I have bad news. Virtually everything you’ve ever been told by your broker or money manager or the financial media, about investing for retirement, is dead wrong. Your portfolio is likely exposed to far more risk than you think it is, and it is not delivering you a real rate of return that is higher than real inflation.
This is the reason I launched The Liberty Portfolio, which is designed to achieve a risk-adjusted real rate of return that does beat inflation.
Real Rate of Return and Inflation
Real rate of return is the return required on your regular or retirement portfolio, after subtracting fees, taxes and cost-of-living increases, in order to not lose purchasing power. If you don’t earn enough from your investment portfolio to keep up with inflation, you lose purchasing power.
If you lose purchasing power, then you cannot maintain your style of living. You will have to downsize, spend less on the things you like and you won’t be able to travel or visit nice restaurants — all the things you want to do in retirement.
If inflation is only 3-3.5%, why should achieving a real rate of return of 3.5% be all that difficult? Because inflation is not 3.5%. It’s closer to 10%. That is why your retirement portfolio is in real trouble because it’s being “safely” invested for that 3.5% goal.
How can inflation be closer to 10%, when we are all told it is 3.5%? For that, you have to understand how the U.S. has calculated Annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (“COLA”).
From 1940 to 1975, Congress adjusted social security payments 11 times to offset inflation, so the average was 5.7% per year. In 1972, Congress decided that COLA would be automatically increased each year based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. Adding in 5.7% extra every year was not a big deal in 1973.
Except, in 1980, the CPI hit 14.3%. Congress had to do something to keep these massive increases from getting more out of hand then they already had. What if it could reduce the amount of the annual increase? It did … by cheating.
It changed how the CPI was calculated, so the reported increase in the prices of goods and services that form the CPI was much lower than what reality showed. Now the CPI was designed so that, even if inflation really hit 10% or more, it would appear as though it was only about 3.5%.
Except the average American did not know about or understood this rule change, so we all believed we were only losing purchasing power at a 3.5% rate instead of what it really was, which was closer to 10%.
How do we know inflation is closer to 10%? The Chapwood Index reflects the true cost-of-living increase in America. Updated and released twice a year, it reports the unadjusted actual cost and price fluctuation of the top-500 items on which Americans spend their after-tax dollars in the 50 largest cities in the nation. ShadowStats also calculates the CPI based on pre-1990 criteria.
I guarantee that if you ask your broker about any of this, he will deny it or he won’t know what you are talking about. It’s a lot easier to claim you beat inflation when that number is 3.5% and not 10%.