When the market gets rocky, it can be especially hard on retirees who can't afford to wait out the bumps. Give your portfolio a check up and make sure your investing strategy still works for you.
Question: My husband and I have been retired for five years. In just a few months our retirement portfolio of stocks and bonds has dropped in value from almost $500,000 to just over $400,000. Our broker says, “Hold on, it will come back soon.” But this is our retirement! We wonder if we should sell our investments and invest the proceeds in federally insured CDs. What do you think? —Anne, Huntsville, Alabama
Answer: First, let me say I totally understand your concern. After you’ve retired, seeing the savings you’re depending on to support you the rest of your life take a hit of nearly 20% can really rattle you, especially when there’s no guarantee that the slide might not end there.
But I don’t think moving your entire stash into CDs is the answer. While CDs do provide security of principal - assuming you take steps to assure they’re covered by FDIC insurance - they don’t offer very high returns these days, nor much long-term protection against inflation.
So although shifting your nest egg into CDs might provide short-term comfort, in the long run it may make it more difficult for you to maintain your standard of living in the face of rising prices later in retirement.
That said, I also don’t think the right answer is for you to automatically follow your broker’s recommendation and wait things out. Blindly following this advice when you’re clearly very fearful and conflicted about it wouldn’t make sense.
All of which is to say that I think you need to sit down with your broker and go over your overall investing strategy. And by strategy I don’t mean just an explanation of why your broker believes your investments will come back.
I’m talking about an in-depth discussion during which your broker explains how your savings are divvied up between stocks and bonds, outlines exactly what types of stocks and bonds you’re invested in and demonstrates why this is the right approach for you.
At the very least you want to know why your portfolio has lost almost 20%. That’s a big hit considering that over the past three months, the broad stock market has lost about 10% of its value on a total return basis and bonds have lost about 2%.
Of course, the market has been down a lot more than 10% several times this year, so maybe you’re measuring your loss over a slightly different time period. But either way, for the value of your portfolio to dip anywhere close to 20%, you would likely have to be invested pretty darn aggressively, particularly for a retiree. So you need to know the rationale behind this portfolio.
You and your broker should also talk about such issues as how much money you intend to withdraw each month from your savings to meet expenses, how many years you need your portfolio to last, what sorts of other resources you and your husband can tap (pensions, home equity, income from part-time work, etc.) and how much risk you’re willing to take.
But this shouldn’t be just a gabfest. Your broker should be able to give you a sense of how long your portfolio might reasonably last given the way your money is currently invested and how much you’re withdrawing each month.
I’m not talking about a guarantee. That would be unrealistic. But by using computerized simulations, your broker should be able to give you a reasonable estimate of the probabilities of your portfolio running dry based on different withdrawal rates and how well or badly the market performs.
Even more important, your broker should be able to run some alternative scenarios for you, showing how your portfolio’s longevity might change if you invest differently from what he’s recommended (for example, going into CDs).
In short, your broker needs to do a comprehensive review of your portfolio with you so you can decide whether the course your broker has mapped out still makes sense or whether you need to take a different tack.
The kind of analysis I’m talking about isn’t rocket science. Any competent adviser should be able to do it. You can also do a simplified version of your own using online tools.
So I recommend you and your husband contact your broker and then go through the sort of exercise I’ve outlined above. If your broker can’t or won’t do this - or you don’t have confidence in the analysis you get - then you may want to search for a new adviser who can help you arrive at a more acceptable investing and retirement income strategy, and who’ll respond with more than bromides when things go wrong.