Many financial advisors – both the human kind and, more especially, the robo kind – will often rely on computerized portfolio optimization programs to recommend an asset allocation for retirement investors. I've mentioned in the past how the fatal flaw in these calculators is their inappropriate use of risk as a factor in these recommendations. This article isn't about risk. It's about something else I recently discovered (for the background on this, read "How a Fiduciary Can Assess a Retirement Investor's GOT," FiduciaryNews.com, August 5, 2014). 

Many of these same optimizer programs use the average annual returns for various asset classes in their calculations. The most often cited average annual return for stocks (using return data dating from 1926) is 10 percent per year. How reasonable is it to use these historic returns as goals for retirement investors? 

On the face of it, it sounds logical. After all, retirement investors are long-term investors and using the long-term average return appears to make sense. The truth, on the other hand, may not bear this out. If you look at the table in the article cited above, you'll see, for time horizons of 25 years or less, there's a one in three chance you won't attain that 10 percent return target. How many retirement investors above 40 (i.e., those with time horizons of 25 years or less) have been sold on the idea of assuming a 10 percent return in stocks? The evidence suggests that assumption might not be prudent. 

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Christopher Carosa

Chris Carosa has been writing a weekly article and monthly column for BenefitsPRO online and BenefitsPRO Magazine since 2011 and is a nationally recognized award-winning writer, researcher and speaker. He’s written seven books, including From Cradle to Retire: The Child IRA; Hey! What’s My Number? – How to Increase the Odds You Will Retire in Comfort; A Pizza The Action: Everything I Ever Learned About Business I Learned By Working in a Pizza Stand at the Erie County Fair; and the widely acclaimed 401(k) Fiduciary Solutions. Carosa is also Chief Contributing Editor of the authoritative trade journal FiduciaryNews.com and publisher of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel, a weekly community newspaper he founded in 1989. Currently serving as President of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and with more than 1,000 articles published in various publications, he appears regularly in the national media. A “parallel” entrepreneur, he actively runs a handful of businesses, including a small boutique investment adviser, providing hands-on experience for his writing. A trained astrophysicist, he also holds an MBA and has been designated a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor. Share your thoughts and story ideas with him through Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/christophercarosa/)and Twitter (https://twitter.com/ChrisCarosa).