60/40 Portfolio: Historical Returns Show an Enduring Upside

The Enduring Upside of the 60/40 Approach

The Enduring Upside of the 60/40 Approach

Keeping a “balanced” portfolio—60% stocks, 40% bonds—is one of the investing world’s most tried and true strategies for dealing with risk. But has this classic approach finally lost its luster? Given the ultra-low-yield environment of the current bond market, 60/40 has attracted some detractors. (Including big names like Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.)

While we don’t side with the 60/40 naysayers, their argument is worth a nod: With the Federal Reserve dropping its interest rate target to near-zero in response to the pandemic, government bond yields have cratered across the board (yields on the 10-year Treasury haven’t been above 1% since March and they hover at 0.71% as of this writing). And they may continue to bump along this rocky bottom for the foreseeable future. The last time the Fed went to zero, in the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, it didn’t raise rates again until 2015.

With yields this low, bonds can’t possibly provide the returns as they once did, and so allocating 40% of your portfolio to them simply doesn’t make sense, critics say.

That argument has two major flaws: It ignores the role dividends can play in producing income, and it forgets that the most important reason to invest in bonds isn’t to produce income, but to aid in risk protection.

At Adviser Investments, we think there’s still a lot to like about 60/40—even when yields are hitting all-time lows.

While bonds have historically been prized for their income-producing abilities, the ability of some stocks to generate a sustainable income stream through dividends is similarly attractive. Unlike bond yields, dividends tend to grow over time, helping to counter inflation. Indeed, in the low-interest rate bull market we’ve experienced in recent decades, stocks have generated more income than bonds.

If that’s the case, why not simply invest 100% of your portfolio in equities? One word: Risk. Many investors simply can’t stomach the prospect of seeing 25% of their portfolio’s value go up in smoke in a matter of weeks, as happened this past March. For investors seeking risk mitigation and downside protection, a traditionally balanced portfolio can still be compelling. As we often say, how much is an extra percent or two of returns really worth if you can’t sleep at night?

And that’s a crucial point that many 60/40 critics overlook. They recommend replacing the bonds in your portfolio with alternative income-producing asset classes, like preferred stocks and real estate. But the reason those alternatives offer higher yields than investment-grade bonds is that, historically, they’ve also offered higher risks. Take real estate—the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t merely affected bond yields, it’s also transforming the demand for retail and office space, sending some REITs reeling while others have prospered.

The final mistake 60/40 doubters make is disregarding the long history and storied staying power of the strategy. Balancing a portfolio with 60% of your assets in stocks and 40% in bonds is the “classic” approach, not because it has performed well recently, but because it has endured over time.

The table below presents the historical performance of a balanced portfolio, comparing returns for the S&P 500, 10-year Treasury bonds, and a 60/40 blend of the two, back to the stock index’s 1957 inception. (We use both decade-by-decade annualized returns and stats on rolling 10-year periods for additional context. The 60/40 portfolio was rebalanced monthly; S&P returns in the 1960s do not include dividends.)

This table examines historical returns of a 60/40 portfolio by decade as compared to historical performance for the S&P 500 and 10-year Treasury Bonds.
Source: Morningstar, S&P Dow Jones Indices, Adviser Investments.

Not every decade has been a winner. But what is clear is that when you look through a wider lens—factoring in periods with bear markets and bull markets, high inflation and low, recessions and booms—the blended portfolio provided a 10-year annualized return of nearly 9%.

Can we guarantee that the 2020s will deliver a 9% return? No. But we can say that historically, a balanced portfolio can allow you to participate in the stock market’s gain without taking on nearly as much risk.

Last Chance to Roll Over 2020 RMDs

Required minimum distributions, often referred to as RMDs, are the amounts that U.S. tax law requires retirees to withdraw annually from traditional IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement plans. For 2020, Congress and the IRS took the “R” out of RMDs, waiving the required minimum distributions or allowing individuals to roll them over back into their retirement account if they’ve already withdrawn them. The RMD relief measure is part of the $2-trillion CARES Act passed by Congress in March to help provide aid for the coronavirus.

The deadline to deposit any funds you’d like to roll over is August 31, so time is running short to take advantage. We’ve written before about how the waivers and rollovers will work, so consider this a friendly reminder. Please contact your wealth management team if you have any questions about how to handle the transaction.

Podcast: Investment Trends Are Fleeting—Defending Against Recency Bias

Amid a global pandemic, tech stocks are off to the races, interest rates are in the basement and gold is fashionable again. Are these market developments going to last? And if so, how can you take advantage?

Join Chairman Dan Wiener and Director of Research Jeff DeMaso for an insightful look at the dangers of recency bias—peoples’ tendency to expect the future to look like the recent past—and how disciplined investors can defend against this all-too-human impulse.

In this informative conversation, Dan and Jeff discuss:

  • Is the 10-year Treasury still a benchmark economic barometer?
  • What’s the argument for investing in gold? And why you might want to think twice before going all in
  • The potential impact of a vaccine on sectors hard-hit by the pandemic
  • …and much more

Investment trends can seem like no-brainers…until they’re not. How can you identify opportunities, guard against biases and defend against shifting tides? It’s never too soon to be a more informed investor. Click here to listen now!

Vanguard Rethinks Management for the Energy Fund

Vanguard is removing its own quant team from its Energy Fund.

The Energy Fund had been run by Wellington Management since its 1984 founding. In 2005, Vanguard handed over a portion of the fund’s $4.55 billion to the Vanguard Quantitative Equity Group; at last report, the internal team oversaw about 5% of the fund’s assets. Now Wellington will resume management of the entire fund. The change will raise expenses by about one basis point.

Vanguard will also be changing the fund’s benchmark to a mix of energy and utilities indexes to reflect the fund’s focus not just on oil and gas production but also energy production in the broader sense.

About Adviser Investments

Adviser Investments is a full service wealth management firm, offering investment management, financial and tax planning, managed individual bond portfolios, and 401(k) advisory services. We’ve been helping individuals, trusts, institutions and foundations since 1994, and have more than 3,500 clients across the country and over $6 billion in assets under management. Our portfolios encompass actively managed funds, ETFs, socially responsible investments and tactical asset allocation strategies, with particular expertise in Fidelity and Vanguard mutual funds. We take pride in being The Adviser You Can Talk To.

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