By: Jussi Askola
- The 60/40 rule is a common yardstick that investors to rely on in constructing their portfolios.
- It says you should put 60% of your portfolio in stocks and 40% in bonds.
- The problem is that it isn’t suited to the realities of today’s market.
- In this article we propose an alternative to investing according to the 60/40 rule.
- Looking for a portfolio of ideas like this one? Members of High Yield Landlord get exclusive access to our model portfolio. Get started today »
The 60/40 rule is an approach to investing that worked well in the past. If you’re not familiar with it, it says that you should put 60% of your money in stocks and 40% in bonds. And rebalance every year so that the weightings always are at 60/40. The stocks increase your expected return while the bonds provide income and reduce volatility.
By all accounts, the 60/40 portfolio has a good track record. According to Schroders, it provided better returns from 1988 to 2018 than stocks or bonds alone:
By rebalancing, you would have achieved better returns with a 60/40 portfolio than with stocks – the higher return asset – alone!
So as we’ve seen so far, the 60/40 portfolio with rebalancing boosted total returns over the last 30 years. It undeniably lowers risk, by getting bonds into the mix. And on top of that, the lower volatility means you’ll have a less stressful experience over the course of your life.
That all sounds good on the surface. But there’s just one problem.
In 2020, both assets in the typical 60/40 portfolio have serious problems with them. Stocks are extremely overvalued and volatile, and bonds yield next to nothing.
Past performance does not predict future performance. And there are good reasons to think that a 60/40 portfolio might do much worse over the next 30 years as it did over the last 30.
In this article, we make the case that you should avoid investing by the 60/40 rule and buy real assets instead. We’ll start by reviewing the flaws with stocks and bonds and move on to why real assets are superior today.
Stocks are Overvalued
That’s more than double the historical average.
Historically, stocks tend to fall back to the point where their P/E ratio is at about the mean. That would imply they have a long way to fall.
That doesn’t guarantee that stocks are going to be losers over the next 10 or 20 years. But the higher they rise relative to earnings, the riskier they become.
To be sure, corporate earnings have soared over the last decade. But look at what made that possible. We’ve seen continuously low interest rates, culminating in near zero interest rates today.
Low interest rates stimulate spending, which drives corporate earnings higher. But now that interest rates are near zero, where do we go from here? The only option left is negative interest rates, and central banks are reluctant to go there.
So there are few monetary policy options left to stimulate the economy. This is why Ray Dalio recently forecast a “lost decade” with 0% returns, and Jeremy Grantham forecast negative returns.
There’s just a lot of risk factors impacting stocks right now. So far this year, we’ve seen mostly a positive trajectory with extreme volatility in between. But you never know when a new crash will occur that will take a decade to recover from.
Bonds Have Next to No Yield
Now that we’ve reviewed the problems with stocks, we can move on to the second asset class in the 60/40 portfolio: Bonds.
In a traditional 60/40 portfolio, bonds provide the safety and return smoothing component of the portfolio. They return less than stocks but they have more stable, and dependable returns. Having bonds in your portfolio in the first place reduces volatility. If you rebalance, they can even boost total return.
The problem is that today, bonds have so little yield that they’re almost pointless. As of this writing, the 10-year Treasury yield was 0.91%. That doesn’t keep up with inflation most years. Of course, you could up your yield by getting into a junk bond ETF. But that dramatically increases your risk, which defeats the purpose of having bonds in your portfolio in the first place.
Consider the SPDR Bloomberg Barclays High Yield Bond ETF (JNK). This year it went on a wild ride, dropping 22% at one point. And its price is barely up (2.47%) over five years.
Sure, it has yield. But from a total return perspective, it hasn’t done well. And in the meantime, it has delivered a fairly volatile ride this year. So such a high risk bond play isn’t going to smooth out your portfolio.
So, on the one hand, we’ve got the genuinely “safe” bonds that have no yield. On the other hand, we have high-yield bonds which are very risky – going against the whole thesis of holding them in your 60/40 portfolio. So what’s an investor to do?
Here’s What We Are Buying Instead
Having established the flaws with stocks and bonds in today’s market, it’s time to dive into what we recommend as an alternative:
Real assets are assets with a real, physical substance that often produce substantial cash flows.
- Apartment buildings.
- And more.
Today, I invest about 50% of my net worth in real assets that are resistant to recessions. While some real assets get killed in recessions (e.g. hotels), others are very stable. It’s that latter category I’m focused on. Some of the biggest sub-sectors in my real asset portfolio include:
Apartment communities in business-friendly Sun Belt states:
Service-oriented net lease properties with 10-year leases or longer. Our tenants are major chains such as Taco Bell (QSR):
Healthcare facilities that are set to profit off the aging population.
Warehouses that are leased to Amazon (AMZN) and other rapidly-growing e-commerce companies.
These real assets allow us to enjoy many of the features you can’t get with most stocks and bonds today. These include:
- High yield. My portfolio is made up of assets that yield 5%-8% and have regular dividend increases.
- Predictable cash flow. The assets I own are backed by long-term leases that ensure revenue stability.
- Upside potential. Most of the assets in my portfolio are trading at their highest yield spreads in a decade. They have 30%-50% upside as yield spreads return to normal.
How Do I Invest in Real Assets?
After having worked in private equity and bought real assets directly in the private market, I have today shifted my focus to the REIT market.
If you’re used to investing in stocks, then REITs (VNQ) are by far the easiest way to get into real assets. You can buy and sell them through your brokerage account just like stocks, and they’re backed by portfolios of real assets.
Over the past 20 years leading to the recent crisis, REITs easily outperformed the 60/40 portfolio strategy and most other asset classes:
Today, REITs look poised for another decade of outperformance. After falling in the COVID-19 market crash, many REITs are trading at substantial discounts to fair value, and as a result, yields are higher and the potential upside is greater than usual.
Of course, sometimes assets go down for a good reason. Yet many high-quality REITs remain down even despite not being greatly affected by the crisis.
Take the example of W.P Carey (WPC). It owns mainly industrial properties that are in great demand and enjoy >10-year leases with high credit tenants. Throughout the whole year, WPC has collected nearly 100% of its rents and has kept buying new properties to grow the cash flow. It also has a strong BBB-rated balance sheet and plenty of liquidity. By all accounts, things are going well for the business, and it has even increased the dividend in 2020, continuing its 20-year-plus track record of dividend growth.
Yet it’s down 23%, so you can invest in WPC’s real assets, lock in a 6% yield, and enjoy ~30% upside as the REIT returns to a fair valuation.
High yield. Significant upside. And lower risk. That’s nearly impossible to find in the stock and bond market today.
WPC-owned distribution center that is leased to Advance Auto Parts (AAP):
Bottom Line: You Need to Adapt Your Portfolio
A 60/40 portfolio has performed well over the last 30 years, but now bonds yield close to nothing, and stocks are overvalued.
What are your other options?
If like me, you want to earn income and position yourself for double-digit total returns, then nothing beats real assets in today’s market.
As more investors come to the same conclusion, we expect a lot more capital to rotate toward real assets. The time to act is now while others are still fearful, valuations are low, and yields are high.
Nov. 11, 2020 3:14 PM ETAAPL, AMZN, ARKK.
- Human intelligence is an under-appreciated ingredient in investing strategies and tactics.
- The Federal Reserve has generally said that virus control is the factor that will help move the economy toward its potential, simple common sense.
- Identify an investment theme or two that you can follow, a micro-focus, and monitor the forces impacting the macro-economy.
- Build trust in your competencies by using your own “intelligence.”
Human intelligence is behind everything, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the internet of things. We invest in technology as if it’s got a mind of its own but neglect what’s behind it. The intangible is becoming more tangible and also elusive in some ways. There’s an investment thesis building here, I promise.
We find ourselves at an inflection point in the world of human activity and in what to invest our time, attention and money. Human capital is increasingly valued in some sectors and industries more than others, except when management or leadership recognizes that the people it employs are the very essence of its model, like goods and services-oriented firms or those selling essentials like Walmart (WMT). Then you have the firms like Amazon (AMZN) and Alibaba (BABA) that use technology really well to scale for “essential” services and products. In a research paper about the valuations of firms with more intangible capital on their balance sheets, the study showed how the market and economy are evolving to include more of the FAANGs as highly valued firms, and why, which includes:
The pandemic rewarded many of these firms for a period. Monday, Nov. 9 some of the more traditional firms were back in favor – oil and gas, airlines, and others battered by the pandemic. I’ve written about this since early February that COVID-19’s grip would continue to plague the economy until it was better contained and confidence restored. This current new normal is reflected in the Dallas Federal Reserve’s Index. The trend lines run to Oct. 17 and we know that cases have been rising in all states since that time. The Federal Reserve has generally said that virus control is the factor that will help move the economy toward its potential. It’s just common sense. I’ve participated in several Fed webcasts and read the assessments by various leaders.
Currently, epidemiologists and economics are co-mingling more in the mainstream of academia, trying to determine what pandemic economics look like and might reveal in the months and years ahead. The news by Pfizer (PFE) of their vaccine’s efficacy of 90% created the thrust behind the markets move early in the week as well as the election being called. The safety of their vaccine is now under review.
No lack of themes
Another investment theme is obviously climate change and sustainability, encapsulated by ESG (environmental, social and governance) actions by firms. All of the big investment houses are packaging ETFs and funds to appeal to the growing market for investments that help people and planet. That universe of types of firms is growing as are funds flows. Blackrock (BLK), Calvert and others like the American Century funds are increasing their offerings.
Sustainable funds represented about 10% of all flows into U.S. stock and bond funds for the quarter (9/30/20). It wasn’t so long ago when that percentage was routinely below 1%. In September, sustainable funds comprised 24% of the $12.7 billion in net flows of U.S. stock and bond funds. Granted, September was a bad month for overall fund flows, but sustainable funds appear to be on a secular growth path that hasn’t experienced the same ups and downs.
My point is that we are not lacking in firms, funds and assets in which to invest as the ESG world shows. Note also that these funds can overlap each other’s holdings with other funds owned in a portfolio or 401(k). Duplication and thus concentration is an issue. We also witness “the market” being traded increasingly by algorithmic programs and momentum. What’s a human to do in this investment world of AI, the possibilities of technology, and behavioral economics?
The pandemic has been like one of those apocalyptic series or movies where advanced technology and the basics of living are smashed together in an odd contrast to each other. Think Travelers, Interstellar, Revolution, and so forth. Our workforce is reflecting that as are our politics depending on what world of work you occupy to some extent. The big picture, macro, is a challenge to identify and yet, this is the very thing we require as a compass, particularly in the case of investing at this time. I believe human intelligence is the answer. It’s reflected in many a life sciences firm, ESG-leading firms, technology firms and yes, even oil and gas firms as they try to navigate an energy transition that is undoubtedly happening. British Petroleum (BP), Occidental Petroleum (OXY), Shell (NYSE:RDS.A)(NYSE:RDS.B), Enbridge (ENB) and others are finding unique paths within their scope of operations, asset mix and competencies.
No computer program will necessarily be able to identify “the future” though complexity science-types might disagree. The futurist’s impetus usually starts with a person having an idea or vision about the future. I believe we must use our human intelligence for this – sharpening our wits, focus and awareness. Inherent in operating from the theater of human intelligence is intuition, thought, and analysis that a computer or a Google search cannot truly penetrate. This is why analyzing data and finding inferences, data analytics, is a skill that’s in demand, the human side of the equation that finds meaning. Yes, I’ve been researching bitcoin investments of late. I listened to Raoul Pal’s “greatest trade” video endorsing the future of bitcoin. I’m currently intrigued by the Ark funds (ARKK)(ARKW) to name a couple of their funds.
I probably spend more time thinking about investing than investing, until I’m clearheaded about why I’m willing to bank on a stock or fund. Sometimes that does not materialize as success for many reasons – a sector falls out of favor, a black swan event or some other unforeseen circumstance. However, the portfolios I do have had held up from diversification and not acting (holding) as much as thinking (strategizing). Not pulling the trigger has been as equally important as pulling the trigger.
The best advice I can offer is to identify an investment theme or two (and/or their firms) that you can follow, a micro-focus, and monitor the forces impacting the movements of relevant firms and what is happening in the macro-economy. This will offer both risk mitigation and the ability to observe opportunities. The rest of one’s actions are about risk tolerance and investment horizon. Then, whether pandemic or not, there’s some forward movement or strategic plan when one’s timing is right based on your own human intelligence. The trust you build using your intelligence creates confidence for future decision making – your own human capital.