MMB Portfolio Update April 2021: Asset Allocation & Performance

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Here’s an update on my current investment holdings as of April 2021, including our 401k/403b/IRAs, taxable brokerage accounts, and savings bonds but excluding our house, cash reserves, and a small portfolio of self-directed investments. Following the concept of skin in the game, these are my real-world holdings and what I’ll be using to create income to fund our household expenses. We have no pensions or other sources of income.

Actual Asset Allocation and Holdings
I use both Personal Capital and a custom Google Spreadsheet to track my investment holdings. The Personal Capital financial tracking app (free, my review) automatically logs into my different accounts, adds up my various balances, tracks my performance, and calculates my overall asset allocation. Once a quarter, I also update my manual Google Spreadsheet (free, instructions) because it helps me calculate how much I need in each asset class to rebalance back towards my target asset allocation.

Here are updated performance and asset allocation charts, per the “Allocation” and “Holdings” tabs of my Personal Capital account, respectively:

Stock Holdings
Vanguard Total Stock Market (VTI, VTSAX)
Vanguard Total International Stock Market (VXUS, VTIAX)
Vanguard Small Value (VBR)
Vanguard Emerging Markets (VWO)
Vanguard REIT Index (VNQ, VGSLX)

Bond Holdings
Vanguard Limited-Term Tax-Exempt (VMLTX, VMLUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Tax-Exempt (VWITX, VWIUX)
Vanguard Intermediate-Term Treasury (VFITX, VFIUX)
Vanguard Inflation-Protected Securities (VIPSX, VAIPX)
Fidelity Inflation-Protected Bond Index (FIPDX)
iShares Barclays TIPS Bond (TIP)
Individual TIPS bonds
U.S. Savings Bonds (Series I)

Target Asset Allocation. I do not spend a lot of time backtesting various model portfolios, as I don’t think picking through the details of the recent past will necessarily create superior future returns. Usually, whatever is popular in the moment just happens to hold the asset class that has been the hottest recently as well.

Mainly, I try to own broad, low-cost exposure to asset classes that will provide long-term returns above inflation, distribute income via dividends and interest, and finally offer some historical tendencies to balance each other out. I make a small bet that US Small Value and Emerging Markets will have higher future long-term returns (along with some higher volatility) than the more large and broad indexes, although I could be wrong.

While you could argue for various other asset classes, I believe that it is important to imagine an asset class doing poorly for a long time, with bad news constantly surrounding it, and only hold the ones where you still think you can maintain faith through those fearful times. I simply don’t have strong faith in the long-term results of commodities, gold, or bitcoin. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do own tiny bits of gold and BTC amongst my self-directed investments.)

My US/international ratio floats with the total world market cap breakdown, currently at ~57% US and 43% ex-US. I’m fine with a slight home bias (owning more US stocks than the overall world market cap), but I want to avoid having an international bias.

Stocks Breakdown

  • 43% US Total Market
  • 7% US Small-Cap Value
  • 33% International Total Market
  • 7% Emerging Markets
  • 10% US Real Estate (REIT)

Bonds Breakdown

  • 33% High-Quality Nominal bonds, US Treasury or FDIC-insured
  • 33% High-Quality Municipal Bonds
  • 33% US Treasury Inflation-Protected Bonds

I have settled into a long-term target ratio of 67% stocks and 33% bonds (2:1 ratio) within our investment strategy of buy, hold, and occasionally rebalance. I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains. I plan to only manually rebalance past that if the stock/bond ratio is still off by more than 5% (i.e. less than 62% stocks, greater than 72% stocks). With a self-managed, simple portfolio of low-cost funds, we minimize management fees, commissions, and taxes.

Holdings commentary. Overall, all these numbers keep going up since the March 2020 drop, but I remain anxious about the future. There seems to be lots of money and optimism sloshing around, but there are also so many people still struggling. All I can do is listen to the late Jack Bogle and “stay the course”. I remain optimistic that capitalism, human ingenuity, human resilience, and our system of laws will continue to improve things over time.

In specific terms, I seem to be a little overweight REITs and underweight International Stocks. I may rebalance within tax-deferred accounts if this continues.

I have also been following with interest the new ETFs from both Dimensional Fund Advisors and Avantis (started by former DFA employees). Right now, I don’t need to rebalance out of anything, but in the future I may purchase the DFA Emerging Core Equity Market ETF (DFAE) and Avantis U.S. Small Cap Value ETF (AVUV) instead of my current holdings.

Performance numbers. According to Personal Capital, my portfolio is already up +5.6% since the beginning of 2021. Wow. I rolled my own benchmark for my portfolio using 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund and 50% Vanguard LifeStrategy Moderate Growth Fund – one is 60/40 and the other is 80/20 so it also works out to 70% stocks and 30% bonds. That benchmark would have a total return of +5.2% for 2020 YTD as of 4/9/2021.

The goal of this portfolio is to create sustainable income that keeps up with inflation to cover our household expenses. I’ll share about more about the income aspect in a separate post.

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Comments

  1. Dang, Dude!
    You are so conservative!
    You invest like my 70 year old dad!
    Good luck! I’m sticking with TSLA & QQQ etc (some VTI), no bonds, and made 2 million in the last few years.
    When I am old & grey, I may try some of your geriatric techniques.

  2. Hi Jonathan,

    I enjoy following your quarterly updates, thanks for sharing!

    Do you think DFAU and AVUS are good substitutes for VTI as core domestic holdings?

    Thanks!

    • I think you could certainly use them as core holding, as long as you understand their strategy and that there will be times when they lag the alternatives like a VTI or S&P 500 index fund. They are more expensive, and it is not guaranteed that their factor weighting will outperform by more than the expense ratio difference. That is why I only plan on using them in limited areas where the outperformance has been historically more pronounced (small value).

  3. “I will use the dividends and interest to rebalance whenever possible in order to avoid taxable gains.” Can you explain more about this? I find myself paying taxes on all the dividends I get. It’s not a big deal, but if I can avoid it, I’d like to know how 🙂

    • I have no secret way to avoid dividend taxation. 🙂 I’m simply referring to the fact that many people automatically reinvest their dividends, yet also rebalance regularly. So you could be getting the dividend, reinvesting it in the same fund, and then selling more shares in the same timeframe and generating capital gains.

      For example, I would take the dividends from VTI or VXUS and buy bonds with them if that will bring my asset allocation back closer to the target.

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