Category Archives: Stock Market Investing

The 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate for retirement savings – A Reflection

The 4% rule of thumb; this is what got me convinced about the concept of Financial Independence. I am taking some time to reflect on this rule after a few years to better understand how it shapes an investor’s journey.

The 4% Rule

According to the 4% rule, one can withdraw a maximum of this amount from their portfolio (consisting of stocks and bonds) each year and never run out of money. Therefore having a portfolio of which 4% can cover your annual expenses means that you are Financially Independant (FI).

This amount or Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) was determined by examining historical stock market returns. A lot of investors have no idea how much to safely withdraw from their portfolio, fearing that they will deplete it, so the 4% SWR is definitely a good starting point.

What does this mean in practice? As an example; if the investor has monthly expenses of £1,000 or £12,000 annually, we need to work out 25 times the yearly amount to determine the value of their required portfolio size – £300,000. A portfolio of £1 million would provide an income of £40,000. By saving and investing at least 50% of their income such a portfolio is attainable in a relatively short period.

Historical Withdrawal Rates – Impact on Portfolio Value

Portfolio success rates: 1926 to 1995

The table above from the Retirement Savings: Choosing a Withdrawal Rate That Is Sustainable Journal, outlines success rates of portfolios with different stock/bond allocations over payout periods of up to 30 years. The data is for the period from 1926 to 1995. I do not expect results to be very different today and data from more recent periods shows even better results.

A quick glance shows that a Withdrawal Rate of 4% largely covers most individual scenarios with high levels of safety. 3% appears to be bombproof! 5% and 6% seem doable for the highly risk averse investors, and consequently means that they would need a relatively small portfolio.

Terminal value of a $1,000 dollar portfolio: 1926 to 1995

It is interesting to know how much your portfolio could be worth after a range of withdrawal time frames. An illustration is shown here. Generally, the portfolio will be worth a lot more on average, and the longer the period the larger the value. A striking example for the 75% Stocks/25% Bonds portfolio over 25 Years. A sixfold increase while withdrawing 4%!

Investor Progress

In my own personal situation, as of today i have achieved 62.37% FI in about 8 years with an average savings rate of 53.38%, while targeting a proportion of larger than 80% in stocks within my portfolio. It has been a bumpy ride, with markets ups and downs, but with stocks near all time highs things are looking positive.

My current Withdrawal Rate is 6.46% which is well short of the 4% I would be comfortable with. However, looking at the 6%/7% columns above makes me feel in a very good spot right now. Of course, lifestyle inflation can drastically alter these figures for the worse overnight, while Geographic Arbitrage can improve things.

A reflection of the progress and historical data shows that it is imperative to invest aggressively early on and stay the course until a safe level is reached. The aim is to buy stocks as often as possible, particularly when prices are low, while avoiding market timing.

 

Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting 2020 – Top tips from Warren Buffett

The latest annual 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting (AGM) held on 2 May in Omaha was as insightful as ever. Warren Buffett was on top form, dispensing timeless advice to investors, new and pros alike. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s partner was not present at this year’s meeting due to logistics difficulties brought by the ongoing Coronavirus epidemic. Instead, Buffett was flanked by Greg Abel, one of his deputies. Unlike previous years, the thousands of attendees were absent and the virtual meeting as streamed by Yahoo Finance. Here are key takeaways.

Market volatility

Dow Jones Industrial Average Chart

Dow Jones Industrial Average

Stock market prices can be very volatile for a whole range of reasons. This is something that investors should expect and huge price drops are to be expected once in a while. Buffett referred to the Dow Jones Industrial index’s long term performance. The price dropped by more than 50% in the 1930s, following the roaring twenties.

Full recovery only occurred after 1950, although dividends were collected in the meantime. Therefore, it is important for investors to have the psychological temperement in order to go through market drops and were possible buy more stocks at reduced prices.

Buffett gave the example of owning a farm. You would have purchased it at a value based on its projected investment return. However, A neighbour with a similar farm may offer to sell to you at a price which varies wildly from day to day. This is how the stock market behaves and does not mean that you should act on these prices.

Plant seeds now

Responding to a question about why Berkshire Hathaway invests huge capital in its energy businesses, Buffett and Abel outlined that these are long term, planned investments analogous to planting seeds. As investors, we can use this to plan for the future by making the right investments as soon as possible without focusing on an immediate return. Returns may not be epic, but will become substantial over a long time.

Index fund investing

To avoid disaster, investing in index funds offers wide diversification of industries within the economy. This is particularly important now in the time of the Coronavirus. Different sectors’ performance will vary as evidenced by a contrast in fortunes of Technology companies and the airline/ travel industry.

Berkshire has sold all of its holdings in four major airlines at a loss due to bleak prospects in the sector. Buffett alluded that the initial purchases were a mistake and that the world has now changed due t the virus. Such losses can be inflicted on individual investors too if the are into buying single stocks and day trading, rather than diversifying across the whole market.

Be prepared according to goals

Buffett revealed that Berkshire now holds over $130 Billion in cash/ equivelants. This seems like a huge figure but must be taken in the context that Berkshire’s overall market cap is nearly $400 Billion.

A large cash pile enables the company to protect investors and part of it may be used to make a large ‘Elephant’ size business acquisition when valuations permit. This opportunity has not appeared to Buffett during the recent chaos on the markets.

On a personal investor level, one can develop micro portfolios, which ensure that you are better placed to meet your goals if the market crashes. For example, if saving for a real estate property, one can have a dedicated fund with less than 40% stocks, and be 100% stocks if they have a longer term goal such as early retirement.

Appreciate key workers

Buffett and Abel also made known their appreciation of key workers in the current COVID-19 crisis. It is disheartening that people born in the right place at the right time or who can do things such as arbitrage bonds become more successful than those who do truly important work such as teachers, nurses delivery and transport workers. We really on such workers in times of crisis and rarely fully appreciate them in normal times.

It will be interesting how the next few months play out for investors. Diversification will be as important as ever as the World emerges to different ways of doing things.

The full 2020 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders meeting can be streamed on Yahoo Finance here.

Investing wisely during lockdown

Coronavirus investing

Lockdown will be a new experience for most if not all investors. Based in the UK, I have pretty much been housebound for over a week, apart from the occasional trip to the shop or for a walk. Fortunately, I am able to work from home so my productivity has not been impacted much. As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the World with increased intensity, here are my top tips for the Intelligent Investor.

Polish up you CV and Skills

It is no secret that, across the board, all types of companies, big and small, have been affected by the Coronavirus and are looking into different ways of mitigation. This may impact employees through reduced hours or pay, forced leave or redundancies.

In such times it is very wise for the employee to be prepared for the worst by getting their CV up to date, improving or learning new skills and have a Plan B. It may not be easy though as hiring may be scaled back or stopped in certain sectors.

Have a Low Information Diet

The worst thing about being stuck at home is that you will probably end up watching/ reading a lot of the news which ends up making you even more depressed. For investors, too much bad financial news may cause one to act irrationally.

Personally, I know a few people who were happy when the bull market was raging recently but are now either rushing to sell or hoping to stop investing when previous valuations are restored. Selling now will crystallize your losses forever. Instead, it is best to not check your portfolio frequently, stay the course and hold firm.

When I did my regular quarterly update my portfolio is down 18.33% so the net worth chart below looks bumpy. It may look like an entire year’s progress has been wiped out but it is a a good time to buy. My progress to Financial Independence has been scaled back but I will keep investing.

Net worth chart snapshot (to Q1 2020)

Net worth chart snapshot (to Q1 2020)

Keep buying stocks consistently

It is undeniable that Coronavirus is unlike anything investors have ever experienced. Even Warren Buffett said he had never seen such an event in his lifetime. The virus has touched every aspect of life from the housing market to visiting family. Unbelievable; even last month who would have ever thought that you would be never be able to move house or go to the local park.

The one thing to do now is to be consistent at buying stocks, preferably low cost index funds. This may be an opportunity of a lifetime for investors with a long term view, particularly if stock prices remain low for a prolonged period. When things recover, those who have been piling into the markets will reap the rewards.

Look out for the silver lining

It is also important to have a positive outlook. Not all bad things have to end up that way. If we get through this situation then there may be other opportunities to be had. You just have to be in the right place at the right time so it is worth thinking about any potential benefits in future.

A number of great businesses were born during scary recessions of the past including General Electric, Microsoft, IBM, Disney and FedEx. Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

You may be finally finding out in shock that your job or business can go at any moment. It is best to have some resilience. A level of Financial Independence can also help mitigate any financial hits.

Relevant posts:

Investing lessons from Warren Buffett’s letter to Berkshire Shareholders 2019 amid Coronavirus market panic 

Why I am Optimistic about future investment returns 

How to react to a Bear Market and invest wisely

Why volatility is an investor’s best friend and top insights from Warren Buffett’s 2017 letter 

Standoff and stocks selloff – Should Investors be worried 

The enduring strength of Index Funds and fallacy of active investing

The demise of Neil Woodford has been coming for a long time and has ended in a bloody nose for the active investment fund management sector. As long been explained by investing legends such as Vanguard’s John Bogle and Warren Buffett, investing using index funds is the only sensible way to go for most people.

Tough time for active investment funds

Active investing is going through a roller coaster ride which started when investors holding the Woodford Equity Income Fund were locked out of their assets. Things did not feel right and it was not a surprise when a few months later it was announced that trading the fund would be shut down. It was a shock for those who did not take time to educate themselves sufficiently about investing, rather deciding to go with the “British Warren Buffett”.

When this active fund was set up in 2015, I was still a novice at investing and followed the hype, buying some shares as part of my portfolio. However, within months I switched the shares to passive tracker funds, taking in the advice gleaned from books such as A Random Walk on Wall Street by Burton Malkiel. This was fortunate, as people who remained in the active Woodford fund have made huge losses.

Performance of the actively managed Woodford fund is shown in the chart below. In this relatively short period the passive FTSE All Share Tracker outperformed both the active fund and all funds within its category.

Woodford Equity Income Fund Performance (Morningstar UK)

Woodford Equity Income Fund Performance (Morningstar UK)

Focus in Costs

Achieving Financial Independence would already be impeded by the very high fees charged by active fund managers (0.75% per year in this case) compared to passive tracker funds which can be as low 0.06% – 13 times lower! This can easily run into hundreds of thousands of pounds over an investing lifetime. Additionally, it is highly unlikely to identify a star fund manager who can beat the market consistently over the long term.

Vanguard is leading the way by cutting costs while active managers are raking in millions for underperformance.

Performance is further degraded by frictional costs due to the frequent trading by active managers; typically selling when prices are low and buying when they are up.  

Low information diet

It is best to not succumb to the heavy marketing from the City and have a low information diet. Talk about asking the barber for a haircut, and getting a bad one at that.

As active fund managers are experiencing vey high outflows in the wake of the Woodford scandal, it is not a coincidence that the S&P 500 index has almost crossed over its all time high. Diligent long term passive investors will be disciplined and not worried about all these shannanigans.

This episode proves what has been outlined time and again on this and other platforms which seek to educate about the benefits of investing in index funds.

Time in the market works, rather than Timing the market. Financial education and staying the course are key to long term success.

Interesting reading: