I take exception to your conclusion. I think it's possible to put together a portfolio of funds that will yield 8 percent with minimal volatility. Volatility, in any case, is irrelevant since what you are interested in is the cash from a steady 8 percent yield.
My broker has structured my IRA account into 13 funds with roughly equal allocation that returns just over 8 percent and has actually shown a slight appreciation as well. In the interest of brevity, here are the 13 ticker symbols in my IRA: AVK, BLW, CSQ, RTU, EVV, EXG, HTE, IIA, HPS, NCV, PBT, SJT, and EHI. Thought you might find this of interest. ---G. M., North Andover, MA
A. Let's talk about this five years from now. Until then, my definition of a safe return is one that is guaranteed and where the value of your investment does not fluctuate or changes very little. I'm not alone in this--- what most readers seek is a safe and certain return. When you do that, you are limited to owning relatively short-term CDs and Treasury obligations. That means the current "safe" yield on money is about 5 percent, not 8 percent.
You can get an expected yield of 8 percent by taking significant risk. That means learning to live with some ups and downs on the way to that 8 percent yield. Your list, mostly closed-end funds, gets its current yield by taking very large credit risks and interest-rate risks. Your portfolio may surprise you by providing an 8 percent yield while losing a hefty chunk of its value.
Large fluctuations in value are a fact of life. According to Ibbotson Associates, intermediate-term Treasury obligations provided an arithmetic mean return of 5.5 percent a year from 1926 through 2005. The standard deviation of the return during that period was 5.7 percent. That standard deviation figure, in English, means that your return will be the average return, plus or minus the standard deviation of the average return. This is what you will experience in two years of every three.
In one year out of three, the return will vary by more.
Reach for a higher return (yield plus capital appreciation) --- such as the 12.3 percent arithmetic average annual return of large common stocks--- and you'll have to live with still more risk. Large-cap stocks have a historical standard deviation of 20.2 percent. Few would call their return "safe."
Portfolio managers often attempt to construct portfolios using combinations of assets that don't move in sync with each other. This will reduce the standard deviation--- the volatility--- of the portfolio. But it is very difficult to assemble a portfolio that would have a truly safe 8 percent yield, year in and year out.
I believe many investors are being led astray by recent market volatility. In the last three years market volatility has been very low. The standard deviation of the S&P 500, for instance, has been only 6.91 percent--- a third of its historical norm.
So let's talk about this in five years, when you have experienced that "safe" 8 percent yield.
Q. I bought a vacation time-share from my dad for $1 several years ago. I would love to unload it. With maintenance fees, booking charges, etc., it costs about $500 a year. How can I find a way to sell it with a reputable company? I tried selling it through the homeowners' association, but no luck. I am not interested in making any money. I just want to be clear of any liability. --- M.A., by email
A. All I can suggest is that you get in touch with one of the time-share listing services. A few people buy time-shares, love them, and use their trading networks to vacation in different places. But these time-share owners are a minority. Most people are pressured into buying, only to discover they have purchased a tar baby they can't get rid of. You did your father a real favor when you took over his time-share.
If you Google "timeshare sales," you'll find listings such as www.timesharesquicksale.com, www.sellmytimesharenow.com, www.buyandselltimeshares.com, and www.vacationregister.com.
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