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Settling on a plain old balanced fund
Old 12-14-2009, 04:47 PM   #1
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Settling on a plain old balanced fund

So I've been hemming and hawing over the last six weeks (when I first posted here) about how to invest the growing pile of cash that we're sitting on. I finally picked up Bernstein's Four Pillars over the weekend. About halfway through it I drew up the following asset allocation... 50% bonds, 20% international, 12% domestic large blend, 11% domestic small value, 7% REIT.

That looked good until I realized that it would involve managing a whole slew of different funds between our TSP, Roth IRA's, and taxable accounts. I have a feeling that constantly fiddling with such a portfolio would be far too tempting for me.

Anyway, maybe trying to find the optimal mix of small-cap value, large-cap growth, etc. is missing the forest through the trees? Bernstein's more important advice is probably just that we put together a low-cost, diversified portfolio that fits our risk tolerance (erring on the conservative side) and maintain a long-term perspective.

On that note, I think I'm ready to just settle on a balanced fund and start living life instead of worrying about the minutia... maybe Wellington or STAR for our Vanguard accounts and Life Cycle 2020 (currently a 60/40 mix) for the TSP.

I can't really go too wrong with that, right?

Tim
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Old 12-14-2009, 05:03 PM   #2
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That is a reasonable approach and you wouldn't be going too wrong with it. However I have an idea that might improve it a little.

For tax efficiency purposes it is considered smart to put your bond funds in tax sheltered accounts. So if you wanted to do that, you could put your bond allocation in the TSP (G or F funds) and your stock allocation in your taxable accounts, perhaps VTSMX (Total Stock Market Index) and VFWIX (FTSE All World Ex-US Index Fund).

Of course the relative sizes of taxable and tax sheltered accounts are never perfect for this sort of approach, but perhaps the idea would be useful.

Please bear in mind that I am NOT one of our "investment gurus" and others may have more intelligent comments to make. Or you could go to the Bogleheads board for some critique of your proposed portfolio, since we are not primarily an investment advice board.
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Old 12-14-2009, 05:31 PM   #3
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W2R's suggestion is a good one if you can resist fiddling. If not, Wellington, STAR and Vanguard Balanced Index would be quite reasonable choices. I am not a fan of the Target fund idea, but YMMV.
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Old 12-14-2009, 05:45 PM   #4
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I am not a fan of the Target fund idea, but YMMV.
My idea is to use the Life Cycle fund as a poor man's balanced fund, rather than for its intended purpose. I picked 2020 because it's currently a 60/40 mix. In a few years I could switch over to 2030 to keep roughly the same 60/40 mix, and so on.

It seems easier than trying to maintain the mix of 34% G, 8% F, 17% I, 31% C, and 10% S for myself.

Tim
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Old 12-14-2009, 06:11 PM   #5
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I vote for the poor man's balanced fund! From my experience with trying to rebalance every year, the easiest (and maybe most effective) way is to go with the Target and/or Life Cycle funds! The trick is trying to get exposure to other areas (international, health care, mining, technology, etc) and knowing where to put them (taxed/non-taxed)... I'm in the same predicament as you Tim and trying to figure out a good allocation. Let me know when you get the right answer!
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Old 12-15-2009, 06:36 AM   #6
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..................For tax efficiency purposes it is considered smart to put your bond funds in tax sheltered accounts. So if you wanted to do that, you could put your bond allocation in the TSP (G or F funds) and your stock allocation in your taxable accounts, perhaps VTSMX (Total Stock Market Index) and VFWIX (FTSE All World Ex-US Index Fund).....................
Lest this slip by without adequate notice - this is important if you are looking at a fund comprised of both stocks and bonds.
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Old 12-15-2009, 06:53 AM   #7
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Then what about just using Vanguard's Tax-Managed Balanced Fund (VTMFX) in our taxable account? 50% municipal bonds and 50% stocks...

If I'm not mistaken this means I would only be taxed on capital gains and dividends from the stocks, same as if I held all my bonds in tax-sheltered accounts. It might add some diversification to my bond holdings as well since I don't think the other funds (Wellington, STAR, F-fund, etc.) hold municipals bonds at all.

Tim
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Old 12-15-2009, 07:08 AM   #8
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I can't really go too wrong with that, right?

Tim
Picking a good balanced fund and then leaving it alone is a great way to handle it! So simple. In investing, simple is good!

Audrey
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Old 12-15-2009, 07:18 AM   #9
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Tax managed balanced should be a decent choice, assuming you are happy with the asset allocation.
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Old 12-15-2009, 10:43 AM   #10
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Tax managed balanced should be a decent choice, assuming you are happy with the asset allocation.
Can someone explain to me what the tax managed fund does that the other VG balance funds don't. I have not seen any short-term capital gains from any of others?
And secondly, it would be nice to have a balance fund that is more broadly diversified, including REITs and commodities.
TJ
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Old 12-15-2009, 12:28 PM   #11
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Can someone explain to me what the tax managed fund does that the other VG balance funds don't. I have not seen any short-term capital gains from any of others?
And secondly, it would be nice to have a balance fund that is more broadly diversified, including REITs and commodities.
TJ
1) The TM balanced fund uses municipal bonds instead of fully taxable bonds [like VBINX, VWELX, etc.]

2) From the prospectus:

Quote:
The Vanguard Tax-Managed Funds aim to minimize the impact of taxes on investors’ total returns by operating in a taxefficient manner. Each Fund uses these tax-management techniques:

• Low turnover. Each Fund seeks to minimize turnover by employing an index-oriented approach to stock investing. Frequent trading—a hallmark of many actively managed funds—causes the Fund to realize capital gains, which must then be distributed to shareholders, reducing after-tax returns.

• A disciplined sell-selection method. When selling specific securities, each Fund will select a specific share lot—more often than not, the highest-cost shares—in order to minimize realized capital gains. In addition, the Fund may sell securities at a loss in order to offset realized capital gains that would otherwise have to be distributed to shareholders.

• Bias against taxable dividend income. The Tax-Managed Balanced and Tax-Managed Capital Appreciation Funds minimize taxable dividend income by focusing on the lower-yielding stocks in their shared benchmark index (the Russell 1000 Index). In addition, the bond portion of the Tax-Managed Balanced Fund is made up of municipal securities, which generate tax-exempt dividends.
Also, the TM balanced fund has never declared a capital gain, unlike VBINX which last declared capital gains in the 1990's through 2001.
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Old 12-15-2009, 05:50 PM   #12
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After playing around with Index funds for yrs, from chasing performance to following some of those big shot books? I gave up! In therory? Sure, they work fine, but not for me ( or most others)

Bal funds were my savior..
Starting with A 50/50 combo of VWELX and VWINX
then I added others..
I found....and IMO..

LCORX and PRWCX as Aggressive one's
OAKBX and FPACX as Moderate one's
PRPFX as a Conservative one..

Then an Interview with Jack Boggle by Forbes.. " AMF's ( Active Mge Funds) will outperform a Comparable Port of Indexes an ave of 1 out of 3 yrs, it's how they do the other 2 that counts"

So, I watched my AMBF's and Sure enough they did out perform the ave of 1 out 3 yrs, but they also did as good or better the other 2 ..and did alot better in the previous Bear yrs of 00-02' , so, I started moving things out of VWELX and VWINX

Now depending on what your Needs are and what you THINK you need ( whcih is more likey going to be over aggressive and wrong) you can change your % allocations btwn them..

A Simple 3 Fund port of PRWCX, OAKBX and PRPFX and gradually reduce the 1st and 2nd and add more to PRPFX..as you get older
and about 3-5 yrs Before retiring? Start adding some Income making-Yld Bonds..

Or can do the same just using VWELX & VWINX..but u may earn alittle less...( about 33% less past 10 yrs ) it's upto to you..
per Cost basis of $10k..btwn 99-08':
50/50 in VWELX & VWINX = about $16,000 Tot. value ( lost about -16% Btwn them in 08' )
33% in PRWCX, OAKBX and PRPFX = $21,400 TV.( Lost about -17% in 08' )

Very conservative : OAKBX, PRPFX and the newer HSTRX..or use VIPSX. ( Lost about -6% btwn them in 08' )

Now wether or not these will continue to Outperform and get the job done in the next Decade? I have no idea, I just have to stay with who brought me this far, until they prove otherwise.

As for using those TM funds? Maybe, but I had a Small % allocation Port of them to see how it went for 5 yrs and sure, I paid less Taxes per $10k, but I also Made ALOT Less over-all..vs my Higher Earning taxable Funds.. I'd be doing Alot of Backtesting first before going into them..

and not a Fan of those Target Funds either.. I don't buy things not previously tested in a Bear market when they came out and wanted to see how they would do.. Well, 08' proved to me, they aren't my kind of investment for me..and I don't like to Put "all my eggs in one basket" or in this case just one fund family..and let them decide what of their Funds to put it in..there is no competition and too much temptation on their end..and Vanguard still doesn't have any Global or EMD bond funds either..

Hope that helps..can get more ideas over in the M* Message Boards..
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Old 12-15-2009, 07:58 PM   #13
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Then an Interview with Jack Boggle by Forbes.. " AMF's ( Active Mge Funds) will outperform a Comparable Port of Indexes an ave of 1 out of 3 yrs, it's how they do the other 2 that counts"

So, I watched my AMBF's and Sure enough they did out perform the ave of 1 out 3 yrs, but they also did as good or better the other 2 ..and did alot better in the previous Bear yrs of 00-02' , so, I started moving things out of VWELX and VWINX
Eh... I'm not sure I understand what you are saying here. You think actively managed funds are better than passively managed index funds? So you moved money out of VWELX and VWINX? But they are both actively managed...

Tim
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Old 12-15-2009, 08:28 PM   #14
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Lots of good ideas here if you can manage your greed/fear levels . My take on this is that I personally manage our portfolio using index funds with a target allocation of 55/45. But VWELX is one fund I watch to see if I can beat it. Seems to be a very well managed 65/35 (roughly) fund. Foreign is only 13% of this so one might want a little VGTSX (Total International) too.
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Old 12-20-2009, 08:05 PM   #15
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A follow-up...

After thinking about this a little more I've decided to go ahead and "roll my own" after all. I noticed the 1% redemption fee on Tax-Managed Balanced and figured that I could replicate it by mixing Total Stock Market with Tax-Exempt Intermediate. And if I'm going to be managing those, I figured I might as well do the same with our Roth IRA's... mixing Small-Cap Value with Total Bond Market.

It's still relatively simple (only 2 funds per account) and it's cheaper... 0.18-0.28% expenses vs. 0.35% for Wellington.

Using the TSP Life Cycle fund still seems like a good idea for the sake of simplicity, and that will give us some international exposure.

Tim
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Old 12-21-2009, 06:05 AM   #16
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AMBF's vs Not..
the #1 reason I like AMBF's ( actve mge bal funds) is it takes away the #1 reason most of us Fail on managing our own.. It takes Ourself out of the equation.. It is just like Hiring a FA to manage a Port for you..

It's not for owning them per it's technicals.. Of course Experienced Investors with a Better track record can do better..

Being in the Limo Business In Chgo/NY & Boston and serving Hundreds of Pro's in the Investment business over 30 yrs... It's the most common mistakes by Amatures..It's more a Ego thing than anything else and others are just being a Penny Wise and a Dollar Foolish..

But have you? Best to "Know they Limitations" & Do a Reality Ck. before it's too late.
I've met so many, that are successfull intheir Own Careers, thinking they can be the same managing their Own Investments, only to end up Underperforming a Simple AMBF or a combination of using 2 of them and set up their own Target Date fund.. by owning 1- Aggressive like a VWELX and a Conservative like VWINX and just reduce the one and increase % in the other every 5 yrs or so to be 100% into VWINX by Retirement time. ( this is From 99' and 00' advice)

BTW? I and others have advocated NOT to be in Int'l Equity Funds.. they are way too risky..and their history ( since 00') has proven that. If want to Guess on Int'l? Use Int'l /Global/EMD Bond Funds instead..Otherwise using Int'l Equites is just chasing performance and you're kidding yourself if you think you wouldn't have sold it by 02' and in by early 09'.. ( Less than 18% of Investors are truly B&H per Forbes)

And If VG had them? They would be recommending them..

and Owning a OAKBX and PRPFX combo has been a even better combo than VWELX and VWINX. Adding a TGBAX ( GIM) and a FNMIX and you're good to go.

09' /10 yr apy
OAKBX = + 18.7% /10%
PRPFX = + 19% /10%
TGBAX = + 18%/ 11%
FNMIX = +44%/ 12%

"It's not so much the Funds we get into trouble with, it's the % allocations and most tend to let the Hot One's go w/o rebalancing too long and too late." Jason Zweig- The Intellegant Investor.

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Tommorow is a Mystery
Today is a Present..
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Old 12-22-2009, 06:44 AM   #17
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I can't really go too wrong with that, right?

Tim
You can actually go wrong with that in a couple of instances. Firstly, if you put your 90k into Govt. bonds today you will likely loose money over the next year or two and beyond depending on the date of maturity of the bonds. Secondly, even if you make money you won't be beating inflation by much if at all and in the long term that means you won't have any significant growth.

For example, if you get 5% on your 90k and invest $500 per month over the next 20 years and factor in a 3% inflation rate you will have invested 90k + 500*12*20 or 120k for a total of $210,000. Your total balance over those 20 years at 5% with a 3% inflation rate will be $281,617.94 for a pathetic total return of $71,617.94.

Now lets say you put 90k into 30 year Govt bonds today at 4.8% and inflation kicks in, which it will at a pretty brutal pace very soon. The yield on 30 year bonds shoots up to 10% and the value of the principle you paid goes down and you're still making 4.8%. Not good either.

Next assume you gain a return of 8% with the same 3% avg inflation rate with the same 90k + 500 per month over 20 years. Your $210,000 invested is now worth $449,654.46. Your total return is now $239,654.46.

I understand your worries very well but you've got to look beyond the short term downswings in the market - even downturns like what happened at the end of 2008. You can mitigate the impact over the long term by consistant investment, i.e. dollar cost averaging. Dollar cost averaging can also be used to gradually invest your nestegg of 90k into the market.

I'm not going to tell you how to suck the egg and what % of your money to put where, but ~50% or 60% or whatever in bonds at the age of 23 or 24 is like burning money. You can be a responsible investor without investing like you need the money tomorrow. Pulling your money out of your Roth IRA anticipating an upcoming downturn isn't great either. You probably heard on the news there might be a double dip recession or something. Well, guess what? There might very well be but very very few professional investors can time the market with any profitability. As a new investor, I would recommend you invest your monthly $450 or whatever into your Roth every single month. When the market is up you get less for your $, when its down, you get more, simple. Most people who try to time the market sell toward the end of a downswing and buy when prices are well up from the lows and they are "sure" that the worst is over. They've ensured that they make a lot less money than those to regularly invest.

I could go on and on but I'll stop. You are making some long term decisions that are going to cost you down the road. Hopefully what I've said makes some sense. Hell, I registered this account just to respond to your thread.

Good luck though, you are way ahead of most of your peers.
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Old 12-23-2009, 10:08 AM   #18
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3504PIR,

I think maybe you were replying to my first thread from a couple months ago... I'm not talking about going 100% fixed income or timing the market here. This thread was an admission that I need to find a balanced asset allocation that I can stick with long-term (i.e. not 100% stocks, which I got out of in October so that I could objectively reevaluate things).

And sorry, but I hardly think that holding some bonds is "like burning money" just because you don't think they will return as much as stocks over the long-term. By your logic, everyone should be in 100% stocks, regardless of age, because of the higher expected return. Hell, in that case, why not just invest in small-cap emerging market stocks?

For what it is worth, Bernstein mentions many times in his book that the Gordon Equation predicts significantly lower returns going forward (much closer to the return of bonds) because of the depressed dividend yield. True, it was written in 2002, but the dividend yield (and P/E10) is only slightly better today.

Inflation might kick in "at a pretty brutal pace very soon" (which seems like a certainty if you get all your news from talk radio and Fox news) but it might not either. There are apparently just as many economists, central bankers, and bond investors who are worried much more about years of anemic growth and low inflation. To me, maintaining a balanced portfolio (some of which will be spent in retirement, and some of which will be spent much sooner on a house/kids/education/etc.) and defending against both possibilities seems like the only prudent course of action.

Tim
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Old 12-23-2009, 11:10 AM   #19
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Ditto Timwalsh..
and if retired and /or have enough $ saved up? If Treasuries ever go bck to "the good ol' days" of 7%+ again? and especially 9% or more as in the Carter Days? It will be adios Equity and Bonds and hello Treasuries..Ladder them LT one's and you're good to go, no matter How great the Market is doing, for that will be for the short term..

past 30 yrs, S&P only ave 9.5% apy..
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Old 12-23-2009, 03:07 PM   #20
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3504PIR,

I think maybe you were replying to my first thread from a couple months ago... I'm not talking about going 100% fixed income or timing the market here. This thread was an admission that I need to find a balanced asset allocation that I can stick with long-term (i.e. not 100% stocks, which I got out of in October so that I could objectively reevaluate things).

I did reply to both threads and in the November thread you stated "Today the account balance sits at $11,222, having cashed out last week in anticipation of another big correction."

That to me is attempting to time the market and missing some solid gains from 1 NOV to 23 DEC.

And sorry, but I hardly think that holding some bonds is "like burning money" just because you don't think they will return as much as stocks over the long-term. By your logic, everyone should be in 100% stocks, regardless of age, because of the higher expected return. Hell, in that case, why not just invest in small-cap emerging market stocks?

You're talking about holding 50% bonds at the age of 23. I"m not talking about everybody. You've put or are planning to put your TSP money in the 2020 fund. Are you retiring in 2020?

I'm saying that now is a horrible time to buy bonds and the bonds in the TSP are US Treasuries. I'll try to be more clear. The fed funds rate is .25%. There is nowhere to go but up and up means inflating the yield. That discount in the yield will translate into the bond market. The market right now (not the Govt.) is raising the bond yield which means less people are willing to buy the bonds. Sooner or later the Govt will be forced to raise the yield incrementally at a pace yet to be determined to allow them to sell the debt. The Congress is raising the debt ceiling by ~1.8 trillion for the next 2 months. In short the Govt has to sell debt and when nobody wants to buy it, they will lower the price of the bonds thus raising the yield and in the process costing you money.

So if you buy bonds today, when the yield goes up, you lose money. Thus my burning money comment.

For what it is worth, Bernstein mentions many times in his book that the Gordon Equation predicts significantly lower returns going forward (much closer to the return of bonds) because of the depressed dividend yield. True, it was written in 2002, but the dividend yield (and P/E10) is only slightly better today.

Inflation might kick in "at a pretty brutal pace very soon" (which seems like a certainty if you get all your news from talk radio and Fox news) but it might not either. There are apparently just as many economists, central bankers, and bond investors who are worried much more about years of anemic growth and low inflation. To me, maintaining a balanced portfolio (some of which will be spent in retirement, and some of which will be spent much sooner on a house/kids/education/etc.) and defending against both possibilities seems like the only prudent course of action.

See above on what will be happening with inflation. Pull up a chart of 10 year treasuries over the past 6 months and look at the 200 day moving average. I don't live in the US so I don't watch Fox or listen to talk radio. I read a lot and I monitor the market pretty closely. Also I'm using common sense and I remember inflation. Anyone with any credibility who tells you that inflation might not happen with the state of our currency, economy and debt has to point to something much worse happening instead or they are full of themselves.

Tim
I think you'll find a balance which is what you're looking for, and you'll learn some things on your journey which we all do. Good luck.
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