Retirement Roundup
and a few choice words about 3M

by Ann Coleman (TMF

RESTON, VA (July 30, 1999) -- That darn 3M (NYSE: MMM) company! Yesterday I chortle about a one-day gain and hold up the company's rise as an example of perfect Foolish Four stock behavior, and look what it did today -- it gave back all of yesterday's gains and then some.

This is why I don't write about stock performance very often, and a very good reason to ignore one-day performance -- not that it isn't fun to celebrate a nice move once in a while. What was really important yesterday, though, was the quarterly report and the good numbers contained therein.

Today I want to finish up the discussion of retirement planning that we have been meandering through for the last month. The Money magazine thing threw us off track for a while, so today I want to just generally review the discussion and hand it off to our real expert, Dave Braze, a.k.a. TMF Pixy, who runs our Retirement Investing message boards both on AOL and the Web in the Managing Your Finances section of the messages area.

Speaking of TMF Pixy, check out his new feature on Finding a Financial Planner and other retirement articles in the Fools and Their Money area. Dave covers the process of selecting a financial planner, including resources for locating one, in great depth, answering a number of the questions that folks e-mailed me about after my quick essay on the subject.

The very general discussion that we have been having about retirement started June 28 (click here for the archives to see the entire series)and focused on thinking about what YOU want and need for the kind of retirement that suits your personality and circumstances, rather than the kind of cookie-cutter formulas that you see so often.

In the second column, I suggested that folks who had several decades to plan or were in good enough shape now could use the high returns of the Foolish Four to plan a retirement income that conserved their principal throughout their lifetime -- the become-your-family's-favorite-ancestor retirement plan. Then we talked about developing a portfolio goal and withdrawal schedule based on an initial withdrawal of 5% of your portfolio that would let you do that safely, preserving your capital and even increasing your portfolio under most market conditions.

In the sixth column on retirement planning, I offered everyone a spreadsheet that they could play with that lets you watch what happens to your portfolio year by year using actual annual returns from the market and the Foolish Four over the past 38 years with different assumptions about withdrawal rates and inflation rates. This is far more highly instructive than assuming an even return year after year. Of course, we are assuming that you have some portion of your retirement portfolio in the market.

And that's the question I want to tackle today. Conventional wisdom says that when you retire, most of your portfolio should go into high-grade bonds or annuities so that your income is guaranteed. I confess, as I get closer to retirement and contemplate the idea of living on my investments, that argument sounds better than it used to. (Maybe by the time I actually get there, it will make perfect sense.)

Fixed-income investments are safer, no doubt, but safety is expensive. As long as you believe that the U.S. economy is likely to maintain viable growth over the next two decades, a retirement portfolio that is partly or fully invested in blue chip stocks will far outperform bonds and provide far more income than annuities in most cases. That "in most cases" bit is the trick, of course. There is no certainty when investing in stocks, which is why retirees are so often urged not to take chances.

But for me (and not everyone will feel this way), the certainty of being locked into fixed gains that are likely to be far below the market is not comforting. At the same time, the idea of a long period of stagnation, like Japan's stock market just went through (and may still be in), is pretty scary, too. My plan is to figure out what my minimum income needs are -- the point at which I can live comfortably with no thrills -- and purchase a fixed-income investment that will cover those expenses.

The rest will stay in the market.

You're welcome, kids.

Fool on and prosper!

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07/30/99 Close
Stock  Change   Last
CAT  -   1/4   58.63
JPM  -2  3/4   127.88
MMM  -2  7/8   87.94
IP   -1  5/16  51.00

                  Day    Month   Year   History
        FOOL-4   -1.96%  -2.27%  22.90%  24.73%
        DJIA     -1.26%  -2.88%  16.84%  16.37%
        S&P 500  -0.92%  -3.21%   8.67%   8.93%
        NASDAQ   -0.06%  -1.76%  20.33%  21.98%

    Rec'd   #  Security     In At       Now    Change

 12/24/98   24 Caterpillar   43.08     58.63    36.08%
 12/24/98    9 JP Morgan    105.51    127.88    21.20%
 12/24/98   14 3M            73.57     87.94    19.53%
 12/24/98   22 Int'l Paper   43.55     51.00    17.11%

    Rec'd   #  Security     In At     Value    Change

 12/24/98   24 Caterpillar 1034.00   1407.00   $373.00
 12/24/98    9 JP Morgan    949.62   1150.88   $201.26
 12/24/98   14 3M          1030.00   1231.13   $201.13
 12/24/98   22 Int'l Paper  958.12   1122.00   $163.88

              Dividends Received      $49.99
                             Cash     $28.26
                            TOTAL   $4989.25