How much should American retirees temper their investment expectations against market fluctuations?
If you had posed the question this time last year, you probably would have received a flurry of cautiously optimistic responses as investors looked forward to what they had every reason to believe would be another bull market year. Optimism was rampant — and exciting for investors and retirees, who saw the climbing Dow as a sign that they would be able to live out their sunset years with comfortably-padded retirement accounts.
“Nobody in the financial sector wanted to bring people down with dire predictions when the market appeared to be doing so well,” Anthony Pellegrino, the owner and co-founder at Goldstone Financial Group, noted of the mentality at the time. “Investors get fired up when they see reports of record highs.”
“I remember in 2015, there was major pushback from financial professionals when experts at Research Affiliates analyzed financial data from the preceding century and reported that it would be ‘optimistic’ to plan for even a five percent long-term return on a traditional portfolio. People were shocked — and a lot of them rejected those projections as being overly cautionary when the market remained strong.”
And at the close of 2019, the market’s strength appeared to be on-track to persist. But within the first few weeks of the new year, the Covid-19 pandemic upended the global economy and caused the Dow to plummet. Ten months have since passed, and both have begun to recover.
“It’s not so much about good vs. bad news,” Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial, recently told USA Today. “The economy is still nowhere near its output prior to the pandemic. But things are getting better.”
However, amid that improvement, those saving for retirement have been forced to question whether the need to revise their expectations for their accounts. The pandemic has demonstrated the dangers of assuming that good times will continue indefinitely — but how pessimistic should investors be about the future?
“This conversation always reminds me of the letter that Warren Buffett sent to his shareholders in early 2008,” Goldstone Financial Group’s Anthony Pellegrino says of expectation-setting. “Back then, he told people to check their perceptions of Dow growth and warned about the dangers of taking those increases out of context. That advice remains just as relevant — if not more so — today.”
For context, here’s the passage that Pellegrino references from Buffet’s 2008 letter:
“During the 20th Century, the Dow advanced from 66 to 11,497. This gain, though it appears huge, shrinks to 5.3% when compounded annually […] For investors to merely match that 5.3% market-value gain, the Dow — recently below 13,000 — would need to close at about 2,000,000 on December 31, 2099 […] I should mention that people who expect to earn 10% annually from equities during this century — envisioning that 2% of that will come from dividends and 8% from price appreciation — are implicitly forecasting a level of about 24,000,000 on the Dow by 2100.”
“If your adviser talks to you about double-digit returns from equities,” Buffett concluded, “Explain this math to him.”
When taken into consideration alongside the uncertainty posed by Covid-19, Buffett’s math provides investors with ample reason to be careful. But what measures can aspiring retirees take to protect themselves and their accounts?
Goldstone Financial Group’s Anthony Pellegrino points to three main strategies — consulting a fiduciary advisor, exploring IRA opportunities, and moving away from a buy-and-hold norm.
Consulting a Fiduciary
Are you intimidated by market fluctuations and want a professional’s help in navigating them? A fiduciary advisor can help.
“I cannot stress the importance of finding a fiduciary advisor enough,” Pellegrino emphasizes. “If you opt for a non-fiduciary professional, well, I’ll borrow another Buffett quote — ‘beware the glib helper who fills your head with fantasies while he fills his pockets with fees.’”
A fiduciary advisor is a financial professional who is legally obligated to act in their client’s best interests. They can only purchase and sell investments that they believe are well-suited to their clients’ needs and goals, and they cannot base their decisions on whether their suggested investments would provide the best kickbacks.
As writers for NerdWallet summarize: “Fiduciaries are held to a significant level of trust with their clients and must avoid conflicts of interest. If your financial advisor does not have a fiduciary duty to you, they may be able to recommend investments or products that pay them a bigger commission over ones that would be the best fit for you, which could cost you more.”
Every single investment advisor employed at Goldstone Financial Group is a certified fiduciary advisor. The logic behind this policy is simple.
“We want our clients to get the best possible advice,” Anthony Pellegrino says. “Having advisors who are held to a fiduciary standard ensures that they receive exactly that.”
Explore IRA Opportunities
Think you can’t touch the money in your 401(k) until you retire? Think again! Pellegrino and the fiduciary advisors at Goldstone Financial Group often suggest that their clients withdraw a portion of their account balance and roll it over into an IRA account. The benefits of this tactic, Pellegrino says, include increased flexibility with investments.
“A nontaxable rollover to an IRA would give you more freedom to work with your financial advisor in choosing investments,” Pellegrino explains. “That said, you should always consult with your tax professional about potential tax implications before embarking on this strategy.”
Making investments and holding onto them indefinitely isn’t always the best strategy for long-term growth.
“You may want to opt for tactical managed asset accounts that will allow you to capture and participate in the stock market’s upside and then, when the market declines, shift your assets to cash,” Goldstone Financial Group’s Anthony Pellegrino suggests. “Sure, you may still experience a loss — but typically, you’ll lose less than you would with a buy-and hold-strategy.”
At the end of the day, Pellegrino offers one piece of advice that supersedes all others.
“Don’t go through this alone. Your situation is unique, and the solutions you need will be equally so. Consult with a fiduciary advisor to see how your expectations and plans stack up against market conditions.”
Warehouse Jobs Booming Due to Online Sales
Amidst a surge in e-commerce sales, warehouse operators, such as FedEx and Amazon, are scrambling to hire workers across the United States. As the labor market has yet to fully recover from the effects of the pandemic, this could prove to be a saving grace for many who have struggled to find work in recent months. Overall employment is still down in the U.S; almost 11 million are still seeking employment since the beginning of quarantine. However, employment in the warehousing and storage sector is actually higher than pre-Coronavirus levels. As the holiday season approaches, these numbers will only continue to go up; a positive signal of the rebounding U.S economy.
Brick-and-mortar retailers have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, having to furlough or release hundreds of thousands of workers since early March. And with the economic downturn, there were not too many job positions opening up. Now, warehouse businesses that order, pack, and ship products are in a hiring frenzy as online sales are projected to reach $196 billion in the period from November to January. Online and physical stores alike experience increased activity during the holiday season, but with consumers avoiding brick-and-mortar locations because of the virus, more and more shoppers are relying on Amazon, FedEx, and UPS to deliver their products.
Typically, there is a temporary hiring phase for these businesses during the holidays to keep up with demand. However, many experts believe the massive shift towards online purchasing will be somewhat permanent. Already, many of the major players in the shipping and storage industry are planning for an avalanche of orders this holiday season, so more and more temporary hires are converting to full-time positions. UPS has added over 100,000-holiday workers on top of the tens of thousands it hired earlier in the year. Amazon plans on hiring more than 100,000 seasonal workers in addition to 1,000 new warehouses across the country. Also FedEx is seeking 75,000 temporary employees, a 27% increase from its 2019 seasonal hiring.
To prepare for the expected holiday boom, e-commerce businesses have begun an early hiring process. Up through August alone, there were almost six times as many job postings for seasonal positions on the job platform Wonolo. Coincidently, wages have also jumped nearly 16% to $14.18 an hour. Trucking companies are also expected to look for early hires before the holiday season. Many truck drivers have left their jobs due to the virus and retirement, and the transportation industry has struggled to fill the demand for drivers. The average starting wage for drivers at UPS is expected to go up to $30 an hour, but as the market becomes more competitive, that wage may increase even more.
The pandemic still has a grip on brick-and-mortar stores. What used to be quick and easy trips to the store are now complicated and stressful as masks are required and consumers are wary of contracting the virus. With the excess demand shifted to e-commerce, storage and shipping companies need all the extra help they can get to fulfill orders before the holidays are over. Although overall employment is still way below pre-virus levels, many Americans are finally finding employment again.
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