“It seems that everywhere you turn, the press is asking, “When is the Fed going to raise interest rates?” While that may be the question du jour, for long-term investors, the question is irrelevant to the construction of a high-quality bond portfolio.
1. Understand the role bonds play in a portfolio. When it comes to managing a bond portfolio, many investors, especially retirees, are mainly focused on generating income, but investors need to be aware of the risks taken to achieve a set amount of income in today’s low interest rate environment. For example, when interest rates are low (and bond prices are high), the income approach would cause an investor to buy more bonds, extend duration or accept lower credit quality in order to maintain a certain level of income. Likewise, if you think back to the early 1980s, when you could lock in long-term bond rates over 10%, the income approach would cause investors to own fewer bonds — even though the lower prices (higher yields) were a once-in-a-generation buying opportunity.
A better approach is to divorce the cash flow decision from the income decision. To do this, an investor needs to set a rational asset allocation, periodically rebalance to that target, and allow the total return of the entire portfolio to satisfy any income needs as opposed to viewing the interest generated by a bond portfolio as the sole source of income. Once a monthly (or some other frequency) withdrawal rate that meets an investor’s living expenses is determined, some combination of interest, dividends and proceeds from maturities and sales will provide enough cash to meet the withdrawal each month. Read more »