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Old 06-16-2014, 06:11 PM   #141
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So, when we run FIRECalc, can we help not to make a guess as to where we are in the business and market cycle? Or is is even prudent to pretend that we do not know nor care?
I'm pretty sure Pfau has some papers that accounts for PE10 in the SWR calculations. However I don't know of any online tools that incorporate this.
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Old 06-16-2014, 06:21 PM   #142
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The double accounting is like this: You are at the bottom of the Great Depression. You take your portfolio balance at that time and enter it into FIRECalc. FIRECalc takes that balance and says, "OK, now what happens to this portfolio if the guy is retiring just before the Great Depression?" Then it proceeds to subject your portfolio to another Great Depression as one of its scenarios. That's not really fair. Two Great Depressions in a row?
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People talk about double dip recessions all the time. How bad would things have gotten if the US had defaulted on its debt?
Probably very, very bad, but this is a discussion about FIRECalc (at least I think it is...) and FIRECalc looks at history as it actually happened, not history as it might have happened. Animorph is correct, adding a second major downturn on top of the worst in history already included in FIRECalc invalidates what the calculator was designed to do.
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:47 PM   #143
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This is a great discussion. There's no way I would have time for this without being fired.



Let me respond to your point with multiple comments as I think the discussion is get very nuanced.

1. Why not? People talk about double dip recessions all the time. How bad would things have gotten if the US had defaulted on its debt?
It's not that it's a double dip, it's that the present day market dip is being added to the front of every historical market dip (including doubles) during your FIRECalc testing. Making them all worse, and possibly affecting many scenarios.

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2. Technically your argument hinges on whether there is mean reversion in equity returns (a series of bad returns is much more likely to be followed by good returns and vice versa). As far as I can tell there are conflicting studies as to whether mean reversion actually exists.

Conflicting studies and no-consensus usually means either (1) that it doesn't exist or (2) it exists but is too weak to be practically significant. So I don't think there's any double counting of risk.
Yeah, I like mean reversion. I see it in every market recovery. Except bubbles. It's also a good reason to use FIRECalc. If there is mean reversion, it's in there.

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3. Even if mean reversion exists, it has to be strong enough to completely negate the extra risk of your equities having tanked 50%. I don't think anybody thinks it's that strong -- if it were it wouldn't be any doubt as to whether it exists.
We've just seen a really good example of it since 2008. At 10%/year we should only be up 61% from the bottom, not hitting new highs. I suspect emotion, uncertainty, and panic has quite a bit to do with prices being lower than they should be at the bottom and then recovering faster than 10%/year when things turn out OK. No, it's not all mean reversion, but I think it is a significant factor in many cases. Now, Japan or NASDAQ are certainly arguments that there are other factors at play.

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4. Do the following thought experiment: Imagine FIRECALC existed in 1973 and retiree ran it and determined that a 4% withdrawal rate had a failure rate of 5%. As the years pass (the red line in the chart below) and the retiree sees the bad sequence of returns at what point should they update/increase their initial estimate of 5% failure rate? Is that 5% initial failure rate still good after 1 year? after 5 years when the portfolio is now 50%, after 10 years when the portfolio is roughly 1/3 the initial value?
Or it's 1983 and the success rate looks terrible, but a big stock market pop is coming in the future? FIRECalc is a very blunt instrument. These 5% failure rates are the result of something like 6 failed years out of 120. Our rule of thumb in digital communications was that you needed at least 10 failures to get a reasonable error rate estimate. There is not enough data for FIRECalc to sharpen its results given a fixed set of initial retirement year's performance. In the 1973 case it has no good guidance for you.

If you think it's OK to use FIRECalc with your March 2009 portfolio value, the interpretation of the results is up to you. It's only a tool that does what it does.

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5. I am not saying that the FIRECALC probability computed at the bottom of a bear market is a good estimate of success. Nor am I saying that my calculation method 2 is good either. Both are likely biased pessimistically (we know this from PE10 studies). I am saying that the initial estimate of the failure rate computed before the bear is likely too low now (qualitatively the failure rate should be increasing) given the additional information known.
I agreed with that before. The additional information would indicate you are on a higher failure rate path. It's just that FIRECalc can't use that additional information in a meaningful way, nor do we really have enough historical data to be statistically relevant even if FIRECalc could do it.

If you believe mean reversion is a total crock, then I think running FIRECalc fresh each year would make sense. But what would your chart look like if you started at October 10, 2007, ran through March 2009, and then continued on with your chart? Worse than the Great Depression? If that's one of your FIRECalc failure scenarios is it really relevant? In this case (entering a March 2009 portfolio value) FIRECalc will be lowballing your success rate.

Historically, and by definition, the really bad market dips were preceded by market peaks. Why modify that by entering an already depleted portfolio number as the peak portfolio value before those dips?
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Old 06-16-2014, 08:55 PM   #144
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Great thread. I find the "debate" aspect to be the most educational, informative, and thought-provoking. Thanks to all for their input.

I concur with photoguy regarding the Pfau/Kitces paper and research being academic and too new for my tastes. While I intend to decrease my equity portion at beginning of retirement, and increase 5 years in (depending), it will only vary by 5% max. Personally, I wouldn't be comfortable increasing equity allocation at 80 years old or beyond. This failure to adequately address the psychological/emotional aspect of the glide path approach has been one of its critiques.
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Old 06-16-2014, 09:53 PM   #145
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From Michael Kitces in 2012:
(Summary- the 4% SWR is based on the worst case scenario in history and that scenario was really really horrible and it still works)

"The average real return on a 60/40 (re-)balanced portfolio associated with the worst safe withdrawal rate scenarios in history was a mere 0.86% average annual compound growth rate over the first 15 years of retirement. In point of fact, this was actually driven by a slightly negative real return in bonds (at -0.15%) and a slightly positive real return in equities of 0.73% (the reason the rebalanced portfolio returns were slightly higher than the returns of stocks or bonds separately was due to the favorable market timing of some of the rebalancing trades)...

Viewed another way, what the data shows is that if you expect the coming safe withdrawal rates from here to be worse than anything seen in history, you need to assume not just below-average returns; you need to assume that the stock market cannot generate more than 1% real returns between now [ed-2012] and 2027 given a 15-year real bond return of 0% at todays rates, and that if inflation increases from here that equities will fail to increase dividends dollar payouts, grow earnings, or provide any effective hedge to inflation whatsoever.

...if you believe that equities will fail to deliver even a 1% real return over the next 15 years, ...[this implies] (given current dividend and inflation levels) that the S&P 500 price level will be lower in 2027 than it was in 2007 (which would also be lower than it was in 2000, resulting in no appreciation for 27 years!)."

Also regarding the impact of early years - from Wade Pfau's blog:
ImageUploadedByEarly Retirement Forum1402973434.604528.jpg
This shows the proportional influence of each year's returns on success--30 years of accumulation and then withdrawals from year 31- so the returns in the first year of withdrawals has the largest impact on with the returns accounting for 14% of the success of the portfolio...each year after that, the returns matter less and less...
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Old 06-16-2014, 10:35 PM   #146
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I dunno. I retired in early 2008, and had to rebalance in Feb 2009 when the market fluctuated a bit. Since my plan also calls for tax loss harvesting, I did that then, too.

The portfolio seems to be OK. I just had to rebalance again in 2013, which used up a bit of those harvested losses. I have wide rebalancing bands, and the plan calls for checking once a year in February and rebalancing just enough to get me within the bands.

So it goes. So it goes...
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Old 06-16-2014, 10:56 PM   #147
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"The average real return on a 60/40 (re-)balanced portfolio associated with the worst safe withdrawal rate scenarios in history was a mere 0.86% average annual compound growth rate over the first 15 years of retirement. In point of fact, this was actually driven by a slightly negative real return in bonds (at -0.15%) and a slightly positive real return in equities of 0.73% (the reason the rebalanced portfolio returns were slightly higher than the returns of stocks or bonds separately was due to the favorable market timing of some of the rebalancing trades)...

Viewed another way, what the data shows is that if you expect the coming safe withdrawal rates from here to be worse than anything seen in history, you need to assume not just below-average returns; you need to assume that the stock market cannot generate more than 1% real returns between now [ed-2012] and 2027 given a 15-year real bond return of 0% at todays rates, and that if inflation increases from here that equities will fail to increase dividends dollar payouts, grow earnings, or provide any effective hedge to inflation whatsoever.

...if you believe that equities will fail to deliver even a 1% real return over the next 15 years, ...[this implies] (given current dividend and inflation levels) that the S&P 500 price level will be lower in 2027 than it was in 2007 (which would also be lower than it was in 2000, resulting in no appreciation for 27 years!)."
Ouch! I guess that's a reason for diversification beyond bonds & stocks.

Japan's Nikkei index in 1990 was near 40000. Some 24 years later, it is at 15000. I don't think their bond returned much during that period either.
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How hard is it to RE at the market top (2014)?
Old 06-17-2014, 02:43 AM   #148
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How hard is it to RE at the market top (2014)?

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Ouch! I guess that's a reason for diversification beyond bonds & stocks.

Japan's Nikkei index in 1990 was near 40000. Some 24 years later, it is at 15000. I don't think their bond returned much during that period either.
This raises another interesting point. The SWR studies are basically studies of investing in the USA...a more diversified portfolio of emerging markets and international markets should provide some decrease in correlation and thus better results with less volatility ---in theory.

The cautionary tale of Japan is also incompletely told here. Along with those dismal cumulative returns there has been significant deflation, so your lower buying power would not have deteriorated as much as it feels like it would in our inflation-minded world...also, not every year was down-it has a sawtooth pattern with no more than three consecutive down years...and some great years (up 23% in 2012, up 27% in 2013 and up 43+% in 2005 and none of this includes dividends). so there could be some better performance by a rebalancing strictly Japanese investor over that horrible Japanese market time frame...(I saw one study that showed a 50/50 AA with quarterly rebalancing in and out of equity-- all in the Nikkei over this horrible period --would yield CAGR of 1.8%)
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Old 06-17-2014, 04:45 AM   #149
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I think a bit of perspective is order. We have roughly 40 million American over the age 65, I am sure that the vast majority of them retired. I bet we have hundreds of million of people retire since WW2, and only tiny percentage of them used tools like FIRECalc.

The over 65 group has the lowest percentage of any age who live in poverty. So somehow all this people retired without running out of money. Kinda of hard to imagine when you think about it
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Old 06-17-2014, 08:59 AM   #150
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Much of the world was devastated after WWII. Yet, people survived.

If and when the going gets tough, retirees will stop traveling, ordering from Amazon, going out to eat, buying fancy cars, etc... It's not the end of the world.
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Old 06-17-2014, 10:37 AM   #151
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This raises another interesting point. The SWR studies are basically studies of investing in the USA...a more diversified portfolio of emerging markets and international markets should provide some decrease in correlation and thus better results with less volatility ---in theory.
... plus real estate (rental income, REIT), commodity, lottery tickets (), etc..


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Much of the world was devastated after WWII. Yet, people survived.

If and when the going gets tough, retirees will stop traveling, ordering from Amazon, going out to eat, buying fancy cars, etc... It's not the end of the world.
... b b b but we want to survive in style .
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Old 06-17-2014, 10:53 AM   #152
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I think a bit of perspective is order. We have roughly 40 million American over the age 65, I am sure that the vast majority of them retired. I bet we have hundreds of million of people retire since WW2, and only tiny percentage of them used tools like FIRECalc.

The over 65 group has the lowest percentage of any age who live in poverty. So somehow all this people retired without running out of money. Kinda of hard to imagine when you think about it
A recent Vanguard study showed most current retirees still had pensions and many worked. The people who post here living off portfolio income appear to be in the minority -

COLUMN-Surprise: Even wealthy retirees live on Social Security and pensions | Reuters

"The findings are all the more striking because the big buzz in the retirement industry these days is about how to generate income from nest eggs. That includes creation of income-oriented portfolios, systematic drawdown plans and annuity products that act as do-it-yourself pensions. Yet few retirement account holders actually are tapping them for income. The Investment Company Institute reports that just 3.5 percent of all participants in 401(k) plans took withdrawals in 2013."

The Consumer Expenditure Survey also does not show dividends and interest to be a big portion of income for most senior households -

http://www.bls.gov/cex/2011/Standard/age.pdf
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Old 06-17-2014, 11:07 AM   #153
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... b b b but we want to survive in style .
You mean survivors like Robinson Crusoe do not have style?

Recently, I read the account of a young couple who moved to Alaska to scratch out a living. What impressed me most was that they got to Alaska on foot! Now, that's style, not sitting at home surfing Amazon and eBay.
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Old 06-17-2014, 07:27 PM   #154
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It's not that it's a double dip, it's that the present day market dip is being added to the front of every historical market dip (including doubles) during your FIRECalc testing. Making them all worse, and possibly affecting many scenarios.
Firecalc doesn't take into consideration the history leading up to the current date, but if you compute the conditional probability correctly (the subset of scenarios which match the user's trajectory) there shouldn't be any double counting.

Firecalc doesn't do any of this conditional probability, so the user has to do it themeselves or find another tool.


Quote:
Yeah, I like mean reversion. I see it in every market recovery. Except bubbles. It's also a good reason to use FIRECalc. If there is mean reversion, it's in there.


We've just seen a really good example of it since 2008. At 10%/year we should only be up 61% from the bottom, not hitting new highs. I suspect emotion, uncertainty, and panic has quite a bit to do with prices being lower than they should be at the bottom and then recovering faster than 10%/year when things turn out OK. No, it's not all mean reversion, but I think it is a significant factor in many cases. Now, Japan or NASDAQ are certainly arguments that there are other factors at play.
You see mean reversion, but I just see this as a normal sequence in random returns. Equity returns have high standard deviation and are generally positive in most years. If you look at S&P 500 returns something like 3/4 are positive years. So a streak of a few good years is expected anyway.

I think this really needs a statistical test. Humans are predisposed to see patterns in randomness (e.g. hot hand fallacy) and constantly underestimate how frequently you might get a string of positive results (e.g., getting a long sequences of heads in coin flipping).



Quote:
If you think it's OK to use FIRECalc with your March 2009 portfolio value, the interpretation of the results is up to you. It's only a tool that does what it does.
I'm not saying this at all. My main disagreement is with ERD50's statement that "you don't need to re-adjust after a market drop".


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The additional information would indicate you are on a higher failure rate path. It's just that FIRECalc can't use that additional information in a meaningful way, nor do we really have enough historical data to be statistically relevant even if FIRECalc could do it.
I mostly agree with what you are saying here. I'll just note that urn2bfree asked about SWR theory which is broader than FIRECALC and hence I've been thinking more generally in my responses.

Yes FIRECALC is extremely limited. But we know in a qualitative sense which way the risk is going to move (and I think this is actionable). One might also argue that the MC methods can give a sense of the magnitude of the increased risk.
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Old 06-17-2014, 10:33 PM   #155
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...
My main disagreement is with ERD50's statement that "you don't need to re-adjust after a market drop". ...
I'm back, so let me explain it this way.

First, I think it is easier to discuss if we use a 100% historically safe WR, which based on defaults is a 3.59% WR.

The reason that "you don't need to re-adjust after a market drop", is because that value was historically safe in every single cycle. Every one. So no, you "you don't need to re-adjust after a market drop", because that market drop is just one of the squiggly lines on the output chart that dips and rises and passes with a 100% historically safe WR - without re-adjustment.

How can it be otherwise?



Now, maybe you are talking about taking a 4% WR with 95% success, and trying to identify when you are on one of the 5% failure paths, and then readjusting? OK, I don't think FIRECalc gives the fine granularity to look at this, other than trying to use the single year spreadsheet output (but that is only valid for 30 year cycles, IIRC), look at where the problems occur, and see if you can formulate a spending adjustment that will recover. I can tell you from previous studies that 1966 is one of the failure start years.

And I think you will find it takes some serious cuts for some serious time to recover - it isn't simply a matter of hamburger versus steak once a week, or dropping cable. From my earlier post:

Quote:
I just tried this in FIRECalc -

FIRECalc: A different kind of retirement calculator << link to my data entries

After default 4% WR, 30 years, ~ 95% success (but with 40K/1M for easy calculation). Then try to get to 100% with spending adjustments. I found it took cutting spending in half, in the fourth year, and continuing this reduced spending for 6 more years to get back to 100%.

That might work for someone with lots of discretionary spending, but I would not care to live 6 of my first 10 years of retirement at a 50% spending cut level.

Personally, I'd rather go with a constant 3.59% WR which succeeds 100% historically for 30 years, with no adjustments.
You can try slicing that different ways, it would be interesting to see other cuts/times that would get back to 100%, so please report back if you run some.

I also suspect you'd have a tough time identifying the failures other than in the rear-view mirror. A scary market drop followed by a decent recovery and moderate inflation might be a success path, while a more modest drop followed by years of inflation might be a killer.

But, we might learn something if we could segregate the worst 10% of the starting years and study them. We might see some commonalities.

-ERD50
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Old 06-18-2014, 12:12 AM   #156
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I am skeptical that returns are as random as a coin toss or roulette wheel. Economic behavior alters at peaks and after crashes - unlike coin tosses and roulette wheels, markets DO have memory of what happened before so they are related or correlated and not random

...and I think if one were to study hundreds or thousands of years of markets you will find that barring complete destruction of a market, (hence the need for diversification) what goes up will come down but also what goes down will go up.

I don't know the answer to this but I would be interested to know the record number of consecutively negative years in the history of all markets...so far, What is it? 3? 4? As pointed out in that article about Japanese markets, even in the horrible lost 20+ years of the Nikkei, a rebalancing person with a 50/50 AA would have made money despite a two decades long downward trend...
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Old 06-18-2014, 06:32 AM   #157
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A recent Vanguard study showed most current retirees still had pensions and many worked. The people who post here living off portfolio income appear to be in the minority -

COLUMN-Surprise: Even wealthy retirees live on Social Security and pensions | Reuters

"The findings are all the more striking because the big buzz in the retirement industry these days is about how to generate income from nest eggs. That includes creation of income-oriented portfolios, systematic drawdown plans and annuity products that act as do-it-yourself pensions. Yet few retirement account holders actually are tapping them for income. The Investment Company Institute reports that just 3.5 percent of all participants in 401(k) plans took withdrawals in 2013."

The Consumer Expenditure Survey also does not show dividends and interest to be a big portion of income for most senior households -

http://www.bls.gov/cex/2011/Standard/age.pdf
This isn't really surprising IRA were around until 1974 and 401K until 1978.
Neither were particularly popular until the late 1980s in largely due to cut back of pension by relatively small number of large companies with pension.

So most people retiring today have had most 35 years to contribute to a IRA/401K and often only been doing so for 15 to 20 years. Obviously a typical retired who retired in say 2000 had had even less time to contribute to saving plan.
The 85% of companies had pension statistic is misleading because it is only companies that offered a retirement plan. Up until the IRA, the majority of American had no saving vehicles available at all.
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Old 06-18-2014, 07:08 AM   #158
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I wonder if there might be some overthinking going on here...
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Old 06-18-2014, 07:11 AM   #159
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I wonder if there might be some overthinking going on here...


Now we'll have to discuss the various approaches to overthinking, with special emphasis on the historical view vs. technical analysis.
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Old 06-18-2014, 10:48 AM   #160
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Firecalc is a data point, an input for ones consideration. In the case of Joe and Mary being caught in the twilight zone, their realities are a little different.

Joe using last year’s information is sitting in the first row of the roller coaster arms extended making funny noises.
Mary using this year's information is presented with data implying now might not be the best time to start withdrawing.
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