Retirement Revamp

Michael Perry

I RECENTLY RETIRED and have a lump sum from my former employer to invest. For months now, I’ve presumed that I would just add it to our existing investments in the same proportions, easy-peasy. In practice, however, one consideration has led to another, so I’ve made no firm decisions.

Within our 70% stock-30% bond portfolio, I’ve long had a soft rule of keeping well over a third of our stocks in broad market index funds. I see now that this was a rule of convenience, made after I was forced into compliance. As my 401(k) offered only index funds, I invested in them, and then took credit for the wise decision to index.

With the new lump sum rolled into my IRA, I now have a universe of possibilities—for good or ill. Adding to the impasse: At some point, I’ll roll my index-hugging 401(k) assets into an IRA, as well. How should I invest this money?

At the end of December, I took advantage of earlier capital losses to sell down some winning positions in our taxable account, parting with some actively managed funds that I really like, but with the goal of making our portfolio more tax-efficient. Must I say goodbye to these funds completely, I wondered, or should I ease my “one-third index” rule and reacquire them in my now-larger IRA? We’d still have some money in index funds, just less.

Alternatively, I’ve considered investing the lump sum in an index-based balanced fund or target-date fund. Although my retirement year has arrived, I’d choose a target year in the future to gain a higher stock allocation.

An index-based target fund would keep up my index holdings. And while it adds a new fund to the mix, it might also add some simplicity. I’d give no more thought to my asset mix for that portion of the portfolio, plus a target-date fund would add exposure to assets that we don’t own as individual positions, such as Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities.

I notice that Fidelity Investments’ target-date funds, both the indexed and active versions, continue to hold more than 40% of their stock allocation in international shares even after their target dates. I like that, and I’m inclined to raise our allocation to foreign stocks and also to venture a bit beyond indexes. Research has shown that active management may have some advantages overseas, particularly among small-company stocks and emerging markets.

One argument has kept me from acting. Since a retiree like me will be spending U.S. dollars, perhaps we need higher U.S. stock holdings in retirement. Still, after a decade of foreign-stock underperformance relative to the U.S. market, I’m thinking about taking our allocation from somewhere around a third of our stocks now to 40%, closer to the market weight for foreign shares as a portion of global stock market value.

What about bonds? Part of the lump sum will be invested there. This is another area in which research indicates some benefits to active management. My default would be to add to our already significant position in Fidelity Total Bond, an actively managed fund. Another option would be to add a short-term bond fund, which would be less sensitive to interest rate hikes that the Fed has assured us are coming. As it is, much of our bond allocation is already in certificates of deposit and my 401(k) plan’s stable value fund, so we stand to benefit from a rate increase and avoid the volatility now afflicting the bond market.

A third bond option would be to add money to a U.S. total bond market index fund. This would offer the usual cost advantage of indexing, plus that index focuses on higher-quality bonds, which could provide better ballast in a stock market drop.

Decisions about bonds would be more important if we were to shift from our current 70% stock-30% bond allocation toward the traditional 60% stock-40% bond mix. Yet this is a move that I’m not as inclined to make. While it feels right to reduce stock risk at this stage, market risk isn’t the only danger. What we regard as “safe assets” now are threatened by inflation. A greater stock allocation could give us more protection there.

In thinking through all these considerations, I find that I’ve come full circle. A traditional allocation using index funds would be good should we suffer cognitive decline. Perhaps then we’d be less likely to go down ill-advised investing paths, failing to recognize the risks involved. This basic approach might also benefit a surviving spouse who is less interested in investing.

As William Bernstein says, if you’ve won the game, why keep playing? As in sports, our task is to do the best we can without hurting ourselves. My conclusion: A well-balanced allocation—with a significant share given to indexing—should give us a reasonable chance of accomplishing that.

Michael Perry is a former career Army officer and external affairs executive for a Fortune 100 company. In addition to personal finance and investing, his interests include reading, traveling, being outdoors, strength training and coaching, and cocktails. Check out his earlier articles.

Do you enjoy HumbleDollar? Please support our work with a donation. Want to receive daily email alerts about new articles? Click here. How about getting our twice-weekly newsletter? Sign up now.

Browse Articles

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Free Newsletter