Follow us: @Bankrate on Twitter | Bankrate on Facebook
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:33 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by NW-Bound View Post
True, but most of us are relying on our own portfolio now, and if history rhymes, what can we do? The 50/50 portfolio would not do well.



OK. At first look I did not see that inflation was that bad until the earlier 80s, when it went double-digit. I still remember that time.

However, as you said, perhaps the higher-than-normal inflation of the late 60s and early 70s already doomed our hypothetical retiree, though it might not be noticeable to the casual eye. A 1/2 percent here and there, and it all added up.

Thanks for the suggestion to try inputting CDs. It is at least of academic interest, even if one plays the Monday quarterback game.

Back then, whether one could get a CD that beat inflation is the next question. That was before my time.


PS. I need to go back and study the data some more. I think that the sub-par return of both stocks and bonds, plus a bit higher-than-normal inflation were the combination that doomed the 50/50 portfolio. But when both stock and bond were so lousy, what rate would they pay for CD?

Recall that Nixon slapped wage and price controls due to rising inflation in 1971. Ford had the slogan whip inflation now (WIN). It took Volker and a willingness to take interest rates to very high levels to cool the inflation down. (Actually if you believe the great wave theory of inflation it was the
baby bust that caused the slowdown just as the baby boom caused the inflation before it). At the time except during the first Volker years CDs were hard pressed to keep up with inflation, For example the max rate on any time deposit account in 1970 was 5%, which is why money market funds made the splash (s&Ls could pay .25% more) Money was moving out of the banking sector to the shadow banking sector due to the interest regulation. By 1980 the CD rates hit 13% or so, and mortgages hit 18-20%. But its not clear even then that between inflation and the taxes due on interest you could have kept up with inflation in cash at the time.
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:38 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Brett_Cameron View Post
I thought this thread was about this article: Is this the worst time ever to retire? - Encore - MarketWatch
No, I did not see that article. Just finished reading it.

I was talking about the past worst period for a commonly accepted 50/50 portfolio, as judged from historical data. What will be happening in the next decades, nobody knows what it will be like.
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:46 PM   #10
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... But its not clear even then that between inflation and the taxes due on interest you could have kept up with inflation in cash at the time.
Yes, thanks for reminding me of the taxes on the interest.

By the way, I would like to reiterate that if one started the retirement in 1967, just one year later, the $1MM 50/50 portfolio would have dropped to $416K at the lowest point, a lot better than the $165K that the 1966 retiree would have. What a difference a year makes! What a sensitivity to timing!

All this reinforces what I have always thought. Two persons can subscribe to the same investment philosophy, the same idea of indexing etc... However, just a bit of execution difference, a different day to do rebalancing, and the results may come out quite differently.

No matter what we try to do, a lot is still determined by chance.
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:56 PM   #11
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A bad stock market is nasty, but inflation kills. High inflation tends to persist across multiple years. The 70s were bad, bad, bad. Lay that on top of a starting bad year for investments, and you sink quick.

I think that a lot of us might adjust our spending, however, if faced with a cratering total return for a few years. That is, reduce the SWR for a few years. This might be able to bail one out from the doomsday scenario.
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Old 07-27-2013, 08:57 PM   #12
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By the way, I would like to reiterate that if one started the retirement in 1967, just one year later, the $1MM 50/50 portfolio would have dropped to $416K at the lowest point, a lot better than the $165K that the 1966 retiree would have. What a difference a year makes! What a sensitivity to timing!
+1

This made me think of the FIRECalc example of three identical retirements, spaced one year apart...
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Old 07-27-2013, 09:33 PM   #13
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Yes, I forgot that FIRECalc example right under my nose. And no two people execute the same strategy identically. When the market dropped sharply, then rebounded just as quickly in March 2009, a time difference of a week in executing a rebalancing trade can change your portfolio by several percentage points. Lot of luck is involved.

But back to our hapless retiree in 1966. His textbook 50/50 portfolio would be doomed. Attempting to put it all in CDs may not work either.

Perhaps nobody retired early back then, FI was an alien concept, and most retirees relied on COLA'ed pensions so they did not know how bad it could have been.

PS. By the way, that FIRECalc example was made with a WR of 4.67% to illustrate the difference between starting years for retirement. All cases might have been OK with a WR of 3.5%. That lower WR still devastated the 1966 retiree.
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Old 07-27-2013, 10:03 PM   #14
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I haven't analyzed our capital investments since our 1989 retirement, but recall 1 yr. CD's @12% to 16+% in the mid 1980's, with FDIC guarantee. The Planner we tried but fired at the time, used a company produced predictive model to estimate our retirement needs. Looking back, the factors used were those in effect at the time, with no variability. As best I can figure, comparing the proposal to our actual, our end results were better than his prediction. Instread of using their numbers, my own plans were simply based on a 2.5% ROI/inflation differential.
I'm not a good person to comment on this, as a lot of it goes over my head... but... for the life of me, I cannot see how we can continue our national debt increase without subsequent massive inflation. Am hoping that my small investment in I bonds will track inflation, but expect that a new and more aggressive type of chained CPI will doom that promise, too.
That said... this is one time I'm glad to be oldernu because I'm pretty sure I would have had to wait many more years before ER.
There were a number of other things that happened in those early years... 70's and 80's that weren't directly related to the market numbers. Good housing value increase, lower financial business margins, lower entertainment expenses, lower health expenses, lower education costs and much less income inequality offered more hope for successful, if not early retirement.

That said, as a general observation, a goodly number of ER members are far ahead of the average when it comes to recognizing the realities of looking ahead 30 or 40 years and living a lifestyle based on reality and not just hope.

Maybe I shouldn't comment anyway. It's easy to have an opinion, when I don't know what I'm talking about.
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Old 07-27-2013, 10:22 PM   #15
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I wonder what Joe Dominguez (YMOYL author) was feeling after he retired in 1969 with $100K and promptly ran into 1970s inflation. It had to have hurt at least a little bit.
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Old 07-28-2013, 12:10 AM   #16
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Here is the Bankrate.com article: Retirement Statistics: Then Vs. Now | Bankrate.com
Thanks for link to this article.

Here's the gist. It is projected that the decades ahead will be lousy for the retirees, just like it was for our unfortunate 1966 retiree. However, the reason will not be high inflation, but rather poor stock & bond returns in the future.

From the article, for a 60/40 portfolio,

For 1960-1990: Inflation 5.0%, real return of portfolio 4.9%
For 2013-2043: Projected inflation 2.5%, projected real return 1.9%

If one has a real return of 4.9% on top of an inflation of 5%, does that not mean a nominal return of almost 10%? Was that true? And that was not enough?

For my personal situation, if my portfolio barely survives a WR of 3.5% for the next 30 years, then my SS will be the extra safety margin. It is doubtful I will last 30 years, but my wife is more likely to.

So, I guess I won't be seeing my stash grow to $5MM, like we talk about in the other thread, even if I am going to live another 30 years. But hey, if I live another 30 years, I will not be complaining about not getting rich.

Hmm... I wonder if a bit of emerging market equities into the mix would be helpful here.
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Old 07-28-2013, 12:32 AM   #17
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From the article, for a 60/40 portfolio,

For 1960-1990: Inflation 5.0%, real return of portfolio 4.9%
For 2013-2043: Projected inflation 2.5%, projected real return 1.9%

If one has a real return of 4.9% on top of an inflation of 5%, does that not mean a nominal return of almost 10%? Was that true? And that was not enough?
Studied a bit more, and got my own answer.

The above numbers were annualized over the 30 years. However, the real return of 4.9%/yr was stacked towards the last 10 years. The 20-yr period of 1960-1980 was basically flat, meaning barely keeping up with inflation.

The 60/40 portfolio, if not drawn on, did not go negative, meaning it could keep up with inflation. However, it could not sustain a 4% WR which the article uses. After all, 4% x 20 yr = 80%. The boost of the decade 1980-1990 came too late.

There was a recent thread asking about drawing SS at 62 vs. spending down one's stash at 12.5% WR to get more SS at 70. I answered that I would go for SS at 62. This relates to that too. If one suspects that the next few years' return is going to be flat, better get help from SS now before it's too late.
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Old 07-28-2013, 03:22 AM   #18
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Could a mod change the thread title from "Worst Time in History for a Retiree" to "Historical Worst Time for a Retiree" for me? That would avoid confusion about the intent of the thread. Thank you.
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Old 07-28-2013, 07:18 AM   #19
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The big difference between 1966, versus 1967 and 1965 does seem a bit perplexing to me. With the 1973 versus 1974 and 1975 examples on the Firecalc front page, I can actually rationalize it. While inflation was starting to kick in, 1973 was still a very good year for the economy. One indicator was that it was a record year for the American auto industry; a lot of people were feeling good enough about their situation to go out and buy new cars!

But, it all came crashing down in 1974, and 1975 was a bad year as well. So, if someone retired in 1973, they were doing so at a market peak, and would have lost a big chunk of their portfolio the very next year. And 1975 might have decimated it a bit more. Retiring in 1974, you would have at least missed that big drop off from '73. And retiring in 1975, you would have come in pretty much at the end of the bottom, and in 1976-79, things started to improve again. Until late 79, at least!

However, if you had enough money to retire in 1975, wouldn't that mean that you would still have been able to do it in 1974 or 1973? For instance, to use that Firecalc example on their front page, if you needed $35K per year, and had $750K to retire...well if you had $750K in 1975, there's a chance you might have had, say, $800K in 1974 and $1.2M in 1973. So if all you needed was $35K, you would have been able to retire. It's just that it would have been a lower withdrawal rate.

Going back to the 1960's example though, I don't think the start year, at least, would make much difference. The market was doing fine in 1965. In fact, that was another record year for the US auto industry. Things cooled off a little for 1966 and 1967 I think, but they were all three good years overall.

I know the auto industry isn't the be-all and end-all of economic indicators, but I wonder what the ramifications would have been of retiring in 1958, versus 1957 or 1959. 1958 was a recession year, and also the start of the backlash against the US auto industry, as buyers started flocking towards small, economical imports in droves. A few established brands...Packard, Hudson, Nash, and DeSoto, also died out around that time, while the Edsel was launched, but quickly crashed and burned. And Studebaker almost went down as well, but clinged on for a few years by being an early adopter of compact cars.

But, while there was a lot of turmoil in the auto industry in that timeframe, I think for the economy as a whole, maybe 1958 wasn't *too* bad, and '59 was a pretty quick bounce back?
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Old 07-28-2013, 09:52 AM   #20
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...

However, if you had enough money to retire in 1975, wouldn't that mean that you would still have been able to do it in 1974 or 1973? For instance, to use that Firecalc example on their front page, if you needed $35K per year, and had $750K to retire...well if you had $750K in 1975, there's a chance you might have had, say, $800K in 1974 and $1.2M in 1973. So if all you needed was $35K, you would have been able to retire. It's just that it would have been a lower withdrawal rate. ...
Yes, and I think the FIREcalc intro can be misleading because of this. It depends on your POV. It is true for each of those retirees with $750K, but they really are not comparable, as they would have had far different sized portfolios leading up to retirement to all have $750K at the year they each retired.

It's not apples-apples, but it does illustrate what it means to just rely on one number.

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