Oct 26: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

Bonds have lost their lustre, says pension expert Keith Ambachtsheer

Bonds have long been considered a key component of our retirement savings strategies. After all, equities are more volatile, right?

Pension expert Keith Ambachtsheer, commenting in the Globe and Mail, says bonds are losing their lustre, and are being crushed by today’s low-interest rate environment.

“Twenty years ago, inflation-indexed bonds offered a real yield of 4 per cent,” Ambachtsheer states in the Globe article. “Today their yield is not just zero, but actually negative.”

He calls them “dead weight investments” that “currently have no role” for institutional investors, such as pension plans.

The article presents a graph showing the yields on 10-year Canadian government bonds since 1960. They ranged from just under six per cent yields in the early ‘60s to an eye-popping 17 per cent in the early 1980s, and have slowly dropped ever since. Yields fell below four per cent in 2004 and are approaching zero today, the article’s graph shows.

So if bonds aren’t getting it done in your investment portfolio, what’s a solution for the average guy or gal?

Ambachtsheer tells the Globe that “solid dividend-paying stocks” provide the answer. A heavier percentage of dividend-paying equities is better than the traditional 60-40 stock/bond mix, he suggests.

The Globe article comments on that idea, saying “there are, to be sure, some objections to this viewpoint. One is whether pension funds and individuals are prepared to deal with the occasional but devastating paper losses that go along with holding an all-equity portfolio.”

It seems that many Canadians who normally would invest are sitting on the fence about it.

As we reported in an earlier blog post, Canadians – again according to the Globe and Mail – are sitting on $127 billion, now lying in chequing, savings and Guaranteed Investment Certificates (GIC) accounts and not being invested in either the stock or bond markets.

Rather than picking a day and putting all the money in, portfolio manager Mary Hagerman tells the Globe that a better approach is to invest some of your money at multiple different times.

She recommends “investing excess cash either in regular intervals, such as a set amount each month (known as dollar-cost averaging), or when there are major stock market drops or corrections,” the article states.

“I’m not suggesting people try to time the market, but sometimes the market talks to you and you have to listen,” Hagerman tells the Globe.

So we’re living through a period when the safe harbour of bonds is a dubious choice due to very low interest rates, and when stock markets are very volatile.

For members of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, it’s good to know that professional investment managers are on the case – they are the ones guiding your savings through these choppy waters. And if you’re interested in a dollar-cost averaging approach, the SPP can help you set up a regular monthly direct deposit, so that you aren’t having to time the market. Check them out today.

Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

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