For decades the standard representation for a balanced portfolio has been the “60/40”- 60% equities, 40% bonds. Although most investors diversified beyond this model and incorporated small caps, foreign stocks, high yield bonds, and perhaps something more exotic like REITs or commodities, a simple mix of 60% S&P 500 and 40% Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond is often the shorthand definition of a balanced portfolio.
For a generation, this simple approach worked well. Stocks provided capital appreciation and dividends, albeit with a dose of volatility. Bonds produced yield, capital appreciation as rates fell, and acted as a volatility dampener when stocks went south. One could have met actuarial demands of 6%, 7%, or even 8% via this simple portfolio.
Looking at the above numbers, one might be tempted to say, “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.” However, such an approach is dangerously naïve. The simple truth is that the likelihood of bonds posting returns anywhere near their historic levels is close to zero. In the graph below we can see the current yield curve. An investor purchasing 10, 20, or 30-year bonds will be hard-pressed to outperform inflation, while someone parking their money in the short end is essentially lending their money for free.
What impact does this have on the standard 60/40 portfolio components? Let’s run a simple algebraic calculation. Assume we have a standard 60/40 portfolio mix and the target return for the overall portfolio is 8%. If we assume that the 40% position in fixed income will return 2%, what would the remaining 60% in equities have to return in order to lift the portfolio up to 8%?
The answer might come as a nasty surprise: 12%
(This example uses simple, arithmetic returns. The example does NOT take into account the impact of compounding).
What To Do If the 60/40 Portfolio is Broken?
Given these circumstances, investors are left with an unappealing set of options, which include:
- Lowering the return expectation for the overall portfolio
- Taking on more risk and increasing the equity portion
- Simply hoping that the capital markets will do better than expected and deliver high returns
Hoping that capital markets will do better than expected is a dangerous choice.
A forecasted return of 2% on bonds might actually be too generous. After all, ten-year yields are only 1.49% as of June 30, 2016. Moreover, should rates rise bonds could suffer losses.
The average duration of several Morningstar fixed income categories is listed below. Should rates rise the average fund in these categories would be expected to lose the following amounts. (Numbers are based off of duration information and only take into account changes in interest rates. Convexity is not taken into consideration, nor are other factors such as a widening or tightening of credit spreads.)
If bonds can only deliver a 2% return, then equities must return 12% in order to produce an overall portfolio return of 8%. The table below details the levels of returns the 60% position in equity must generate in order to achieve different levels of total portfolio returns, assuming the fixed income return is locked in at 2%.
If there was any remaining doubt that bonds won’t be able to fulfill their traditional role in a portfolio, I’d recommend reading one of Bill Gross’s recent newsletters. Always interesting, Gross mentioned that in order to generate a level of return equal to the 7.5% return bonds have delivered over the past 40 years, yields would need to drop to negative 17%. In other words, bonds will NOT be delivering return similar to its long-term average over the past four decades.
At Swan Global Investments, we believe there is another option. We believe the traditional 60/40 portfolio (equity/bonds) is fundamentally broken and needs help. Investors are caught between a rock and a hard place, as both equity markets and fixed income markets are trading at all-time highs. We believe that the Defined Risk Strategy is a better solution and helps fix the problems with traditional balanced portfolios. The DRS combines volatility capture, long exposure to the market via ETFs, and effective hedging techniques in a single strategy designed to provide consistent returns throughout rising, declining, or flat markets without any dependency on fixed income or interest rates.
For more information please contact Swan at 970–382-8901.
About the author: Marc Odo, CFA®, CAIA®, CIPM®, CFP®, Director of Investment Solutions, is responsible for helping clients and prospects gain a detailed understanding of Swan’s Defined Risk Strategy, including how it fits into an overall investment strategy. Formerly Marc was the Director of Research for 11 years at Zephyr Associates.
Swan Global Investments, LLC is a SEC registered Investment Advisor that specializes in managing money using the proprietary Defined Risk Strategy (“DRS”). SEC registration does not denote any special training or qualification conferred by the SEC. Swan offers and manages the DRS for investors including individuals, institutions and other investment advisor firms. Any historical numbers, awards and recognitions presented are based on the performance of a (GIPS®) composite, Swan’s DRS Select Composite, which includes nonqualified discretionary accounts invested in since inception, July 1997, and are net of fees and expenses. Swan claims compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS®). All data used herein; including the statistical information, verification and performance reports are available upon request. The S&P 500 Index is a market cap weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the overall U.S. equity market. Indexes are unmanaged and have no fees or expenses. An investment cannot be made directly in an index. Swan’s investments may consist of securities which vary significantly from those in the benchmark indexes listed above and performance calculation methods may not be entirely comparable. Accordingly, comparing results shown to those of such indexes may be of limited use. The adviser’s dependence on its DRS process and judgments about the attractiveness, value and potential appreciation of particular ETFs and options in which the adviser invests or writes may prove to be incorrect and may not produce the desired results. There is no guarantee any investment or the DRS will meet its objectives. All investments involve the risk of potential investment losses as well as the potential for investment gains. This analysis is not a guarantee or indication of future performance. Prior performance is not a guarantee of future results and there can be no assurance, and investors should not assume, that future performance will be comparable to past performance. All investment strategies have the potential for profit or loss. Further information is available upon request by contacting the company directly at 970.382.8901 or visit swanglobalinvestments.com. 183-SGI-072116