Dec 7: BEST FROM THE BLOGOSPHERE

December 7, 2020

Pension expert Vettese warns that fixed-income retirement is challenging; stocks can be risky

In a recent interview with the Globe and Mail, pension expert, actuary and financial writer Fred Vettese has a few words of caution for those of us who like to avoid the risks of the markets by finding safe harbour in the world of fixed income.

Vettese has written a number of books on the subject of retirement planning; Save with SPP reviewed his book The Essential Retirement Guide and found it packed with great advice.

He tells the Globe that due to the economic uncertainty the pandemic has brought, “if you have enough assets now and can live with a less risky portfolio to achieve your lifestyle, then do it.” His message, the article notes, is specifically directed at those age 65 plus.

Noting that interest rates are the lowest they’ve ever been, Vettese states in the article that “we can’t say that we’ll put some money in bonds and it will stabilize the overall portfolio and we’ll still get a pretty good return. COVID has pretty much squeezed out any kind of risk-free income.”

So, he warns, “if you’re going to keep risk-free investments in your portfolio like bonds and guaranteed investment certificates (GICs), then you’re going to have to find a rational way to actually draw down the principal over your lifetime. You can’t live off interest from bonds and GICs.”

This last statement is a bit of a gobsmacker for those of us who have ardently believed in a balanced, bond/equity view of retirement saving! But he’s right, of course – bond yields, as he points out in the article, will deliver negative returns over the long haul at today’s interest rates.

What’s a retirement saver to do?

If you’re looking to replace the income that bonds used to provide you with high-dividend stocks, be careful, Vettese advises.

“Implicit in holding dividend stocks is the idea that those stocks are not going to suffer capital losses, that they’re not going to go down 20 or 30 per cent. And what if these companies start struggling and can’t keep up their earnings and have to cut their dividends? There’s a lot of risk in dividend stocks, even if we haven’t seen that risk showing its teeth yet,” he states in the Globe article.

Vettese says it is a tough time for savers – especially young ones – to try and invest on their own. He suggests that they get professional advice, and says most people would be better off in a low-cost market-based exchange traded fund (ETF) than they would be if they picked their own stocks. He’s also a proponent of waiting until age 70 to start your government retirement benefits, such as the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Security, because you get quite a bit more income each month that way.

There’s a lot of great stuff to recap here. Fixed-income isn’t the solid pillar it once was, at least for now, and stocks paying high dividends can be risky. Advice with retirement saving is well worth it, and delaying your government benefits as long as you can will give you a bigger monthly payout.

There’s no question that investing all by yourself can be risky. You might be paying fees that are too high. You could pick a category that isn’t going up in value – or risky stocks that don’t pan out. If you’re not really ready to go it alone in the euchre hand of retirement investing, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan could be an option for you. SPP looks after the tricky investing part for you, at a very low cost, usually less than 100 basis points. Why not check out SPP 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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