Retire with Power…Purchasing Power

Retirement planning isn’t just long-term investing, it’s long-term spending, too. How can retirees help insulate the nest eggs they’ve accumulated from the corrosive long-term effects of inflation?

While today’s US defined contribution (DC) plans are good at providing sensible investments for the accumulation phase of retirement planning, many plans need a sensible investment that participants nearing or in retirement can include in their portfolios to offset inflation and maintain the purchasing power of their savings.

Social Security has that built into its design, providing potential annual increases based on the rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). But for many DC participants, their plan savings will likely play a larger role in their retirement planning than Social Security. So they would benefit from adding a component that responds well to inflationary pressures—a diversified basket of real assets (e.g., natural resource stocks, commodities futures, real estate).

We believe this should be a compulsory element in any target-date glide path as workers move to and through retirement. In a fully diversified portfolio, the volatility of real assets could be tempered by an appropriate allocation to Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) as well. For example, a professionally managed target-date glide path would likely start incorporating TIPS in the decade or so leading up to retirement, gradually increasing the allocation modestly as the overall portfolio becomes more conservative.

But there are many participants who still like to actively construct their retirement portfolios. For them, real assets should be available as an option on a DC plan’s core menu. And real assets should also be available to retirees who may choose to roll their assets over into an IRA.

But real assets, on their own, can be quite volatile—much like equities. Active investors in or heading toward retirement may not be prepared for the potentially high volatility of real assets.

That’s where DC plan sponsors can help. The retirement industry often turns to “educating” participants as the answer for how to get them to invest sensibly. While education will always be a component of DC plans, we believe it would be disingenuous to think education has actually overcome any participant investing issues to a significant degree.

To offer a stand-alone real asset option on a DC investment menu could be problematic, because participants might be overly attracted to the substantial gains real assets have historically produced while not paying enough attention to the inherent volatility risks. That’s why we feel that a core menu option of real assets would be more suitable if it included a built-in volatility-moderating element, like TIPS.

All in all, this more balanced approach makes the inflation-fighting benefits of real assets available to retirees, but does so in a measured, sensible way.

The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AllianceBernstein portfolio-management teams.

Richard A. Davies

Senior Managing Director, Global Head—Defined Contribution and Multi-Asset Business Development
Richard A. Davies is Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Defined Contribution, responsible for the overall leadership and strategic direction of AB’s global defined contribution and multi-asset businesses. He previously served as co-head of Institutions for the firm’s North America Client Group, while leading its US defined contribution activities. Davies rejoined AB in 2013 after spending several years leading Russell Investments’ institutional defined contribution business. During his earlier, 16-year career with AB, he led the firm’s institutional defined contribution, sub-advisory, and retail retirement and college savings businesses. Davies also served as head of global marketing and product management and led several business lines and distribution channels for the mutual funds group. He joined the firm in 1995 from First Chicago Corporation, where he served as president of retail investment services and was a managing director of First Chicago Investment Management Company. Prior to joining First Chicago in 1989, Davies was a strategy consultant and manager with The Boston Consulting Group. He worked in brand management for Procter & Gamble before attending graduate school. Davies holds a BA in economics, with honors, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He chairs the Advisory Board of the University of Wisconsin’s economics department. Davies is a Trustee of the Employee Benefit Research Institute and was a founder of the Defined Contribution Institutional Investment Association. Location: New York

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