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Is the 60/40 Portfolio Dead? Not So Fast.

November 22nd, 2023 | 3 min. read

By Bill Hickerson, CFP®

people analyzing investment performance

The investment world has recently been abuzz with debates about the viability of the “60/40 investment portfolio,” a time-tested strategy that divides assets between 60% stocks and 40% bonds. This discussion, sparked by the unique financial challenges of the past two years, has put a spotlight on asset allocation—a fundamental aspect of investing.

As a long-term investor, especially one focused on retirement, you might be pondering the relevance of this strategy in today’s market. At Advance Capital Management, established in 1986, we’ve navigated through various market conditions, from the dot-com bust to the 2008 financial crisis. Our experience has reinforced our belief in enduring investment principles like diversification and maintaining a long-term perspective aligned with your financial objectives. To see how we can help you, check out our investment management services here.

In this article, I aim to dispel the myths surrounding the so-called “death” of the 60/40 portfolio. I’ll explain why the core principles of this investment approach remain applicable across different market environments, offering insights into how this strategy can still serve as a cornerstone of a solid investment plan.

The 60/40 portfolio explained

First, a solid understanding of the rationale behind the 60/40 portfolio is important.

Traditionally, the 60/40 portfolio has been a staple in investment strategies, offering a balance between the growth potential of stocks and the relative stability of bonds. The idea is rooted in the concept of asset allocation, which aims to distribute investments in a way that aligns with an individual’s risk tolerance and financial goals.

In the 60/40 mix, stocks are the growth engine. They offer the potential for higher returns due to their capacity to capitalize on economic and market growth. However, stocks are more susceptible to market volatility.

The 40% allocation to bonds serves as a stabilizing force. Bonds, particularly government and high-grade corporate bonds, are generally less volatile than stocks. They provide regular income through interest payments and can act as a buffer during stock market downturns. The stability from bonds is particularly valuable during periods of stock market turbulence.

Misconceptions of the 60/40 portfolio in a tough market

The last two years have seen a lot of volatility in both stocks and bond markets, which has some investors questioning its effectiveness.

For example, 2022 was a tumultuous year for both stocks and bonds, with both asset classes experiencing significant downturns. This concurrent decline is a rarity, not witnessed since 1980. Meanwhile, 2023 has been a difficult time for the bond market as rates continued to rise (bond prices fall as rates rise, and vice versa).

However, these assertions overlook the fundamental principles of asset allocation and the historical performance of this strategy. The fact is that the performance of the 60/40 portfolio has varied across different economic cycles. It performed exceptionally well during prolonged bull markets in stocks and periods of declining interest rates, which favored bond prices. To see a real-life example, read our free guide on How to Survive a Market Downturn.

Enduring benefits of diversification

The reason it’s rare to see stocks and bonds perform in the same manner is because they typically exhibit negative correlation. Essentially, when stocks perform well, bonds might not, and vice versa. This interplay typically promotes portfolio stability, otherwise known as diversification.

By combining stocks and bonds, the 60/40 portfolio aims to mitigate risks inherent in each asset class. While stocks and bonds can both experience downturns, they often don't move in the same direction at the same time. This negative correlation helps in smoothing out the overall returns and reduces the portfolio's volatility over time.

This underscores the importance of asset allocation and enduring relevance of the 60/40 portfolio.

Research consistently highlights asset allocation as a primary determinant of investment portfolio performance. While the 60/40 model is a classic approach, diversification can be further enhanced with alternative investments, like real estate or commodities, which often have negative correlations to stocks and bonds, adding another layer of stability.

So, is your portfolio diversified? Learn how you can tell by reading this article

The importance for different life stages

Asset allocation is crucial, particularly for those in or nearing retirement. For younger investors, high volatility might be more tolerable, given their longer investment horizons and capacity for risk. Conversely, for retirees or those close to retirement, a stable portfolio that mitigates volatility is imperative.

The key to a successful investment strategy is tailoring your asset allocation to suit your individual risk tolerance and time horizon. The 60/40 portfolio, or any asset allocation strategy, should not be a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a starting point for personalization.

The bottom line

In summary, the 60/40 portfolio is far from obsolete. It remains a relevant and effective strategy for many investors, especially when adapted to individual needs and market conditions. The key is in understanding and applying the principles of asset allocation to hedge against unforeseen market events and to navigate the complexities of the financial world.

And you don’t have to do this alone. If you’re considering a review of your portfolio or exploring the most suitable investment strategy for your situation, I invite you to schedule a free consultation with one of our advisers today.

Bill Hickerson, CFP®

Bill works closely with people to help them achieve their financial goals. As a financial adviser, he guides clients toward making proper decisions during all stages of their financial lives. He provides comprehensive wealth management services such as retirement planning, tax planning, investment portfolio strategies and 401(k) advice. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and co-host of the finance YouTube channel, Under the Buttonwood Tree.