Early Retirement & Financial Independence Community

Early Retirement & Financial Independence Community (https://www.early-retirement.org/forums/)
-   FIRE and Money (https://www.early-retirement.org/forums/f28/)
-   -   William J. Bernstein's Post 2009 Thoughts (https://www.early-retirement.org/forums/f28/william-j-bernsteins-post-2009-thoughts-103129.html)

Midpack 04-07-2020 08:21 AM

William J. Bernstein's Post 2009 Thoughts
 
Dr Bernstein was/is still my go to financial guru (Four Pillars is still the basis of my IP), though his pendulum regarding (equity) investing later in life swung toward the conservative to a greater extent than I expected after most of his high net worth clients couldn't stick with his guidance during the 2008-09 financial meltdown. Seems timely to share excerpts from his Preface in the book he wrote in 2010 after that experience. I will be re-reading the book myself starting today.
Quote:

Originally Posted by William J. Bernstein
The financial meltdown of 2008-2009 drastically changed the investment landscape, and if there was ever a time to leapfrog my previous books, it is now. [The Intelligent Asset Allocator & The Four Pillars of Investing]

As in the depths of the Great Depression, there are now generous returns to be had for the brave, the disciplined, the liquid. If there was ever a time to own a prudent portfolio that includes equities for the long term, it is now. [Note he is writing for investors of all ages here. His advice for 20-somethings is not the same as for retirees.]

Successful investing requires a skills set that very few people possess. This is difficult for me to admit; after all, I have written two books premised on the idea that anyone, given the proper tools, can turn the trick.

Successful investors need four abilities. First, they must possess and interest in the process. It is no different from carpentry, gardening or parenting. If money management is not enjoyable, then a lousy job inevitably results, and, unfortunately, most people enjoy finance about as much as they do root canal work.

Second, investors need more than a bit of math horsepower, far beyond simple arithmetic and algebra, or even the ability to manipulate a spreadsheet. Mastering the basics of investment theory requires an understanding of the laws or probability and working knowledge of statistics. Sadly, as one financial columnist explained to me more than a decade ago, fractions are a stretch for 90 percent of the population.

Third, investors need a firm grasp of financial history, from the South Sea Bubble to the Great Depression. Alas, as we shall soon see, this is something that even professionals have real trouble with.

Even if investors possess all three of these abilities, it will all be for naught if they do not have a fourth one: the emotional discipline to execute their planned strategy faithfully, come hell, high water, or the apparent end of capitalism as we know it. "Stay the course": It sounds so easy when uttered at high tide. Unfortunately, when the water recedes, it is not.

I expect no more than 10 percent of the population passes muster on each of the above counts. This suggests that as few as one person in 10,000 (10 percent to the fourth power) has the full skill set. Perhaps I am being overly pessimistic. After all, these four abilities may not be entirely independent: if someone is smart enough, it is also more likely he or she will be interested in finance and be driven to delve into financial history.

But even the most optimistc assumptions - increase the odds at any of the four steps to 30 percent and link them - suggests no more than a few percent of the population is qualified to manage their own money.

But if that leads you to wonder if you shouldn't actively participate in how your investments are managed...
Quote:

Originally Posted by William J. Bernstein
Chapters 5 and 6 focus on dealing with the investment industry to execute the investment strategies devised in the previous chapters.

I emphasize three main principles: first, to not be too greedy; second, to diversify as widely as possible; and third, to always be wary of the investment industry. People do not seek employment in investment banks, brokerage houses, and mutual fund companies with the same motivations as those who choose to work in fire departments or elementary schools. Whether investors know it or not, they are engaged in an ongoing zero-sum, life-and-death struggle with piranhas, and if rigorous precautions are not taken, the financial services industry will strip investors of their wealth faster than they can say "Bernie Madoff."

https://multimedia.knv.de/cover/39/4...903800001Z.jpg

Mountain skier 04-07-2020 08:26 AM

For retirees or people near retirement he recommends only a small percent in equities. Good advice, especially now with the market so incredibly unstable.

Midpack 04-07-2020 08:32 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mountain skier (Post 2406379)
For retirees or people near retirement he recommends only a small percent in equities. Good advice, especially now with the market so incredibly unstable.

It's nowhere near that simple, even from Dr Bernstein's current POV. Depends on the extent to which "you've won the game" among other things. Please don't oversimplify.

audreyh1 04-07-2020 08:35 AM

I certainly understood why he changed his advice to his investment clients. He was horrified to see so many of them bail and then get stuck by missing the recovery because they were too afraid to get back in. Maybe do-it-yourselfers do a little better, who knows.

You never know how long a recovery will take or how much worse it might get until well after the fact.

I just know that I don’t need all of my portfolio right now, and that I can afford to wait 10 years for half of it to recover if necessary. Not everyone sees it that way.

OldShooter 04-07-2020 08:39 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mountain skier (Post 2406379)
For retirees or people near retirement he recommends only a small percent in equities. Good advice, especially now with the market so incredibly unstable.

I read and re-read these guys (Bernstein, Taleb, Ellis, Bogle, Malkiel, etc.) almost constantly. Each has valuable insights and, IMO, a few blind spots. Bogle's blind spot (vs. pretty much everyone else) is to say that investing internationally is unnecessary.

On the subject of equities, I think Bernstein's blind spot is that he is assuming portfolios that are somewhat matched to retirees' needs. I like his comment on retirement investing: “Make no mistake about it: The object of this particular game is not to get rich – It’s to not get poor.

But as has been discussed here many times here, some of us have been fortunate to amass portfolios that are significantly beyond our likely needs. In this case, IMO, we are investing for our beneficiary children, charities, etc. and the effective time horizon for that tranche of our portfolio is longer than our lifetimes. So while I will continue to read and consider Bernstein's wisdom, I am not abandoning the idea that all we need in conservative money is a bucket that we reasonably expect to last our lifetimes. For us, that translates into an AA of 75/25. So I will respectfully be holding my ground on that and still not worry much about getting poor.

Running_Man 04-07-2020 08:55 AM

He didn't just "swing" in his opinions he shifted 100% AFTER 2008. He went from advocating 75% stocks at the peak of the market to 20 years of cash in 2009 and then wrote a book to intellectually justify the result. He sold a great many of his clients out at the bottom of the 2009 crisis, which he admitted.

He belittles people as not being able to understand statistics when he himself was driven by fear as his own clients in early 2009 saw the possibility of their retirement being ended and that experience scared him into changing his advice, selling a great many clients out of the market in Q1 2009 and then writing a book to sell and alleviate and intellectually justify the guilt he felt.

He himself does not have the fourth quality he so eloquently writes about. He claimed in 2009 it was the time to invest for anyone with money but his clients were 75% stocks and had lost most. Dropped them to 20 years cash and invested the rest and told them they were not intelligent enough to manage money. Then after writing book after book saying at any point in time you cannot possibly identify a good time to invest from a poor time, declares that returns would be "generous" going forward just like the great depression. Which is a "feeling" and basing future returns on one comparable margin.
I feel this way about him even though I felt the same way, however in 2007 when I felt the opposite and stated that you could recognize a buying opportunity Bernstein was quoted as an intellectual reason why one can't. And he claims to be one of the few percent of the world qualified to handle money. He basically writes that everything he wrote about previously was wrong.

People love an expert because it relieve's them of responsibility for their own actions and Bernstein plays right into that model in order to sell books and become rich. It is stress relieving to believe that one is incapable of doing anything and so staying with the herd is the right thing, this is as common in human stock investing as it is on the Serengeti for the wildebeest.

LOL! 04-07-2020 09:41 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Mountain skier (Post 2406379)
For retirees or people near retirement he recommends only a small percent in equities. Good advice, especially now with the market so incredibly unstable.

What? I have never got them from him. He recommends that if one has enough in relatively safe assets to fund retirement, but after that one can invest in anything they want. The older you are, the fewer the number of years that you need to fund because you are gonna die, so the less you might need in relatively safe assets and the more in equities you can have if you think you are investing for your heirs.

He just restated something similar when recently he was interviewed by Ben Carlson (video linked in another thread).

Rianne 04-07-2020 09:56 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by OldShooter (Post 2406390)
I read and re-read these guys (Bernstein, Taleb, Ellis, Bogle, Malkiel, etc.) almost constantly. Each has valuable insights and, IMO, a few blind spots. Bogle's blind spot (vs. pretty much everyone else) is to say that investing internationally is unnecessary.

Really? Every time we talk to our VG rep, I question international investments. They remain firm in anywhere from 10%-25% of our portfolio should be international index funds. That's what we have according to VG advice.

stepford 04-07-2020 10:00 AM

Though not directly related to his radical change in opinion, one thing that bothers me about Bernstein's followers is the assumption that his PhD (in Chemistry) gives him intellectual credibility and somehow lends his opinions greater weight.

I have a PhD in Physics. Big deal. Nobody should believe my financial advice just because I know how photons work. Reading suggestions from "experts" is fine but we should all look at data, run simulations and come to conclusions regarding investment strategy on our own.

foxfirev5 04-07-2020 10:06 AM

Don't confuse Bogle with current VG management.

OldShooter 04-07-2020 10:07 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by stepford (Post 2406455)
Though not directly related to his radical change in opinion, one thing that bothers me about Bernstein's followers is the assumption that his PhD (in Chemistry) gives him intellectual credibility and somehow lends his opinions greater weight. ...

I have never felt that. He's an ex-neurologist, no big deal. My assessment of his credibility comes from reading several of his books.

To the extent an an advanced degree in a scientific field is an asset IMO it is because the holder has some ability to gather evidence and analyze situations and has at least a basic understanding of statistics. @stepford, if you have not read anything by Nassim Taleb I'd encourage you to seek him out. He has important insights into the statistics of the real world and the inadequacy of a Gaussian model.

OldShooter 04-07-2020 10:23 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Rianne (Post 2406451)
Really? Every time we talk to our VG rep, I question international investments. They remain firm in anywhere from 10%-25% of our portfolio should be international index funds. That's what we have according to VG advice.

My recollection is that both Bogle and Buffett have maintained that going overseas is unnecessary. Buffett is even narrower, recommending S&P 500 funds instead of total US market funds.

Here is a pretty good paper from VG on the subject of international investing:www.vanguard.com/pdf/ISGGEB.pdf I have no clue what Bogle would have said about it.

Mountain skier 04-07-2020 10:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Midpack (Post 2406383)
It's nowhere near that simple, even from Dr Bernstein's current POV. Depends on the extent to which "you've won the game" among other things. Please don't oversimplify.

True, especially if you were forced to retire for any number of reasons. However, if you are able to retire by your own choosing you should have "won the game". Thus, according to Bernstein, if "you won the game" he recommends only invest after 25X living expenses are saved for the duration of your retirement. For most of us that is a small % of your NW.

Midpack 04-07-2020 10:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by LOL! (Post 2406441)
What? I have never got them from him. He recommends that if one has enough in relatively safe assets to fund retirement, but after that one can invest in anything they want. The older you are, the fewer the number of years that you need to fund because you are gonna die, so the less you might need in relatively safe assets and the more in equities you can have if you think you are investing for your heirs.

He just restated something similar when recently he was interviewed by Ben Carlson (video linked in another thread).

In the recent thread linking to Bernstein's interview he said 'stocks can be/are three mile island toxic to retirees.' But IMO he should have qualified that with what he's written. In the last chapter of The Investor's Manifesto he recommends for Ida a 50:50 portfolio for a 70 year old widow with $30K/yr in Soc Sec and annual spending of $68K/yr with a $1MM portfolio - 50% taxable and 50% sheltered.

As far as I can tell, he recommends no stock exposure for retirees looking at a 4% WR, but under some circumstances increasing exposure correlated with decreasing WR if risk tolerance allows.

Also from the book:
Quote:

Originally Posted by William J. Bernstein
If you hope to avoid outliving your money, you may very well have to spend some of your nest egg to purchase an immediate fixed annuity when you retire [something he didn't advocate before, and **]

True, by purchasing an annuity, you "lose control" of your money and in most circumstances there will be nothing left for your heirs. However, if you do not annuitize, it is depressing to realize just how little of your nest egg you will be able to safely spend.

My rule of thumb is that if you spend 2 percent of your nest egg per year, adjusted upward for the cost of living, you are as secure as possible; at 3 percent, you are probably safe; at 4 percent you are taking real risks; and at 5 percent you had better like cat food and vacations very close to home.

**later in the book:

Two years ago [2008], the finest minds in retirement finance would have thought that annuitizing away Ida's "longevity risk" with annuity policies from several different insurance companies was a dandy idea. It never would have occurred to them, by 2008, the long-term survival of most of the insurance companies offering these products might be at risk.

The recent [2008-09] crisis has made it painfully clear that the financial stability of the insurers themselves is not a sure thing. In my opinion, it would not be wise at this point to trust any insurance company, or combination of them, to stick around for the 20- to 40- year time horizon of a long-lived retiree.


RetiredAt55.5 04-07-2020 11:32 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by foxfirev5 (Post 2406460)
Don't confuse Bogle with current VG management.

+1

And the financial landscape has changed a lot since Mr. Bogle was running Vanguard. Vanguard has had to evolve to stay competitive with other investment companies.

On some things, Vanguard is still consistent, like generally recommending index funds. They just don't do it as stridently.

daylatedollarshort 04-07-2020 12:48 PM

I agree with Bernstein's advice on being wary of all investment professionals, even the low cost mutual fund company advisers. We we had them review my retirement calculations before we retired and they kept telling us "you need stocks for growth". They just kept saying that over and over even though their own retirement calculator showed we'd be fine with 100% short term fixed income. Clearly they had an agenda to keep us invested in asset classes they could make money off of.

The post 2008 William Bernstein adopted the idea of diminishing marginal utility in wealth management, but in my opinion a more interesting explanation of that concept is in the book Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein.

friar1610 04-07-2020 12:59 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by LOL! (Post 2406441)
What? I have never got them from him. He recommends that if one has enough in relatively safe assets to fund retirement, but after that one can invest in anything they want. The older you are, the fewer the number of years that you need to fund because you are gonna die, so the less you might need in relatively safe assets and the more in equities you can have if you think you are investing for your heirs.

He just restated something similar when recently he was interviewed by Ben Carlson (video linked in another thread).

+1

That's exactly how I read his advice for retirees. Have a "safe" portfolio to cover 20-25 years of expenses. Invest the rest however you want to in the "risk" portfolio - whether for your heirs, for the "around the world" cruise or whatever.

Midpack 04-07-2020 01:58 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by friar1610 (Post 2406583)
That's exactly how I read his advice for retirees. Have a "safe" portfolio to cover 20-25 years of expenses. Invest the rest however you want to in the "risk" portfolio - whether for your heirs, for the "around the world" cruise or whatever.

I've been re-reading The Investor's Manifesto all day, and maybe Bernstein has been quoted out of context somewhat, though his pre-2008 advice wasn't "no stocks at all" for anyone.
Quote:

Bernstein recommends a rule of thumb, based on annuity payouts and spending patterns late in life, that you should have 20-25 times your residual living expenses (after pensions/Social Security) invested solely in safe assets. No stocks at all. This should be in TIPS, SPIAs, and short-term bonds. If you have more than that, that’s your “risk portfolio,” which he describes this way:
Anything above that, you can invest in risky assets. That’s your risk portfolio. If you dream about taking an around-the-world trip, and the risk portfolio does well, you can use it for that. If the risk portfolio doesn’t do well, at least you’re not pushing a shopping cart under an overpass.
This is a little bit of a different way to think about things. The 4% Rule was developed based on keeping a significant portion of risky assets in the mix. The Trinity Study showed that having fewer stocks in the retirement portfolio INCREASED your risk of running out of money early. But Bernstein is suggesting that once you hit your number (which is about the same number you’d hit using the 4% Rule) you put all your money into safe assets. If you want a “risk portfolio” then you need to keep working a while longer. If you buy into Bernstein’s theory, you’d better plan on working a little longer, saving more, or spending less in retirement.
A lot of people had won the game before the [2008] crisis happened: They had pretty much saved enough for retirement, and they were continuing to take risk by investing in equities.
Afterward, many of them sold either at or near the bottom and never bought back into it. And those people have irretrievably damaged themselves.
I began to understand this point 10 or 15 years ago, but now I’m convinced: When you’ve won the game, why keep playing it?
How risky stocks are to a given investor depends upon which part of the life cycle he or she is in. For a younger investor, stocks aren’t as risky as they seem. For the middle-aged, they’re pretty risky. And for a retired person, they can be nuclear-level toxic.


Again, in The Investor's Manifesto he recommends a 50:50 portfolio for a 70 year old widow with $30K/yr in Soc Sec and annual spending of $68K/yr with a $1MM portfolio - 50% taxable and 50% sheltered. ???
https://www.whitecoatinvestor.com/be...-win-the-game/

audreyh1 04-07-2020 03:07 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by friar1610 (Post 2406583)
+1

That's exactly how I read his advice for retirees. Have a "safe" portfolio to cover 20-25 years of expenses. Invest the rest however you want to in the "risk" portfolio - whether for your heirs, for the "around the world" cruise or whatever.

Right, that’s how I read his post 2009 investing advice, and it was a big change from his prior approach. He was just so shocked at how his clients reacted to a very scary situation.

I didn’t change my own AA approach since I made it through 2008 without selling stocks.

daylatedollarshort 04-07-2020 03:12 PM

Midpack - For a safe portfolio, you may also want to read up on matching strategies. There is a poster named bobcat2 on Bogleheads who has many posts on the subject that always made a lot of sense to me, especially these days.


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 07:46 PM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.8 Beta 1
Copyright ©2000 - 2021, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.