Search Results for: swedroe

Larry Swedroe Personal Portfolio: Small Value Stock Premium Revisited

I’ve written a little bit in the past about including small-value stocks to your investment portfolio. “Small” means companies with a relatively smaller market cap (total market value) – definitions vary from being the bottom 10% by capitalization or being worth less than $1 billion. “Value” stocks are those that tend to trade at a lower price relative to others when measured against markers like earnings, dividend yield, sales, or book value.

This NYTimes article on the portfolio of investment advisor and author Larry Swedroe included some concise examples of how significant this small-value premium has been in the past. For one, small-value stocks outperformed the S&P 500 by about 4% annually from 1927-2010.

Put another way, by making a portfolio using small-value stocks and US Treasury bonds, you could have gotten similar performance to the S&P 500 with much lower risk. Specifically, you could have held 1/3rd small-value and 2/3rd Treasury bonds and had close to the same return as the S&P 500 over a 40-year period from 1970-2010. This chart summarizes:

Source: Buckingham Asset Management, New York Times

Will this “small-value premium” continue to persist? There are a few theories out there. One is behavioral, where small-value companies tend to be the more ignored and unpopular companies and thus are consistently underpriced. Another is based on the fact that small-value companies are simply riskier, and thus investors demand a higher return for holding them.

I happen to believe that there is something enduring about small-value stocks, but the size of my bet on that belief is relatively small – only about 5% of my target stock allocation. But I also know that you need to hold a very strong belief in whatever internal explanation you have for the outperformance. Otherwise, when small-value is the dumps for a while relative to the Current Hot Thing – and it will be, one day – you’ll sell and lose any potential edge.

Wise Investing Made Simple by Larry Swedroe

I’ve been getting back into reading financial books, but am really behind in writing reviews for them. One book I finished last month was Wise Investing Made Simple by Larry Swedroe, which promises “Tales to Enrich Your Future”.

The key word is “tales”, because this is not a book with complex mathematical formulas or lots of charts and statistics. (Although I love charts…) It contains 27 short stories using simple concepts like sports analogies to explain the benefits of a long-term, passive approach to investing. Each story includes a quick “Moral of the Tale” summary.

I’ve already written about my favorite tale in Why Sports Betting and Stock Picking Are Similar. But here is my paraphrasing of another good chapter:

The $20 Bill
Here’s is a common story used to poke fun at the Efficient Market Hypothesis. An economist who believes in efficient markets walks down the street with a friend. The friend says “Look, there’s a $20 bill on the ground!” The economist says “No way. If there was a $20 bill on the ground somebody would have already picked it up”, and continues to walk away. This supposedly counters the idea that in a truly efficient market it would be impossible to find an under-priced stock (similar to a $20 bill priced at $10 or even free).

However, this argument is not really correct. What the story eventually explains is that while many passive investors believe that the occasional $20 bill on the ground may exist, spending your time looking for them may not be the most effective way to make money. The same could be said about stock-picking or market timing. Persistence in beating the market (finding $20 bills) beyond the randomly expected is very difficult to find.

For the investor that is already committed to passive investing and fully understands the underlying reasons why they believe that is the best strategy for them, this book probably won’t bring that much new to the table. It won’t help you decide whether to hold 20% International or 45% International stocks, or if you should include exposure to commodities or precious metals. If you are a full-time trader who is adamantly against passive investing, this book probably won’t contain enough hard facts to sway you either.

Instead, I think the sweet spot for this book are those investors that have been told “index funds are great” and may even invest in them but don’t really know why they are so great and don’t have the interest level to read some dry investing book about correlations and standard deviations. The problem with this level of understanding is that when things get tough it can be easy to bail out if you don’t really know why you’re doing something. This book breaks things down into simple, bite-size pieces without being patronizing.

On a personal level, this book might not be the very first book on saving money I’d give someone, or my favorite book about investing, but I am going to keep it in my library because it provided some different ways to explain to others (and myself at times) why I invest the way I do.

Overall Rating: 3 Stars (ratings explained)

Municipal Bonds vs. Treasury Bonds Yield Gap: Liquidity Risk

riskIn my personal portfolio, I’ve been investing in tax-exempt municipal bonds instead of treasury bonds due to their higher taxable-equivalent yields. If you’ve done the same, you may be interested to know that Larry Swedroe at Advisor Perspectives argues that the reason for this yield spread is not credit risk, but liquidity risk.

After the first month or so following issuance, most municipal bonds tend to trade very infrequently, perhaps once a month or even less frequently. Thus, they are illiquid. Since the financial crisis, banks have dramatically reduced assets committed to their bond-trading activities, decreasing liquidity in the municipal bond market. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that liquidity premiums have widened. The result is that municipal bond yields are higher than they would have been if liquidity had not been reduced.

Many investors can bear liquidity risk, because they buy individual bonds with the intent of holding them to maturity. For them liquidity is not a major risk, at least in some portion of their portfolio; the reduced liquidity in the market makes municipal bonds more attractive.

The spread itself has been narrowing, according the chart below tracking the ratio of AAA-rated GO Muni bonds to Treasuries over the last 12 months (not adjusted for taxes). Taken from the most recent Baird’s weekly muni commentary.


Still, muni bond funds remain relatively attractive for many folks, especially in higher tax brackets. Use this Vanguard taxable-equivalent yield calculator and compare the numbers for your own situation.

Bottom line. My takeaway is that muni investors should acknowledge this liquidity risk, and be prepared for short-term swings in muni bond fund prices (due to illiquidity) if there is a major event (like a surprise bankruptcy filing). However, if you are truly a long-term holder of muni bonds, then you can accept this risk, hopefully ride things out, and be compensated with higher tax-equivalent yields.

Most Individual Stocks Don’t Outperform Cash?

A new academic paper was recently published with a confusing yet provocative title: Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?. Of course they do… right? An excerpt from the abstract:

Most common stocks do not outperform Treasury Bills. Fifty eight percent of common stocks have holding period returns less than those on one-month Treasuries over their full lifetimes on CRSP. […]

But everyone knows stocks return more than cash. How does this work? Taken altogether, stocks outperform cash. But if you picked any individual company, your results can vary from total bankruptcy to extraordinary wealth. The paper found that if you pick an individual company and held it over its lifetime, it would be more likely than not to underperform a 4-week T-Bill (classified as a cash equivalent). You can use the T-Bill as an approximate tracker of inflation.

Wes Gray points out at Alpha Architect that this idea has been explored before. Here’s a chart of the distribution of total lifetime returns for individual U.S. stocks. The research is done by Blackstar Funds, via Mebane Faber at Ivy Portfolio.


The U-shaped distribution shows that there are a lot of big losers and a lot of big winners. Actually some are huge winners. In the end, a small minority of stocks have been responsible for virtually all the market’s gains.


Here we see that out of the 26,000 stocks studied, these 10 stocks below have accounted for 1/6th of all the wealth ever created in the US stock market.


I should reiterate that these are lifetime returns, from when they appeared in the CRSP database until now or whenever they liquidated. Unless you bought these stocks essentially at IPO (or 1926 when the database starts), you probably didn’t get these returns. If you go out and buy a well-established company today, your distribution of returns will likely look different. You’d be less likely to go bankrupt but also less likely to make a 20,000% return.

If you take a step back, as Larry Swedroe points out, this means it is technically quite easy to outperform an index fund. You simply either (1) avoid investing in a few big losers or (2) invest extra in a few big winners. That’s it! Gotta be easy to filter out a few duds, right? Yet, the lack of outperformance on average by professional managers continues, and the managers that outperform can’t be predicted ahead of time. So you can keep looking for the needles in the haystack, or you can buy the whole haystack.

Reasons For Owning High-Quality Bonds

pie_flat_blank_200Here are some helpful resources on owning only bonds of the highest credit quality as part of your portfolio asset allocation.

  • David Swensen in his book Unconventional Success argued that alignment of interests is important. With stocks, the exectives want to make profits, and you want them to make profits. With stocks, your interests are aligned. In contrast, the job of bond issuers is to look as creditworthy as possible, even if they are not. This keeps the interest rates they pay lower. With bonds, your interest are not aligned. The safety ratings of bonds usually only get worse – usually quickly and unexpectedly as we saw with subprime mortgages. Ratings agencies are not very good at their jobs, mostly in a reactionary role, and are often paid by the same people they rate.
  • Larry Swedroe at

    However, he also observes that the primary objective of investing, at least in stocks, is to make money. On the other hand, he makes an important distinction when it comes to the primary objective of investing in bonds, which is to help you stay invested in stocks when the inevitable bear markets arrive.

    And that leads to his conclusion to invest the fixed-income portion of your portfolio in only the safest bonds (such as Treasurys, FDIC-insured CDs and municipals rated AAA/AA).

    The overall idea to is own the safest thing possible when it comes to bonds.

  • Daniel Sotiroff at The PF Engineer:

    The primary reason most investors own fixed income securities (bonds) is their ability to limit declines in portfolio value during periods of poor stock performance. From this perspective there is another dimension to safety in the fixed income universe that needs to be understood.

    […] Almost all of the non-Treasury securities experienced a drawdown during 2008 which peaked around October and November. Investors holding corporate bonds, intermediate and longer term municipal issues, and inflation protected securities were no doubt disappointed that their supposedly safe assets posted losses. Corporate bonds in particular have the unfortunate stigma of behaving like stocks during crises. Adding insult to injury those disappointed investors were also faced with taking a haircut on their fixed income returns if they wanted to rebalance and purchase equities at very low prices. Thus there is more to risk than the more academic standard deviation (volatility) of returns.

    My interpretation is that he concludes that intermediate-term Treasury notes are good balance of safety and interest rate risk, while short-term Treasury bills are for those that really don’t want any interest rate risk.

  • Also see this previous post: William Bernstein on Picking The Right Bonds For Your Portfolio

Global Asset Allocation Book Review: Comparing 12+ Expert Model Portfolios

gaafaberI am a regular reader of Meb Faber’s online writings, and volunteered to received a free review copy of his new book Global Asset Allocation: A Survey of the World’s Top Asset Allocation Strategies. It is a rather short book and would probably be around 100 pages if printed, but it condensed a lot of information into that small package.

First off, you are shown how any individual asset class contains its own risks, from cash to stocks. The only “free lunch” out there is diversification, meaning that you should hold a portfolio of different, non-correlated asset classes. For the purposes of this book, the major asset classes are broken down into:

  • US Large Cap Stocks
  • US Small Cap Stocks
  • Foreign Developed Markets Stocks
  • Foreign Emerging Markets Stocks
  • US Corporate Bonds
  • US T-Bills
  • US 10-Year Treasury Bonds
  • US 30-Year Treasury Bonds
  • 10-Year Foreign Gov’t Bonds
  • TIPS (US Inflation-linked Treasuries)
  • Commodities (GSCI)
  • Gold (GFD)

So, what mix of these “ingredients” is best? Faber discusses and compares model asset allocations from various experts and sources. I will only include the name and brief description below, but the book expands on the portfolios a little more. Don’t expect a comprehensive review of each model and its underpinnings, however.

  • Classic 60/40 – the benchmark portfolio, 60% stocks (S&P 500) and 40% bonds (10-year US Treasuries).
  • Global 60/40 – stocks split 50/50 US/foreign, bonds also split 50/50 US/foreign.
  • Ray Dalio All Seasons – proposed by well-known hedge fund manager in Master The Money Game book.
  • Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio – 25% stocks/25% cash/25% Long-term Treasuries/25% Gold.
  • Global Market Portfolio – Based on the estimated market-weighted composition of asset classes worldwide.
  • Rob Arnott Portfolio – Well-known proponent of fundamental indexing and “smart beta”.
  • Marc Faber Portfolio – Author of the “Gloom, Boom, and Doom” newsletter.
  • David Swensen Portfolio – Yale Endowment manager, from his book Unconventional Success.
  • Mohamad El-Erian Portfolio – Former Harvard Endowment manager, from his book When Markets Collide.
  • Warren Buffett Portfolio – As directed to Buffett’s trust for his wife’s benefit upon his passing.
  • Andrew Tobias Portfolio – 1/3rd each of: US Large, Foreign Developed, US 10-Year Treasuries.
  • Talmud Portfolio – “Let every man divide his money into three parts, and invest a third in land, a third in business and a third let him keep by him in reserve.”
  • 7Twelve Portfolio – From the book 7Twelve by Craig Israelsen.
  • William Bernstein Portfolio – From his book The Intelligent Asset Allocator.
  • Larry Swedroe Portfolio – Specifically, his “Eliminate Fat Tails” portfolio.

Faber collected and calculated the average annualized returns, volatility, Sharpe ratio, and Max Drawdown percentage (peak-to-trough drop in value) of all these model asset allocations from 1973-2013. So what were his conclusions? Here some excerpts from the book:

If you exclude the Permanent Portfolio, all of the allocations are within one percentage point.

What if someone was able to predict the best-performing strategy in 1973 and then decided to implement it via the average mutual fund? We also looked at the effect if someone decided to use a financial advisor who then invested client assets in the average mutual fund. Predicting the best asset allocation, but implementing it via the average mutual fund would push returns down to roughly even with the Permanent Portfolio. If you added advisory fees on top of that, it had the effect of transforming the BEST performing asset allocation into lower than the WORST.

Think about that for a second. Fees are far more important than your asset allocation decision! Now what do you spend most of your time thinking about? Probably the asset allocation decision and not fees! This is the main point we are trying to drive home in this book – if you are going to allocate to a buy and hold portfolio you want to be paying as little as possible in total fees and costs.

So after collecting the best strategies from the smartest gurus out there, all with very different allocations, the difference in past performance between the 12+ portfolios was less than 1% a year (besides the permanent portfolio, which had performance roughly another 1% lower but also the smallest max drawdown). Now, there were some differences in Sharpe ratio, volatility, and max drawdown which was addressed a little but wasn’t explored in much detail. There was no “winner” that was crowned, but for the curious the Arnott portfolio had the highest Sharpe ratio by a little bit and the Permanent portfolio had the smallest max drawdown by a little bit.

Instead of trying to predict future performance, it would appear much more reliable to focus on fees and taxes. I would also add that all of these portfolio backtests looked pretty good, but they were all theoretical returns based on strict application of the model asset allocation. If you are going to use a buy-and-hold portfolio and get these sort of returns, you have to keep buying and keep holding through both the good times and bad.

Although I don’t believe it is explicitly mentioned in this book, Faber’s company has a new ETF that just happens to help you do these things. The Cambria Global Asset Allocation ETF (GAA) is an “all-in-one” ETF that includes 29 underlying funds with an approximate allocation of 40% stocks, 40% bonds, and 20% real assets. The total expense ratio is 0.29% which includes the expenses of the underlying funds with no separate management fee. The ETF holdings have a big chunk of various Vanguard index funds, but it also holds about 9% in Cambria ETFs managed by Faber.

Since it is an all-in-one fund, theoretically you can’t fiddle around with the asset allocation. That’s pretty much how automated advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment work as well. If you have more money to invest, you just hand it over and it will be invested for you, including regular rebalancing. The same idea has also been around for a while through the under-rated Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, which are also all-in-one but stick with simplicity rather than trying to capture possible higher returns though value, momentum, and real asset strategies. The Vanguard Target funds are cheaper though, at around 0.18% expense ratio.

Well, my portfolio already very low in costs. So my own takeaway is that I should… do nothing! 🙂

Alpha Architect also has a review of this book.

How to Win the Loser’s Game: Free Documentary recently released a free documentary about the fund management industry and the effect of their high fees on the returns of everyday citizens. “How to Win the Loser’s Game” includes interviews with Vanguard founder John Bogle, Nobel Prize-winning economists Eugene Fama and William Sharpe, author and wealth manager Larry Swedroe, amongst many others. While the publisher is UK-based, most of the concepts are widely applicable to all fund management. The film is broken down into 10 different parts, each about 8 minutes long.

If you are a visual learner and rather watch an educational video than read a book, this documentary is definitely for you. The brief episodes gradually cover the benefits of a low-cost, long-term, low-maintenance, diversified investment strategy. Here’s the trailer, which ends with links to all 10 episodes.

Sell in May and Go Away? How About Remember To Rebalance In May and November

“Sell in May and go away” is a rhyming market-timing slogan that may never… go away. Here’s a graphic that seems to support the idea that stocks have historically performed much worse between May and October than the rest of the year. Credit to Reuters/Scott Barber via Abnormal Returns. Data set is the MSCI World Index from 1971-2011.

Meanwhile, The Big Picture shares a bunch of graphs from TheChartStore that don’t make it look so clear-cut. Looking at this one, why shouldn’t just bail out every September? Data set is the S&P 500 from 1928-2011.

Larry Swedroe tests the theory out using 30-day Treasury bonds as the alternative investment in this CBS Moneywatch article:

He looked at returns through 2007 from six start dates since 1950. “Sell in May” beat “buy and hold” if you started investing in 1960, 1970 and 2000, but not if you started in 1950, 1980 or 1990. “It’s pure randomness,” Swedroe says. “How would you ever know when to start?”

Throw in the tax implications of all that buying and selling, and I agree. Do you really want to base your investing strategy on a data-mining result that has no logical explanation behind it? Sounds too much like driving a car using only your rearview mirror.

However, Tadas Viskanta of Abnormal Returns has what I think is a reasonable compromise – what if you just decided to rebalance your portfolio at the very end of April and the very end of October? You should rebalance your portfolio regularly anyway, so why not do it twice a year, six months apart. If your target asset allocation is 70% stocks/30% bonds and now you’re at 80/20 due to the recent run-up, why not go back to 70/30. If things end up at 60/40 in November, then again, go back to 70/30.

You could call it “Remember to Rebalance in May and November”. It even rhymes! If “sell in may” really works, you’ll get some benefit from this mean reversion wackiness. If it’s just noise, you portfolio shouldn’t theoretically be hurt any more than picking other months.

How Often Should I Rebalance My Investment Portfolio? Updated

Here’s a slightly updated and revised version of an older post I had on rebalancing a portfolio to maintain a target asset allocation.

What is Rebalancing?
Let say you examine your risk tolerance and decide to invest in a mixture of 70% stocks and 30% bonds. As the years go by, your portfolio will drift one way or another. You may drop down to 60% stocks or rise up to 90% stocks. The act of rebalancing involves selling or buying shares in order to return to your initial stock/bond ratio of 70%/30%.

Why Rebalance?
Rebalancing is a way to maintain the risk to expected-reward ratio that you have chosen for your investments. In the example above, doing nothing may leave you with a 90% stock/10% bond portfolio, which is much more aggressive than your initial 70%/30% stock/bond mix.

In addition, rebalancing also forces you to buy temporarily under-performing assets and sell over-performing assets (buy low, sell high). This is the exact opposite behavior of what is shown by many investors, which is to buy in when something is hot and over-performing, only to sell when the same investment becomes out of style (buy high, sell low).

However, in taxable accounts, rebalancing will create capital gains/losses and therefore tax consequences. In some brokerage accounts, rebalancing will incur commission costs or trading fees. This is why, if possible, it is a good idea to redirect any new investment deposits in order to try and maintain your target ratios.

How Often Should I Rebalance?
[Read more…]

Target Asset Allocation for Investment Portfolio

Asset allocation (AA) is an important part of portfolio design, and I like pinning down a target asset allocation for personal reference. This helps keep me focused as my portfolio shifts over time and makes it easy to re-balance back. For some educational posts on this topic, please refer to my asset allocation starter guide.

Below is my updated target asset allocation. Here is my target asset allocation from 2008. It’s not dramatically different, but I’ll try to explain the slight changes below. This is just my own AA, and I think everyone should develop their own based on their own beliefs and learning. If you just copy someone else’s without thinking, when things go awry you won’t have the foundation to stick to your guns. I have been strongly influenced by the writings of Jack Bogle, William Bernstein, David Swensen, Rick Ferri, and Larry Swedroe.


I separate things out first into stocks and bonds, and then later it’s easy to go 60% stocks/40% bonds and so on. Here’s my stocks-only breakdown:

  • I now do a 50/50 split between US and International stocks. In general, I would like to mimic the overall world investment landscape. On a market cap basis, the US stock market is now about 45% of the world, while everyone else takes up 55%. 50/50 is just simpler, with a slight tilt towards domestic stocks.
  • I consider REITs a separate real estate asset class. I used to put Real Estate under US stocks since I only held US Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs), but in the future I would be open to investing in foreign real estate as property laws improve and investing costs drop.
  • On the US side, I add some extra small-cap value companies. Historically, adding stocks of smaller companies with value characteristics (as opposed to growth) has improved the returns of portfolios while lowering volatility. There is debate amongst portfolio theories as to why this happened and if it will continue.

    If you buy a “total market” mutual fund or ETF, you’ll already own many of these types of companies (although many will not be held due to their small size relative to the big mega-corporations). I feel this adds a bit of diversification.

  • On the international side, I add a little extra exposure to emerging markets. You may be surprised to know that “emerging” countries like China, Brazil, Korea, India, Russia, and Taiwan already make up 26% of the world’s markets when you remove the US. These are countries that have a greater potential for growth, but also lots of ups and downs. I add a little bit more than market weight for these as well.


I try to keep things simple for bonds, partially due to the fact that they are currently a smaller portion of my portfolio.

  • I like a 50/50 split between inflation-linked bonds and nominal bonds. Inflation-protected bonds provide a yield that is guaranteed to be a certain level above inflation. Nominal bonds pay a stated rate that is not adjusted for inflation. I like to balance the benefits of both.
  • Instead of only short-term US Treasuries for nominal bonds, I added some flexibility. I used to invest only in short-term US treasuries, as they provided the best buffer in my portfolio as they were of the highest quality and had a low sensitivity to interest rate fluctuations. Both TIPS and nominal Treasuries did great during the 2009 crash and the subsequent flight-to-quality, but now the yield on Treasuries is just too low in my opinion. There are trillions of dollars from countries and huge institutions around the world that are tucking their money away under the safe Treasury mattress. By venturing into other places they won’t with my tiny portfolio, I feel I can stay relatively safe yet increase my yield significantly. Possibilities include bank CDs, stable value funds, and high-quality municipal bonds.

Want more examples? Here are 8 model portfolios from respected sources, an updated Swensen portfolio, one from PIMCO’s El-Erian, and Ferri’s personal portfolio. Have fun!

Total Stock Returns = Fundamental + Speculative Returns

Another theory of predicting future stock market returns states that there are three main components to long-term stock market performance. Amongst many others, I learned this from authors and investors Jack Bogle and William Bernstein.

Part 1: Dividend Yield
If your stock distributes 2% in dividends each year, then you will have a 2% contribution towards of return. This is what dividend investors love to see coming in each quarter, and is relatively easy to track for a large group of companies. Here it is over time for the S&P 500, courtesy of

Part 2: Earnings Growth
If earnings stay constant, then all other things equal, one would expect the share price of your company to stay constant as well. If the earnings grow by 5% every year, then your share price will grow by 5% per year. Thus, earnings growth rate is a vital component of total return.

If your portfolio was all of the stocks traded in the United States, like that of a broad-based index fund, this would create a connection between the growth rate of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product and the earnings growth rates of all US companies. In other words, the fundamental return is based on GDP growth. In turn, the GDP growth rate is connected to population growth and productivity per person.

These two parts added to together are coined the fundamental return:

Fundamental Return = Earnings Growth + Dividend Yield

Some bad news: Now, from 1950-2000, fundamental returns were 10%: 4% dividend yield and a 6% earnings growth rate. These days, the S&P 500 has a dividend yield of only about 2%. Earnings growth rate estimates are subject to debate, but they hover around 5-6%.

Part 3: Changes in P/E Ratio
The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is the price per share divided by earnings per share. In other words, it is how much investors are willing to pay for each unit of earnings. If they are willing to pay 20 times annual earnings, the share price of the stock will be twice as high as if they only paid 10 times earnings. This part is denoted the speculative return, as it has changed throughout history. Here it is again for the S&P 500:

In 1950, the P/E ratio was less than 10. As of right now in mid-2010, it is 20. It is very unlikely that this more than doubling of price-per-share will happen again, with the historical average being around 15. (During the dot-com bubble, the P/E ratio was over 40. In 2008, it was over 25.) This will lead to a zero, and quite possible negative, future speculative return!


When predicting future returns, you have to look at all the sources of those expected returns. Fundamental return is still a solid reason why stock prices will go up on the long-term, especially if you are not investing only in one country or economy. Some people call it a belief in capitalism, that economic growth will continue and GDP will continue to increase. I simply believe in the passion and motivation of all the people out there, from Sweden to China to Brazil. However, there is good evidence that you might not be getting 10% historical returns due to P/E ratio contraction.

In a recent column, Larry Swedroe shares that the forecasts that he has read are predicting a 5% total annual growth in earnings and 2% dividends for a total return of 7% (similar to above). Inflation is predicted at 2.5%. However, he points out the current minimal-risk return is pretty low as well, so you need consider the big picture:

The bottom line is that while the expected nominal return to stocks is lower than the historical return, so is the expected return to Treasury bonds. You should decide if the expected risk premium for stocks is sufficient given your unique ability, willingness and need to take risk.

Tolerable Loss = Half of Equity Allocation Percentage?

There a regular poster on the Bogleheads forum called Adrian Nenu who always posts the following, which is said to have origins with author Larry Swedroe.

Tolerable Loss x 2 = Equity Allocation < 50%

I don’t know if I agree with the last part that says that your equity position should always be less than 50%. However, the first part seems to offer a good rule of thumb when it comes to investing in a target date retirement fund.

Let’s say you have the Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund (VFIFX) and it currently contains 90% stocks. Using this rule of thumb would mean that a possible one-year loss for such a fund is 45%. You should ask yourself – can you handle a 45% drop in the value of your retirement assets, even if you have 40 years before you need it? The good thing about living through 2008/2009 is that you probably have a better idea of the truth. If you’re going to run for cover in cash, only to buy back in later (like now) when prices are 50% higher, then that’s something to avoid.

One thing that I recommend to my more conservative friends who still want a simple investment is to simply buy a different “date”. For example, if you could purchase the Vanguard 2025 Fund (VTHRX) which has 75% in stocks. Who cares if the label is 2025. Meanwhile, I encourage them to continue to learn more about investing so that the can understand the risks trade-offs better and adjust their tolerances accordingly (up or down).