The John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy is pleased to sponsor the 26th episode of Bogleheads® Live. In this episode Colleen Jaconetti, a Senior Investment Analyst in the Vanguard Strategy Group, discusses total return investing.
Colleen Jaconetti authored the 2012 Vanguard research paper "Total-Return Investing: An Enduring Solution for Low Yields", alongside Francis M. Kinniry Jr., and Christopher B. Philips.
Jon Luskin: Bogleheads® Live is our ongoing Twitter Space series where the do-it-yourself investor community asks their questions to financial experts live on Twitter. You can ask your questions by joining us for the next Twitter Space. Get the dates and times of the next Bogleheads® Live by following the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy on Twitter. That's @bogleheads.
For those that can't make the live events, episodes are recorded and turn into a podcast. This is that podcast.
Thank you for everyone who joined us for the 26th Bogleheads® Live. My name is Jon Luskin, and I'm your host. Our guest for today is Colleen Jaconetti.
Let's start by talking about the Bogleheads®; a community of investors who believe in keeping it simple, following a small number of tried-and-true investing principles.
This episode of Bogleheads® Live, as with all episodes, is brought to you by the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people make better financial decisions. Visit our newly redesigned website at boglecenter.net to find valuable information and to make a tax-deductible donation.
Mark your calendars for future episodes of Bogleheads® Live. Next week we'll have Sean Mullaney, AKA “fitaxguy,” discussing his new book on individual 401(k)s, “The Retirement Plan of Choice for the Self-Employed and Side Hustlers.”
Before we get started on today’s show, a disclaimer. This is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment, tax, or other financial planning decisions.
Let's get started on today's show with Colleen Jaconetti.
Colleen Jaconetti is a senior investment professional at Vanguard with 28 years of experience, including financial planning with a specific focus on after-tax wealth management, retirement income, portfolio construction, advice methodology, model portfolios, and - today's topic - total return investing. She's also done research on tax-efficient drawdowns, dynamic spending, asset location, and rebalancing.
Colleen Jaconetti, thank you for joining us on today's Bogleheads® Live.
Colleen Jaconetti: Hi Jon. Thanks so much for having me here.
Jon Luskin: Looking for a guest to speak at our live Twitter Space event today, I reached out to my guy at Vanguard and I said, “Hey, this paper on total return is awesome. This paper on a smart guide to rebalancing is awesome. This paper on ETF best practices is awesome. I'd be super excited to have anyone come on to talk about any of those topics. And then John Leon wrote back, “Colleen is the author of two of those papers.” So, it's really exciting to have such a whiz as yourself on the show here today.
Colleen Jaconetti: Thank you. I appreciate that.
Jon Luskin: Let's start with, what do Bogleheads® need to know about total return investing? About income investing? About dividend investing?
Colleen Jaconetti: Income investing is really an approach that investors would take to only spend the income or yield - so dividends, interest or capital gains – that are generated by the portfolio each year. So, their spending is actually dictated by the level of income that the portfolio generates. Given yields are relatively low historically, and when people generally try to spend say around 4% to 5%, a lot of issues come up when people try to use a broadly diversified portfolio to meet their spending needs.
The 4% to 5% is not readily generated, say, by a broadly diversified stock and bond portfolio. So, to meet a gap in spending, if they have one between the 2%-3% yield that they have, income investors would generally overweight dividend paying stocks or high-yield bonds to meet that gap.
On the other hand, if you think about a total return approach, it is actually very similar to the income approach from the perspective of in both cases, investors would first spend the yield – interest, dividends, and cap gains - from the portfolio, but with a total return approach instead of looking to change the composition of the portfolio to overweight dividend paying stocks or higher yielding bonds, the investor would spend from the appreciation - so the other part of their total return - spend from the appreciation on the portfolio.
The biggest pros for the income approach: it’s easy to understand. The one con for the income approach, if you're overweighting dividend paying stocks and high-yield bonds, you could end up having a less diversified portfolio and possibly higher risk.
On the other hand, with a total return approach you aren't really changing the risk characteristics of the portfolio when you look to spend instead just spending from the appreciation. So, you kind of maintain the risk exposure and diversification of the portfolio. And it's actually more tax-efficient.
Jon Luskin: That total return investing approach, that's going to help with risk management, and it's going to increase your tax efficiency. It's hard to go wrong with that.
We've got our first audience question.
David (audience): I always wondered why, for example, Vanguard will say in a paper value now looks relatively attractive to growth, or some type of comment on the state of the economy. I'm just wondering why the total return funds that Vanguard offers never embed some of these concepts like tilting towards value or tilting towards small-cap value.
Colleen Jaconetti: When we think about some of the work that comes out of our economics group and investment strategy, making calls such as maybe value or growth are outperforming over shorter periods of time, it's really not something that we embed in our funds that you're referring to. Like target date funds and LifeStrategy funds, taking a much more longer-term approach.
The majority of the returns are as a result of the strategic asset allocation for when there's limited market timing and the long-term view of strategic asset allocation. And historically, we’re actually going through some numbers on this now, is tactical asset allocation. So, short-term rotations based on where people think the market could be going, have actually underperformed through time.
[Step back and say, hey, we want to get broadly diversified portfolios, market cap weighted, exposure to US and international, equal weighting growth and value. And that's really our starting point for what we think will provide long-term success for investors.
[Having said that, it’s not to say that active managers can't add value through those strategies. But a majority of what you're referring to as far as some of the embedded advice was really all based on index funds and really based on having limited information about someone. A lot of those strategies, say if you're going to take a bet on value or growth over the long run, the investor actually has to stick with it over the long run. We all know there's significant periods of underperformance, and that's where we see people leaving the funds, and is actually one of the things that can harm investors.
I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Quantifying Advisor’s Alpha work that we have done. In there, we say that behavioral coaching, which really trying to capture the returns that investors earn on their own relative to the returns of the funds that they're invested in, and it seems like investors actually trail the returns of the funds by about 150 basis points. And that's partly due to maybe they're not able to stick with it. So, if they're making shorter-term calls, which may or may not be correct, the three things they would have to get right are: when to get out, when to get back in, and where to invest in the meantime. And getting those three things correct, even with active managers, has proven to be a challenge.
Jon Luskin: That figure of 150 basis points as that behavior gap. For folks who aren't investment nerds, that means if you're jumping in and out of the market, that means maybe you're losing one and a half percent on your investment returns. Now, I know one and a half percent sounds like a small number, but that can add up to millions of dollars over your lifetime. Those small differences do add up.
And Garrett, you should be live to ask your question.
Garrett (audience): I've got a question concerning bond allocation. Just as two examples: I remember that the Fidelity Freedom Index target date funds have a small allocation to long-term treasuries in there for some younger investors, and I know some Vanguard Personal Advisor Services clients whose bond allocations were split basically between short corporate bonds and total bond market.
Given some of the criticisms over total bond market funds, what would you suggest for younger investors versus older investors within their bond allocations?
Colleen Jaconetti: Total bond market and total international bond market would give all investors the broadest exposure to the bond market. Sometimes for investors who are willing to take on slightly more risk, you could certainly overweight intermediate- and short-term corporate bonds. But I think what people have to remember is, is that is usually at the expense of Treasury bonds. And Treasury bonds are one of the proven diversifiers when the markets aren't doing well.
It all comes down to risk and return and how much an investor is comfortable straying from a total bond market type approach. Older investors may want to overweight short- or intermediate-term corporate, but understanding that that will be possibly higher losses if the equity market isn't doing well as those are corporates at the expense of treasuries.
For younger investors, they may say they have a longer time horizon, so they be more comfortable taking on the additional risk associated with an overweight to corporates. And then as far as the long-term goes, that goes back to changes in interest rates. As you extend the duration of the portfolio beyond total bond market and extend that duration, your portfolio is more sensitive to changes in interest rates. On the positive or the negative. But if interest rates go up and then the bonds go down, people will be experiencing larger losses potentially by overweighting the long-term.
Jon Luskin: This question is from buffinita, from Bogleheads® Reddit, who asks:
“Currently, the most popular index ETF on the Reddit dividends investing forum is Schwab's dividend fund (SCHD). Year-to-date, SCHD is outperforming VTI. VTI is Vanguard's total market US fund. And buffinita notes that these funds are really neck-and-neck until the quarter 3, 2022 dive. How should a Boglehead® feel about the “dividend and chill” approach when the results are neck-and-neck with a total market offering?”
Colleen Jaconetti: When you think about investing for dividends, there's nothing saying that dividend paying stocks would have higher returns over the long run, which is basically what's playing out here. If you think about overweighting dividend paying stocks, what you end up doing is, if you're taking it from the broad market equity portfolio, you're having an overweight to value most likely. It's just a less diversified portfolio, more concentrated in that higher dividend-yielding stocks end up to be maybe a more defensive sector, such as consumer staples, healthcare, utilities. And then they're underweighting discretionary spending, consumer discretionary, and technology.
Over the long run, I think we would say that we would have equal expectations as far as growth and value go. So, it's not surprising that they’re neck-and-neck, but if growth is outperforming at one period or value is outperforming at one period, there could be differences as far as the returns go.
When a dividend is paid out, there's not really any value created as a role of the dividend. When the dividend is paid on the ex-dividend date, the price of the stock drops by the amount of the dividend. So, no value is gained or lost. It's just that now if an investor holds that investment in a taxable account, they have to pay tax on that dividend.
Dividends can be thought of as a taxable return of capital. And if you are putting that in your taxable account, you would have to pay current income taxes on it. So, it could actually reduce the amount of dividend that you would get.
Jon Luskin: You're going to have more risk with that dividend-focused approach, and with risk sometimes comes a higher return. So, certainly there's going to be periods when you're going to see similar or even outperformance with that dividend-focused approach. But you're taking more risk to do so, and to Colleen's point that's going to be tax-inefficient. And then moreover, even if you're talking about a tax-advantaged account where taxes aren't an issue, there's still going to be some extra costs with dividend investing if you're reinvesting those dividends.
When you reinvest those dividends in Schwab’s SCHD fund, for example, you've got to cross the bid-ask spread to put that extra cash to work. So maybe you're not paying that $7.95 transparent commission fee that doesn't even exist anymore, but you're still losing a little bit of money each time you get that dividend distribution and you're reinvesting it.
Colleen, this question is from username “retired@50” from the Bogleheads® forums who writes:
“There seems to be a contingent of people that either cannot or will not accept the total return investing premise in spite of the long and detailed arguments on the Bogleheads® forums. Has Vanguard or Ms. Jaconetti done any studies related to the psychology of why some investors prefer dividends over total return investing?”
Colleen Jaconetti: Vanguard hasn't specifically done any studies on the psychology of it. I would say over the 20 years of talking about this and meeting with clients, there's two common reasons that I hear.
The first is the income approach is easier to understand and it's easier to implement. That's absolutely true. If you are looking at your portfolio and you're setting it up for income, once you select your asset allocation, and then going forward you're willing to just take the income from the portfolio and spend that, that is certainly an easier and maybe more intuitive approach than total return.
Because if you think about total return, what would happen is you would be selling assets in your taxable account, and because you're trying to minimize taxes, they're most likely going to be the assets that have been underperforming, so maybe assets at a loss or no gain or loss, rebalancing inside tax-advantaged accounts.
So, it's certainly a bit more involved to implement the total return approach and it is certainly maybe not as intuitive of an approach to follow. So, for people who say simplicity and ease of execution is my priority, that's certainly a valid way to go, especially if they're in a lower tax bracket and maybe they're not as concerned about the tax inefficiency of what they're setting up.
And I would say the second reason, a very significant aversion to spending from principal. If your retirement number is a million dollars, many people don't want to see their balance go below a million dollars. They look at that and say, I want to invest this in a way that I can just spend the income off of this portfolio, and I want to keep that million dollars as long as possible.
And I think the one thing that people don't realize maybe when they're doing that, is that by really focusing on that income they may end up shifting their portfolio in a way that materially changes the risk and return that they were comfortable with in the first place. If you have this one million dollar portfolio, and you meaningfully move your equity allocation, overweight value or dividend-paying stocks, or you meaningfully move your bond allocation to overweight high-yield corporate type stocks, it's just important to realize that just because you're only spending the income from the portfolio doesn't mean that your principal value is not at-risk based on the changes that you're making to the portfolio.
It comes down to the simplicity and knowing what is coming for them is worth the extra taxes that they might pay or the additional risk. So, I wouldn't want to suggest that someone who's following the income approach is doing something wrong. They just should know, are they taking on more risk? Are they paying more taxes? And if they're comfortable with that.
Jon Luskin: Certainly, I think it can feel good to get cash. People like getting cash. It feels good to get that check in the mail to see that distribution. Now, certainly there's some mental accounting going on there, and as we've already mentioned, hey, you're taking on more risk and you're going to pay more taxes. If that approach can help someone stay the course, that can be valuable in itself.
o get a little bit geeky, Colleen mentioned a strategy just now, she mentioned “I'm going to sell it from my taxable account and I'm going to rebalance in my tax-advantaged account.” So, that is a cross-account rebalancing approach. That's the opposite of a silo approach. We're not necessarily going to have the exact same mix of stocks and bonds in every account that we own. We're going to look at all of our accounts together and rebalance accordingly. Now, that's a little more complicated. That's a little bit of a spreadsheet exercise, but for those folks who are up for the extra work, they can do that. Rick Ferri on Episode 2 of the Bogleheads® Live series talks about that. So, folks can check out Episode 2 if they want to hear Rick talk about cross-account rebalancing approach.
Colleen Jaconetti is author of, “A Guide to Smart Rebalancing.” I'll make sure to link to show notes for our podcast listeners so they can check out that resource.
Frank, I'm going to make you a speaker.
Frank (audience): I retired last year. In 2023, I'm going to start withdrawing from my IRA - my retirement portfolio. What withdrawal frequency would give me the best chance for a successful long-term sustainability? Monthly, semi-annually or annual withdrawals?
Colleen Jaconetti: When you think about it, if your portfolio is invested in the stock and/or bond market, if you would take out monthly that would leave more of your money at work for you for a longer period of time. Given that 7 out of 10 years the stock market is up, monthly would give you a slight advantage by being invested in the markets.
Having said that, it comes down to, some people do prefer having 6-12 months in cash, and they're willing to accept a cash drag as a result of that to know that the money's there. So, they're not really worried about what's going on with the markets as far as spending goes.
If you're looking to maximize your return, obviously the monthly withdrawals would be more beneficial given in the majority of cases the stock market is up rather than down. In the years where it's down, to be quite honest if you had taken it out in the beginning of the year and then the market goes down, it's not always the perfect way to do it. But in 7 out of 10 years, you should be better off that way.
Jon Luskin: And that was actually a question that we got from username “Recently Retired” from the Bogleheads® forum who asked that exact same question. So, Recently Retired, we got your
This question is from username “AlwaysLearningMore” from the Bogleheads® forum who writes:
“Does her work inform the Vanguard employees who directly interface with the public on how to handle customers' questions about including the Wellesley Income Fund or Wellington Fund in their portfolios? Do they use her research to help to dissuade investors from including those funds?”
Colleen Jaconetti: My work is primarily focused on the financial planning and tax merits of total return spending relative to income. Not the investment merits of specific funds. The people who are answering the phone taking questions on the funds are definitely not reading my work. They're not using the work to inform the opinion.
The Wellesley Income Fund and the Wellington Fund are two of our longest standing balanced funds and have a great track record of performance. I would say it's most likely preferred to hold those funds, though, from a financial planning perspective for those investors who are in a higher tax bracket within their tax-advantaged accounts.
So, it goes back to, for investors who have a mix of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-free accounts, the Wellesley Income Fund and Wellington Fund are balanced funds which also hold taxable bonds. So higher tax bracket investors will be better off holding those funds in a tax-deferred or tax-free account so that the income that's generated each year is not taxed either at their ordinary income tax rates the dividend and capital gain tax rates.
Even on the website, the Wellington and Wellesley fund will tell you their after-tax returns. On average, they could give up somewhere between 1%-2% of their return each year to taxes, which is why we would say shelter those monies if possible.
Jon Luskin: So, as I mentioned earlier, that 1% or 2%, that tax drag, that sounds like a small number, but that can add up to huge changes in how much you're finally going to end up with at the end of the day. Being focused on those small numbers, that's going to help improve your odds of success as an investor.
Colleen mentioned a pretty interesting point just now. The nerdy term for this is “asset location” or “tax-efficient fund placement”. Hey, we've got different types of investments that spit out income differently in different amounts and different frequency, different types of distributions.
So, if we've got an investment that's going to be spitting out a lot of income, maybe it's dividend income, maybe it's bond income, maybe it's capital gain distributions, then we want to house those investments in those tax-advantaged accounts. That may help manage our annual tax bill. For our podcast listeners, I’ll link to an article by Michael Kitces that touches on the subject, so those who want to nerd out on it, they can check out those show notes.
I'm going to add David as a speaker.
[David (audience): Since Vanguard has been starting to get involved in private equity, could you just talk a little bit about how private equity might fit into a total return approach?
Colleen Jaconetti: The most important thing with private equity is it has to be with qualified investors. As far as fitting in with total return, we would have to think about the return stream a little bit differently. Having a 5% or 10% allocation to private equity in a taxable account where, through time, you can add cash flows back into it to replenish the account, would certainly make sense.
The biggest hurdle with putting it in more mass-distributed form, like the target date funds or LifeStrategy funds, is right now it's just for qualified investors. But it would be treated most likely as a sleeve of the equity allocation. If you wanted to further break it down, it could be viewed as a sleeve in the active equity allocation. So, if someone had a preference for 50% equity investing, and then within that they said they would like to have 50% active and 50% indexed, they could treat it as a piece of that active equity allocation.
Jon Luskin: With respect to the question about PE and total return investing, I would imagine that private equity would be pretty tax-efficient, quite the opposite of dividend investing from a tax efficiency standpoint. And Colleen, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on this.
With dividend investing, part of the draw of it is, “Hey, I get this cash flow.” Now there's risk and there's tax inefficiencies we've already discussed. But with PE, you're going to put that money in and you may not see a return for years. That can make it quite tax-efficient and quite the opposite of dividend investing. Again, that draw for dividend investing being that cash flow, you're not going to necessarily get that cash flow for PE.
Colleen Jaconetti: Jon, I totally agree with you. And I think that's why it's important for people to think about it when they're, if they were to allocate a portion of the portfolio to PE, based on what stage of their life cycle. If they're accumulators, maybe they're not worried about having that cash flow. Retirees would want to just think about how much money would they be having locked up. What portion of the portfolio can they have, maybe not available to them or not generating cashflow to them, and then still be able to comfortably meet their spending needs even if the equity markets or bond markets are not performing well.
So, I think that's an important thing to think about when you're having an investment in PE if you're in retirement.
Jon Luskin: You should be live to ask your question.
Audience #3: Is Vanguard's stance that a total market index is superior over the long run to a dividend growth kind of fund?
Colleen Jaconetti: It comes down to goals and objectives. We would generally start from the premise of say, equal weight to growth and value. Obviously if you're overweighting a value sector, over the long-term it could outperform or underperform. So, we take the approach like the total stock market index say, would have equal weights to growth and value and a breakout between large, mid, and small. So, obviously as you move away from that level of diversification and start overweighting dividend paying stocks, you could be reducing the level of diversification, possibly increasing risk.
So, I don't want to say it's inferior because if value is outperforming or it happens to be a period of time where it's doing well, it's not that you would have inferior results. You could pair that with another broadly diversified portfolio to come back to the market weight. Or, over the long one, we would expect growth and value to provide similar returns. It's just the order and magnitude of those returns through time.
Jon Luskin: I think that's a pretty common misconception with dividend investing. Most folks feel like it's safer because they're getting that cash flow, but actually it's a riskier because it's a more concentrated investing approach.
Colleen Jaconetti: Agreed. And at the end of the day, just realizing that because you get that, there's no value created. So, if you have a stock that's worth $100, and there's a dividend declared of $5 on the ex-dividend date, the price goes from $100 to $95. So, you have $95 in value for your stock. You have a $5 dividend. And if you're holding it in a taxable account, you're now going to pay 15% or 20% cap gains tax on that $5.
So, you would end up having possibly less money on an after-tax basis as a result of getting a dividend in your taxable account.
Jon Luskin: Colleen, that is going to be it for all the time we have for today. Any final thoughts before I let you go?
Colleen Jaconetti: The Bogleheads® are a really significant and important part of what makes Vanguard so special. And I presented actually this topic, total return to Bogleheads® on campus about over a decade ago. I just always enjoy the questions and interactions with you. Appreciate the time today.
Jon Luskin: Wonderful. Colleen, thank you for joining us.
Folks, that's all the time that we have for today, and thank you for everyone who joined us for today's Bogleheads® Live.
Next week we'll have Sean Mullaney, AKA “fitaxguy”, discussing his new book on individual 401(k)s, AKA “Solo Ks”, the Retirement Plan of Choice for Self-Employed and Side Hustlers.
Until our next episode, you can access a wealth of information for do-it-yourself investors at the John C. Bogle Center for Financial Literacy at boglecenter.net.
We are doing a call for volunteers. We're looking for podcast editors to help spread the message of low-cost investing. Shoot me a DM on Twitter. @JonLuskin is my user handle.
Speaking of volunteers, thank you to Ryan Barrett for summarizing Episode 18 with Barry Ritholtz. Thank you to Tedd Shimp, Andrew Beauchamp, Richard Feldman, Zach Foster, and Chris for proofing the transcriptions. We're getting more transcriptions up thanks to the help of those wonderful members of the Bogleheads® community. And a much overdue thank you to Barry Barnitz for both transcribing and updating the Bogleheads® sites with information on the Bogleheads® Live series.
Finally, I would love your feedback. If you have a comment or guest suggestion, tag your host at @JonLuskin on Twitter.
Thank you again, everyone. Look forward to seeing you all again next week. Until then, have a great week.