What If Future Stock Returns Are Lower?

How many times have you heard this, “The long term average return of the stock market is 10% per year”?  What if future returns for the stock market are less than average?  How would that impact your retirement?

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One of the things we all set out to do is use our retirement savings to create income. That income has to last as long as we do, and it needs to grow over time to keep up with inflation. Historically speaking, owning stocks has been the best way to help us do that.

Future returns using historical data

A lot of people create retirement projections using historical return data. They might use 10% for stocks and 4% or so for bonds. In that scenario, you should expect an account with 60% stocks and 40% bonds to earn 7.6% per year. A 50/50 mix should earn 7%. A more conservative 40% stock, 60% bond mix should earn 6.4%.

What if future stock returns are lower?

But what if over the next decade, stock returns were well below historical averages? Say only 6.5%? How does that impact how you plan?

Now that 60% stock, 40% bond portfolio would only have an expected 5.5% return. The 50/50 portfolio projects to earn 5.25% and the 40% stock 60% bond mix earns 5%.

That changes things quite a bit when you start looking at the income you can take and the risks of running out of money.

How likely are lower future returns?

Companies like Charles Schwab, BlackRock, and Vanguard all believe future stock returns will be below the historical averages.

Schwab believes future stock market returns over the next decade will be around 6.3%. Vanguard believes the returns will be similar at 6.5%. BlackRock projects 6.9%. 

Of course, they could all be wrong. Returns from stocks could be closer to the long-term numbers. But, you need to prepare for the possibility they are correct. And you also have to realize their guess about the future could also be too optimistic.

By and large, I’m an optimist. I expect stocks to act like stocks. But as a planner, it is important to prepared for something like this, especially if you are nearing retirement or just recently retired.

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About the Author

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors.    He specializes in helping hard working, middle class families plan for retirement.

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