Bond Tents for Retirement Asset Allocation

Do Bond Tents Beat a 60/40 Portfolio in Retirement?

Bond Tents for Retirement Asset Allocation

Bond tents and Rising Equity Glidepaths are styles of glidepaths.

Glidepaths describe the modulation of asset allocation before and after retirement. For example, traditional target date funds decrease stock percentage to or through retirement and retain a conservative—mostly bond—portfolio thereafter.

Your own personal glidepath need not follow a traditional approach. No data support a best practice. Certain specific glidepaths, however, aim to tame the fiercest foe faced early in retirement: sequence of return risk.

Sequence of Return Risk

A nest egg is most vulnerable to sequence of return risk (SORR) five years before and 10 years after retirement. SORR describes the long-term detrimental effects initial negative market returns have on portfolio during de-accumulation. When withdrawing from retirement accounts, selling low locks in the losses.

Bond Tents to prevent Sequence of Return Risk

Figure 1 

The above graph demonstrates the explanatory power of each year’s return before and after retirement.

Prior to retirement (year 30 in this graph), Sequence of Return Risk increases steadily. Upon retirement, SORR peaks dramatically, then evaporates over the next 10-15 years.

Since SORR rapidly wanes after retirement, a bond tent might provide additional market returns. These programmatic increases in stock allocations over time have a positive effect on rising tail sequences and may deliver larger portfolios.

That is, after SORR passes, more stocks means you leave more money when you die.

Bond Tents

With a rising equity glidepath, you increase stock allocation gradually over a number of years during retirement.

Psychologically, however, it is difficult to talk an 80-year-old into more aggressive asset allocations. Perhaps for this reason, attention shifted to bond tents.

A bond tent describes an asset allocation where bond percentage increases before retirement and decreases after, forming an inverted ‘V’ or a tent. Bonds are prescribed as a volatility dampener to reduce SORR.

Perhaps it is easier to talk a 60-year-old into increasing their bond allocation than to talk an 80-year-old into increasing stock allocation. Thus, the bond tent rather than the alternative.

bond tent

Figure 2 

Bond Tents for Retirement

So, do you need a bond tent in retirement?

What asset allocation is ideal before, during, and after retirement to prevent your nest egg expiring before you do? Or, if you have legacy or charitable goals, is there a way to juice your returns?

Let’s compare a couple different styles of bond tents with a standard 60/40 stocks to bonds portfolio and see how they do under stress from SORR.

Case Presentation and Assumptions

Assume you have a $2M portfolio invested in US stocks and bonds. Let’s use a 4% withdrawal rate and adjust for 2% inflation.

Actual stock and bond returns from 2000-2010 simulate SORR in this example. Before and after this 10-year period, assume stocks and bonds return either 7% and 3.5% (low returns), respectively, or 9% and 5% (high returns).

Results Without SORR

What if no there is no bear market during retirement?

                                              7/3.5                      9/5

100% bonds                        $0                        $0.3M

100% stocks                        $2.3M                  $6.7M

60/40                                    $1M                     $4M

Glide10                                $1.6M                  $5.4M

Glide20                                $1.5M                  $4.9M

Figure 3 (Results without SORR)

Above, you can see expected portfolio size after 30 years without any market crashes. Both return assumptions (7% and 3.5% for stocks and bonds, respectively, and 9% and 5%) are shown.

Clearly, bonds perform poorly and stocks perform best when assets rise at a continuous rate. Comparing a fixed 60/40 portfolio with a 10- or 20-year glidepath demonstrates similar results. Glide10 and Glide20 do better than 60/40 as they have higher stock allocations.

Types of Bond Tents

For this model, I am using two different types of glidepaths; Glide10 and Glide20. Glide10 increases to its highest allocation though 10 years, and Glide20 through 20 years after retirement.

In the model demonstrated here, asset allocation is brought to 60/40 five years before retirement. It is held there until retirement and then increases incrementally to 90/10 over either 10 (Glide10) or 20 (Glide20) years after retirement.

A quick note about future expected returns: I demonstrate two different returns. In this scenario, using harsh 2000-2010 returns to model SORR, I wanted to have both low expected returns (7% for stocks, 3.5% for bonds) as well as higher expected returns (9% for stocks, 5% for bonds). Expected returns may likely be higher following a significant period of low returns, but take your pick.

SORR at Year One

What if there is bear at year one?

                                              7/3.5                                      9/5

100% bonds                       $1.4M                                  $2.2M

100% stocks                       $0 at 20 years                    $0 at 22 years

60/40                                   $0 at 30 years                    $0.7M

Glide10                               $0 at 30 years                    $0.6M

Glide20                               $0 at 30 years                    $1M

Figure 4 (Results with SORR at year one)

Above, you see the results when disaster strikes the year of retirement. This represents the largest risk to your portfolio’s future according to figure 1.

The 100% bond portfolio actually does the best in this scenario. The 100% stock portfolio survives 20 or 22 years depending on return assumptions.

Using the lower return assumptions (7% and 3.5%), none of the other portfolios survive at year 30. With higher return assumptions, however, 60/40 and Glide10 do pretty similar, and Glide20 does better.

rising equity glidepaths

Figure 5 (100% bonds, 100% stocks, 60/40, Glide20. SORR at year one, low assumed return rates)

Visualizing these portfolios with the low assumed return rates, we see 100% bonds (top left) and 100% stocks (top right). Not much to be said about that. Note that years (60-90) is on the x-axis and portfolio size is on the y axis.

The 60/40 portfolio (bottom left) has slightly more left after SORR, though the slope of decline after is more rapid than Glide20 (bottom right).

Let’s continue on looking at SORR starting at different time periods after retirement.

What about SORR Later in Retirement?

What if there is a bear at year six?

                                              7/3.5                      9/5

100% bonds                       $0.9M                   $2.1M

100% stocks                       $0.1M                   $1.7M

60/40                                   $0.8M                   $2.4M

Glide10                               $0.5M                   $2.1M

Glide20                               $0.7M                   $2.5M

Figure 6 (SORR starting at 6 years after retirement)

As seen above, when SORR starts at year 6, an all-stock portfolio yet again performs poorly.

All the other portfolios perform about the same, with 100% bonds winning with low return assumptions, and Glide20 just edging out 60/40 with high return assumptions.

What if there is a bear at year eleven?

                                              7/3.5                      9/5

100% bonds                       $0.6M                   $1.9M

100% stocks                       $0.2M                   $2.1M

60/40                                   $0.7M                   $2.4M

Glide10                               $0.3M                   $1.9M

Glide20                               $0.4M                   $2.1M

Figure 7 (SORR starting 11 years after retirement)

SORR starts at year 11 above. In this setting, the 60/40 portfolio beats both of the Glide portfolios despite return assumptions. This can be visualized below.

bond tents and sequence risk

Figure 8 (100% bonds, 100% stocks, 60/40, glide 20. SORR at year 11, low assume return rates)

When SORR strikes at year 11 of retirement with low assumed return rates, 100% bonds (top left) do better than 100% stocks (top right).

The 60/40 portfolio (bottom left) is less effected by the negative returns during SORR than Glide20 (bottom right) which is slowing increasing in stock percentage. As a result, 60/40 has more after SORR has passed and also after 30 years.

Comparison of the Two Glidepaths

Glide10 never performs better than Glide20 except during periods of continuous growth. It is pretty easy to look through this scenario to see why: during continuous growth, a higher percentage of stocks performs better.

However, even when the simulated crash comes at year one, a slower rise to increased equities performed better. Perhaps a Glide15 would be interesting to look at as well.

Comparison of 60/40 to Bond Tents

Bond tents only beats a 60/40 portfolio when a market crash happens early on during retirement AND when expected returns are high. In most scenarios, a 60/40 did quite well.

In fact, it seems likely that a set-it-and-forget-it investment allocation philosophy may just be best over the course of retirement.

Of course, in retirement one could consider ratcheting up stocks in their asset allocation after a market crash as that does increase future expected returns. That is, however, market timing rather than a programmatic approach to asset allocation.

Lessons Learned with Bond Tents

The average retiree probably doesn’t want to be 100% in stocks OR bonds when drawing down on their portfolio.

Moreover, keep things simple. As the future is unknown, a 60/40 portfolio is as likely to perform as well as one with a bond tent over a traditional retirement.

Perhaps the largest criticism of bond tents is not one of efficacy, rather effectiveness. How difficult is it to talk an 80-year-old into increasing equity exposure over time rather than doing what is traditional—increasing ownership of bonds instead.

In times of high equity prices, however—as we are in now—consider a 60/40 portfolio 5 years before retirement. Then, sell off bonds for income when stocks are down. This is, in fact, our natural tendency anyway. The result: a slow increase in the stock percentage of overall asset allocation.



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  1. “Of course, in retirement one could consider ratcheting up stocks in their asset allocation after a market crash as that does increase future expected returns. That is, however, market timing rather than a programmatic approach to asset allocation.”

    Great work as always. What about using a CAPE based approach to increasing stock allocation according to pre determined rules? Is that also market timing? Say enter retirement with a 5 million portfolio at 50/50 and when CAPE drops below 26 (as an example) begin to increase stock allocation systematically? Or now with CAPE so high would one spend down the stocks and sit on the bonds till CAPE dropped and then more rapidly increase stock allocation? Or with a 2.7% withdrawal rate spend bonds till they’re gone and let stocks naturally increase over 20 years? I find the ideas in decumulation interesting but the practice of living it is more problematic.

  2. I agree; great work as always. To me the compelling message to get the eighty year-old to increase his/her stock % is to focus on the portion of the portfolio that has a high likelihood of being left to descendents, and therefore will get the tax avoidance from the step-up in basis on death. Having weathered SORR, the 80-year-old will likely be in a position to conceptually split his/her portfolio into “for me to live off of” and “for my kids”, and adjust the stock/bond % to the appropriate amount in each category. Your thoughts on this?

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