blog06apr2008

Hot Off the Web
Here is the somewhat abbreviated Hot Off the Web this week, as I was travelling for the last six days “on the slow train” from Florida to Ottawa via Savannah and NYC.
Jennifer Levitz writes in the WSJ that “Americans delay retirement as housing, stocks swoon” . This shouldn’t come as surprise. If a planned house sale in the north and move to smaller/cheaper digs in the south was part of your retirement plan, then the lower real estate prices in the U.S. and more difficulty in landing a buyer at all is just part of the trouble that you have to overcome before you can retire. Coupled with lower equity prices, for many the only option is to delay retirement. This is the result of the shift in the sources of income of retirees compared to 30-40 years ago; in 1972 62% of employees in the U.S. participated only in a pension plan, whereas in 2005 63% only participated in a 401(k). The stress of watching their decreasing nest egg over coffee every morning also drives many back to work.
In Financial Times’ “Doubts about pension funds’ ability to meet liability grow” Norma Cohen reports on questionable readiness of U.K. pension funds to fulfil their responsibilities. Discretionary approach to investment and inflation assumptions used in calculations makes the funded status of pension plans questionable, as well as difficult to assess validity of companies’ reported pension liabilities. International accounting bodies are proposing removal of discretion. (One of the most important assumptions is the rate used to discount future liabilities. Other important elements relate to actuarial assumptions related to longevity, turnover, rate of salary increases, etc. One of my recommendations to the Ontario Expert Commission on Pensions last November was the standardization of assumptions and the elimination of discretion).
Rob Carrick reports in the Globe and Mail’s “Nest egg will be working when you retire” that Russell Canada advocates 35% equity and 65% GIC approach in post-retirement portfolio. (Some investors may find this too conservative for their taste and/or their needs). Their Retirement Essentials Portfolio is sold through brokers with a fee ranging from 1.78% to 2.05%. (This is not cheap when compared to ETFs but advantageous when compared to many of the recently hot principal protected offerings with 3%+ fees.)
Jon Clements in WSJ’s “And it all comes down to this…”  tables a list eight suggestions that he claims summarize his 20 years of experience as personal finance journalist (he unfortunately is moving on). Among his suggestions are: be humble (you are likely betting against professionals), “control what you can” (minimize costs by buying index funds, diversify to reduce risk, control your spending and save at least 12-15% of income per year), rebalance periodically to your target asset allocation, and keep your eyes on the long term!
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