Understanding market volatility
Many investors become concerned when volatility occurs in global financial markets – particularly about the impact on their superannuation and other investments.
For retirees, in particular, it isn’t just the annual returns that matter – the order and timing of these returns can also be important. This is what we refer to as “sequencing risk”. Let’s take a closer look at sequencing risk and how the order of investment returns could have an influence on the value of one’s investment.
In reality, the order of investment returns doesn’t matter as much for many long-term investors. Because regardless of the ‘return path’ or order of returns, an investment will still have risen in value as long as the average return is positive over time. This is illustrated in Table 1, where Investor A and Investor B each invested $1,000,000 in different products.
|End of year||Investor A||Annual Return||Investor B||Annual Return|
As we can see, both investments delivered the same returns, but the order of those returns was reversed for the two investors. Investor A’s investment delivered two years of negative returns early in the period, while Investor B’s investment delivered negative returns at the end of the period. Assuming both investors stayed invested for the full 15 years, it is clear that the order of returns had no impact on their final investment balance – both investments grew to $1,284,863. This is because positive and negative market movements have averaged out over time. Importantly, despite the volatility in annual returns, the average return is positive. For this reason, most people saving for their retirement should not be overly concerned about short-term volatility in markets, even though this can result in short-term downward movements in the value of their investment. Assuming that the long-term average return is positive, the value of their investment will grow.
There is one group of investors, in particular, that may need to think about volatility and the order of investment returns – retirees. The following example illustrates how the order of returns can affect them. Let’s assume Investor C and Investor D are both 65 years old and about to retire. In order to help finance their day-to-day living costs, both investors will withdraw $5,000 each month, or $60,000 per year, from their investment.
|EOY||Withdrawal||Investor C||Annual Return||Investor D||Annual Return|
Again, we can see that the two different investments delivered the same percentage returns, but that the ordering of the returns was reversed. The investment outcomes of Investor C and Investor D highlight how sequencing risk (or the order of investment returns) can be crucially important around retirement age. At this time, investors are typically making the transition from being savers to income-seekers – from building up their nest egg to drawing income from it.
If financial markets struggle around the time of retirement, there could be undesired consequences for the investor – such as delaying retirement to continue working, or having to reduce expenditure in retirement. This is the clear problem for Investor C. Regular withdrawals, combined with a series of negative investment returns in the first five years of retirement, meant that Investor C had less time to recover from negative market movements. In the above example, Investor C faced the unfortunate prospect of having their funds depleted less than 15 years into retirement. Over the same period, Investor D continued to accumulate wealth during retirement despite making exactly the same withdrawals as Investor C. This is because Investor D had the better fortune of having several consecutive years of positive returns early on in retirement.
The rapidly declining value of Investor C’s investment shows that sequencing risk can have serious implications for retirees. Importantly, it can make a meaningful difference to how long an investor’s savings will last in retirement and how much income can be withdrawn in order to help fund day-to-day living costs. As a result, sequencing risk must be addressed before investors reach retirement as part of a transition strategy. One thing is for sure – volatility will remain a feature of financial markets. But while nobody can control the order of investment returns, there are some steps investors can take to mitigate the effects of sequencing risk.
Colonial First State Investments Limited ABN 98 002 348 352, AFSL 232468 (CFSIL) is the issuer of super, pension and investment products. This document may include general advice but does not take into account your individual objectives, financial situation or needs. You should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and Financial Services Guide (FSG) carefully, assess whether the information is appropriate for you, and consider talking to a financial adviser before making an investment decision. The PDS and FSG can be obtained from www.cfs.com.au or by calling us on 13 13 36. Past performance is no indication of future performance.