The Coming Retirement Crisis

It is hard to believe but over twenty years ago while on the floor of the NYSE I asked Arthur Cashin whose work should I be reading. He recommended a, then little known, writer of financial information by the name of John Mauldin. Little would I suspect that over two decades later I would still be enjoying John’s insights. He has access to some highly placed sources and savvy investors. John’s email list for his letter has grown to over 1 million subscribers. It is free so sign up. Here is the link to John Mauldin’s Letter Thoughts from the Frontline.

In this week’s letter John touches on the issue closest to my client’s hearts. When can I retire? We have an expectation in the United States of being able to retire at the age 65 and possibly even earlier. We even base our career success on how many years before 65 we are able to retire. The concept of retirement is a relatively new concept. The advent of Social Security under the FDR administration in 1935 was developed as a safety net for our elderly. The age of 65 was considered because the poverty rate of the elderly in 1935 was over 50%. The life expectancy of a male in the US in 1935 was 59.9 years old.

In 2016 that number has risen to over 76 years of age.

I’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: “retirement” is a new concept. For most of human history, people worked as long as they were physically able and died soon thereafter.

Defined-benefit pensions are rare in the private sector and unstable for government retirees. Individual investors tend to lose their money in market crashes and are often lucky just to break even. Even government plans like Social Security are in increasingly questionable shape. – John Mauldin

The answer is pretty simple but it is the one no one really wants to hear. Don’t retire! The reality is that according to the Social Security Administration a man who turns 65 today can expect to live on average to 84.4 years old. A woman turning 65 today can expect to live on average until the age of 86.7. That is just the average. In this day and age of better healthcare and advances in biotechnology one must plan to live until 100 years of age. That is 30 years of retirement if one chooses to work until 70!! That’s a lot of golf.

Ironically, the research pretty much universally shows that many people working past normal retirement age do so for their own personal reasons rather than out of necessity. The data in the United Kingdom, which is not much different from the picture in the rest of the developed world, suggests that almost half the people working past traditional retirement age are doing so simply because they don’t want to stop working. And many people who say they are “retired” still work long hours just to “keep busy.”

Alicia H. Munnell, a Boston College economist who was previously Assistant Treasury Secretary in the Clinton administration spoke recently about the coming retirement crisis in her speech titled, “Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It.”

Her main thesis is that you should prepare to work longer and yet still enjoy retirement as long as or longer than your parents and grandparents did.

Assuming you started work at age 20, rising life expectancy means that if you retire at age 70 in 2020, you will have the same work/retirement ratio as someone who retired at age 65 in 1940. My generation is enjoying better health in our later years than our parents did. We work longer simply because we can and because we enjoy it.

By Munnell’s calculations, simply working until age 70 will do the trick for most people. The extra working years will give your savings more time to accumulate. Your Social Security benefits will also be higher once you do retire.

JPMorgan’s Marko Kolanovic has been spot on for the last several months as he has picked the bottoms and tops of the market moves since last October. He is out with a different warning this week. He is looking at the market from a more macro perspective and I happen to agree with his thoughts. The next move from governments and central banks may be fiscal policy. It is the only weapon left and it may have serious implications on your investing.

Central banks, Inflation, and Debt Endgame

With the Fed and BoJ meetings behind us, markets are increasingly accepting that central banks are nearly out of options. Central banks can hardly raise interest rates, and there is a growing realization that negative interest rates simply make no sense. Unconventional approaches of buying corporate bonds (ECB) and stocks (Japan) so far have not produced significant results, and run the risk of tainting these assets for private investors. The next attempt to boost the economy or prevent a potential market crisis will likely need to be accomplished by fiscal measures.

Increased government spending, financed by central banks could indeed create inflation, but will further elevate the problem of debt viability

We always keep an eye on seasonal factors. The old saw of “Sell in May and go away” harkens back to days when we were an agrarian society. Money was put into the fields in the spring and when harvest came in the fall money was put back into banks and markets. To this day we are creatures of habit. Money managers are likely to take risk off of the table and less likely to put money to work in new ideas because summer is coming. Liz Ann Sonders from Charles Schwab had a recent note on the “Sell in May” theory.

We are in that “season” when you will hear a lot about whether it’s appropriate this year to “sell in May and go away,” which is one of the most time-honored market adages, and for good reason. Since 1950, nearly all of the S&P 500’s gains have occurred between October and April. The mean return since 1950 for the S&P 500 during May through October was 1.3%; while for November through April it was 7.1%.

Markets are also more susceptible to geopolitical developments or changes in monetary policy due to skeleton crews on trading desks in the US and Europe. Moves can be outsized. We will continue to look for opportunities given any developments. In our last blog post we asked you to keep an eye on gold. We feel that investors could find solace here as the games of currency wars and negative interest rates heat up. That has been a good place to be. Inflation is also increasingly on our minds. Not because it is showing up in the statistics but because it will be the only way out for indebted nations around the world. Their only exit from their extreme debt positions will be to inflate away their debt.

Not recommendation just information. Investing is not a game of perfect.  It is a game of probabilities.

 

I think we aspire less to foresee the future and more to be a great contingency planner… you can respond very fast to what’s happening because you thought through all the possibilities, – Lloyd  Blankfein

To learn more about us and Blackthorn Asset Management LLC visit our website at www.BlackthornAsset.com .

A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty. – Winston Churchill

Disclosure: This blog is informational and is not a recommendation to buy or sell anything. If you are thinking about investing consider the risk. Everyone’s financial situation is different. Consult your financial advisor.

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