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How Will Market Volatility Affect Your Retirement Planning Finance Essay

Retirement planning is an important thing to consider for anyone, regardless of their age, income, or how long they have been in the labor force. It is vital to put some assets aside so you can one day leave your job with a sense of security and stability. This security isn’t always 100% attainable due to risky securities and market volatility. Market volatility is the rate at which the price of a security fluctuates. How does this volatility affect retirement planning? In this paper, I have discussed many different options for retirement planning and how each is affected by volatility. Some securities are more influenced by volatility than others, and some may be a better choice than others due to the risk adversity of the individual investor. I have used real-life stock returns to calculate the volatility associated with them, as well as graphs and other relevant data. Market volatility is unavoidable, and there is no way to avoid it completely, although diversification and smart investing can reduce that risk. It’s helpful to be aware of how much risk you are willing and able to take on to decide which retirement plans are best for you.


An important thing to consider when planning for retirement is market volatility, which is the relative rate at which the price of a security moves up and down. If a stock’s price moves up and down quickly over a short time period, it has high volatility. If its price doesn’t move up and down very often, it has low volatility. Generally, the higher the volatility of a security is, the higher its risk. How does this affect retirement planning? High market volatility is a risk that can be dangerous for retirement planning, especially in our later years. Many people who expect to retire have to continue working because they incur huge losses due to market volatility and other risks. There are many different types of plans someone can invest in to start retirement planning, and they should know the risks associated with each.

Types of Retirement Plans & the Risks Associated With Them

The most common types of retirement plans are: individual retirement accounts, which include Basic (traditional) IRAs and Roth IRAs, and employer-sponsored retirement plans (pensions), which include defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) plans.

A Basic IRA is an individual retirement account, which is a personal account that is not started through a business. Any taxpayer is able to contribute up to $4,000 a year into this account (which is then adjusted for inflation). A Roth IRA is an individual retirement account which was named after former Senator William V. Roth. A Basic IRA allows your pre-tax contributions to grow tax-deferred, meaning you don’t have to pay tax until you withdraw the earnings. With a Roth IRA on the other hand, you pay taxes on your contributions, but never on your earnings. You must wait until you reach 59 ½ years of age before withdrawing the money to be exempt from these taxes, though (Types 1).

Market volatility can make IRAs more attractive to investors. Small investors are often told to ignore market volatility, because the stock market is unpredictable, and you can’t time the rate at which the price of a security fluctuates. Many people don’t like to invest in IRAs because they can’t withdraw from their account until age 59, and if they do they will have to pay taxes. On the other hand, with IRAs, you can move your profits from an old economy stock to a new economy stock without having to pay any taxes. Old economy stocks have lower volatility but less growth, whereas new economy stocks have high volatility and higher growth. So if a certain stock is doing really well, it’s easy to move your investment to that stock (Brown 17).

Defined benefit plans on the other hand promise a monthly benefit (dollar amount) to the plan holder at retirement. They include: fixed benefits, flat benefit, unit credit benefit, and cash balance plans. Defined contribution plans include: 401ks, profit sharing plans, SIMPLE plans, ESOP plans, money purchase pension plans, and SEPs. These are plans in which an employer contributes to their employee’s individual accounts, by either stock or mutual funds. ( From 1978 to 1997, defined contribution plans increased from 442,998 to 720,041 plans nationwide. Since then, there has been a decline in the number of these pension plans. Defined benefit plans are usually sponsored by large employers, although they have always been in the minority when it comes to retirement plans (Vanderhei 2).

The most common type of defined contribution plan is the 401k. This type of plan is offered by many employers to their associates. By the end of year 2000, there were about 42 million American workers who had 401k accounts totaling $1.8 trillion in assets. Employees can choose to withdraw a certain percentage of their weekly pay to invest in these accounts. They also have the right to diversify that amount into different available investment funds, including company stock (Vanderhei 2).

With your employer’s 401k plan, you can make pre-tax contributions, which will reduce your taxable income. You also won’t have to pay taxes on your earnings until retirement. Many employers also match 50% or more of your contribution, giving you a 50% return on your investment. Many financial experts will advise you to participate in this plan and not to withdraw from it until retirement. You will end up paying unnecessary taxes by withdrawing money too soon (Think 1).

When switching jobs you have three options of what to do with your 401k money. You can roll it over into your new employer’s plan, leave it in your old employer’s plan, or roll it into a rollover IRA. You must make sure your new employer participates in the plan, and have any checks written out to them (and not you), or you will end up paying 20% in taxes. If you have at least $5000 in your plan, many employers give you the option to leave the money in the old plan (Changing 1).

These company contributions are determined based on the performance of stocks and mutual funds, which is where market volatility becomes a factor. Defined contribution pension plans are most affected by market volatility. Individuals who invest in these plans are subject to the risk that comes with the investments. Risk – averse people are less likely to invest in these plans during times of high market volatility, because they become less attractive. When market volatility is high, the volatility of defined contribution plans is volatile as well. These stocks and mutual funds are correlated with the market and move in the same direction (Dafria 6-7).

Bonds, Mutual funds, and Derivatives

Bonds are another type of asset can be purchased to save for retirement. They aren’t as volatile as stocks, and also don’t provide as much return. As you can see in the following two graphs, stock returns over the past 80 years have provided much higher and lower returns than bonds. Bonds may be a more worthwhile investment for people of older age who are nearing retirement, and don’t want to risk severe losses which may cause them to have to stay in the workforce longer (Market 1).


Seeing as though bonds are safer and more predictable than stocks, many people choose to invest their assets in them. As you can see from the previous graph, bonds have become more volatile as well in recent years, and may not be the best option to invest in for people nearing retirement. They may be a better option for younger people who have a long way until they retire. Some things to consider when planning for retirement are: your risk tolerance, time horizon, investment goals, and other personal needs. Losses are another key factor to consider. It can take years to recover from large losses, so being aware of the amount of loss you are able to financially handle is important (Market 1).

Bond investors face different types of risk than stock investors, such as interest rate risk and call risk. Bond issuers pay a certain amount of interest (coupon rate) over so many periods to repay the par (face) value of the bond at maturity. If interest rates rise, the value of bonds can drop and vice versa. Long-term bonds are affected more than short-term bonds by these changes in interest rates. Call risk is also associated with bonds, meaning that a bond issuer may choose to retire a bond when interest rates are high and re-issue them at a lower rate. Many investors like to purchase zero-coupon bonds. They pay no interest, and therefore are not subject to interest rate risk. Investors are able to predict exactly how much they’ll receive at the bond’s maturity. They can also avoid taxes by using these bonds for tax-deferred retirement plans, such as IRA’s (Retirement 1-3).

Another way to invest for retirement is by purchasing mutual funds. Mutual funds are a collection of stocks and/or bonds. Approximately one half of U.S. households invest in these funds. Income is earned by stock dividends and interest on bonds. Some of the advantages of these funds are: diversification, economies of scale, liquidity, and simplicity. Risk is spread out across different asset classes, transaction costs are lower, they can easily be converted into cash, and are easy to buy and can be purchased with a small investment. Some disadvantages of mutual funds include: professional management, costs, dilution (too much diversification), and taxes. High costs and taxes can be avoided by investing in certain funds. For example, tax can be deferred by investing in 401ks and IRAs. Also, large-cap funds typically have smaller expense ratios than small-cap and international funds.

Derivatives can also be a way to plan for retirement. A derivative is a financial instrument that derives its value from an underlying asset. It’s a contract between two parties where the value of the contract is linked to the price of an asset or event. Derivatives consist of: future contracts, forward contracts, option contracts, and swaps. A future contract allows someone to buy or sell a specified amount of a specified instrument at a specified price at a specified future date. An options contract gives the owner the right, but not the obligation, to buy (call option) or sell (put option) an asset. A forward contract allows someone to buy or sell a specified amount of a particular foreign currency at a specified exchange rate at a specified future date. A swap contract is when two counterparties exchange a floating interest rate for a fixed interest rate (interest rate swap) or exchange currencies (currency swap) (Madura 334).

Derivatives are mainly used for hedging and speculation. Hedging is a way to minimize unwanted risk by taking a position in a contract for a certain rate assuming you’d be better off. Speculation is taking a position to benefit from future price movements. These are also reasons one may invest in derivatives in relation to their pension funds. Derivatives are becoming more popular with retirement, because they have a significant effect on investors’ portfolios, but investors must know how to use them. They allow pension-fund managers to identify, measure, and manage risk in a new way (Martin 1).

Derivatives can also be used to increase the yield to maturity of certain assets, which makes them more attractive to people looking for extra retirement income. While these derivatives can return a higher yield, there is also a risk associated with it. In terms of market volatility, if stock prices (for example) go up higher than their strike price, you are at risk of losing that additional return. Many financial advisors won’t recommend derivatives to new investors, because they can be complicated to understand, and people may end up taking on more risk than they are aware of (Hoffman 1).

Other Retirement Options

Some other ways to save for retirement include: annuities, self-employment plans, and social security. Annuities are an insurance product that pay a steady income, and can be used for retirement. You can invest in an annuity, and then receive payments on future dates. They aren’t a great investment choice for many people, because they can be very expensive. For the self-employed investors, they can plan with SEP IRAs, Simple IRAs and individual 401ks. These plans are tax-deferred until you withdraw your earnings at retirement. Social security is a plan you can pay into when you are employed, and you’ll receive benefits at retirement.

How People Have Reacted to Volatility in Recent Years

Market volatility can affect all investments in one way or another, although it has the greatest affect on IRAs and Defined Contribution plans. Approximately two-thirds of U.S. households have investments in these accounts. Over half of these residents’ retirement assets are held in these accounts.

The recession in recent years and drop in stock prices has led people to believe that investors are decreasing distributions, stopping them, or diversifying them differently. The Investment Company Institute (ICI), which is a national association of U.S. investment companies, performed a survey in 2008 on DC plan record keepers about their investors’ activity, as well as a survey for U.S. households about their thoughts on their retirement accounts and potential reforms of the accounts.

The DC record keeper survey covered 22.5 million participant accounts regarding recent withdrawal, contribution, loan, and asset allocation choices. The results from the survey showed that DC plan investors actually didn’t touch their accounts during the time of increased market volatility, and loan activity was constant. Only about 3.7 percent withdrew from their accounts in 2008, and others continued saving. Less than one in 7 investors changed their allocation and less than one in 10 changed their contributions. The results from this survey are shown in the following chart.


The household survey showed that most people thought DC accounts made it easier to save for the long-term. Over 80 percent of these households said that the tax exclusion for retirement intrigued them to contribute more to their plans. They wanted to keep retirement account features the same and strengthen Social Security. Most households didn’t want the tax incentives removed, and didn’t want the Government to intervene in their investment decisions. The majority also favored policies controlling healthcare costs, and plans encouraging more workers to save in DC and IRA plans. The following chart shows the willingness of households to take risk. As you can see from the households engages in DC and IRA plans, most people are willing to take an average amount of risk. They are overall more willing to take risk than households who are not invested in these retirement accounts (Holden 1-7).


Investment Risk

Investment risk (the uncertainty of the future value of assets), has a major effect on retirement for many people investing in these plans. This uncertainty can lead to huge losses for the uninformed or unaware investor. Anyone who is unsure about where their assets are going to end up should seek advice from a professional before entering the stock market. Systematic risk, or the the risk associated with overall aggregate market returns is unavoidable. Unsystematic risk (company or industry specific risk) on the other hand can be diversified away. Investments can be either risky or riskless, depending on the type of investment. Investment risk is a type of systematic risk which is unavoidable in the long run, but can be controlled in the short run with diversification and smart investing (DiCenzo 1).

CAPM Model

The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) is a model used to evaluate the expected return for risky securities. It states that the expected return of a security or a portfolio is equal to the risk-free rate plus a risk premium. If the expected return isn’t at least the amount of the required return, then it’s not a worthwhile investment.

The CAPM model is:

Ri = Rf + βi (Rm - Rf)

Where: Ri = Expected return of a security or portfolio

Βi = Beta of the security

Rm = Expected return on the market

Rf = Risk – free rate

This Model explains that investors must be compensated for the time value of money and risk. The risk – free rate in the formula represents the value of money invested over a period of time, and the rest of the formula represents additional market risk (measured by beta). Rm – Rf is called the market premium. [4] 

Citigroup vs. PepsiCo

Let’s examine stock returns for two very well-known companies, Citigroup and PepsiCo. Employees of these companies have the option to invest in company stock through their 401k plans. Citigroup stock currently has a beta of 2.87, which is considered a risky stock because its beta is greater than 1. Pepsi has a beta of 0.57, which isn’t as risky, because it is less than one. Say for example, an employee from each of these companies decided to start their retirement funds in January of 1977 and retired in December of 2009. The closing price for Citigroup stock grew from $0.91 to $3.31 throughout this time period. The price of PepsiCo stock on the other hand rose from $0.62 to $60.37. From these prices alone, we can see that Pepsi stock had an overall greater return over the 32 – year time period. [5] 

Currently, for Citigroup stock, its beta is 2.87, its risk – free rate is approximately 4% (t-bond yield), and its expected market return is 4%. Using the CAPM model, we find that the expected return on the individual security is:

4% = .04 + 2.87 (.04 - .04).

Currently, for PepsiCo stock, its beta is 0.57, its risk – free rate is approximately 4% (t-bond yield), and its expected market return is 41.13%. Using the CAPM model, we find that the expected return on the individual security is:

25% = .04 + .57(.4113 - .04).

Citigroup stock currently has a much lower expected return than PepsiCo stock. Due to Citigroup’s high beta (greater than 1), it is more volatile than the market. PepsiCo stock on the other hand has a beta that is less than one, meaning that it’s less volatile than the market. The data I collected also shows that PepsiCo has a much higher actual return than Citigroup.

If employees of each of these two companies invested $100 into their company’s stock in January of 1977, how much would it have been worth at the end of 2009? First, I calculated how many shares of each stock can be bought with $100 everyday from January 1977 to December 2009. Then I calculated the progression of this investment over the 32 – year period. As you can see from Citigroup’s investment, $100 increased to $363.74 over 32 years. PepsiCo’s investment increased from $100 to $9,737.10 over 32 years. In this case, PepsiCo is clearly the better choice for investing in their 401k plan. Any employee or investor who invested in PepsiCo’s stock rather than Citigroup would have earned $9,373.36 more than people who invested in Citigroup. This is an example of where investing in a safer security pays off in the long run.

The following chart visually shows what the progression of the $100 investment in the two companies looks like from January 1977 to December 2009. Citigroup, which is the riskier of the two securities, starts off with a steady return, has mostly positive returns up until the middle of 2006, and then has a huge loss leading into 2009. The highest return for Citigroup over the 32 – year period was 57.98%, and the lowest return was -39.02%. PepsiCo had mostly steady, positive returns over the period. It also suffered a loss around 2008, but not as much as Citigroup. PepsiCo’s highest return was 16.15%, and its lowest return was -15%. Since Citigroup is a more volatile stock than the market, it had a much higher high and a much lower low than PepsiCo. Even though Citigroup is a riskier security than PepsiCo, their returns tend to move in the same direction.

As you can see from the previous chart, from 1977 to around 2007 the stock market was a bull market. A bull market is a financial market with high returns and low volatility over time, which increases the confidence of investors as well. A bear market on the other hand decreases investor confidence as well as returns, and has a higher volatility. In 2007, the market was more of a bear market and stock returns declined severely due to the financial crisis and recession in the United States. You can see this in the graph where the blue and purple lines (representing returns) decreased significantly. Citigroup suffered a much greater loss than PepsiCo due to the subprime mortgage crisis which affected banks nationwide. Loss like this due to an economic downturn is one of many risks to consider when investing in company stock, or any securities for that matter. You can also see that PepsiCo has a higher volatility than Citigroup because the purple progression line (representing Citigroup) moves up and down more frequently than the blue one (representing PepsiCo). PepsiCo also had an overall greater return than Citigroup. The returns for the two securities started off pretty small and not very risky, and became more volatile from around 1998 to 2008. (Maheu 5).

The data tables in Appendix A show open, high, low, and closing prices, as well as trading volume, adjusting close, and returns for the two companies. The original data I used was daily from January 1977 to December 2009, but I shortened it into yearly data.

Using mathematical terms, volatility is defined as “the variation or dispersion of an asset’s returns from their mean.” It is usually measured with beta (as previously mentioned) or standard deviation. The standard deviation of Citigroup’s overall stock returns is 15.15. The standard deviation of PepsiCo’s stock returns is 13.76. This (as well as the higher beta) shows that the volatility for Citigroup stock is higher than that of PepsiCo’s stock, making it more capable of price fluctuations and higher/lower returns. [6] I calculated the standard deviations for the two securities by squaring the difference between the current closing price and the average closing price for each day it was recorded. Next, I found the total of those square values, and divided it by the number of days the data was recorded for (8327 days). Finally, I took the square root of those values to get the standard deviations.

Investing in your company’s stock may or may not be a good thing. If the company is hurting financially, your investments in it will too. An important thing to consider is how long the company is expected to be around. A good rule to go follow is not to exceed 10% of your 401k investment in your company’s stock, unless you have a good reason to do so (Investing 1).

The effect of Market Volatility on Retirement Planning in the Real World

During the recession, the U.S. Pension Protection Act of 2006 was passed, which changed the Qualified Default Investments (QDI) for retirement plans. Anyone who had contributions in the default investment option and was invested in stable value investments, money market funds, and cash investments had their account balances moved to much riskier investments.

In the beginning of 2008, most employer-sponsored plans informed their employees that the default investment plan was changing. Most people ignored these notices until the end of the year, when the market crashed. Many 401k investors suffered huge losses, sometimes up to 30%. People panicked, and inexperienced investors didn’t understand how their investments could change without their approval. Millions of investors began liquidating everything with any kind of stock or bond risk, and gave in to these losses. [7] 

People need to be aware of what is going on with their investments. This is just one example of where a small change in how one’s assets are distributed can lead to huge losses. Any risk-averse investor should pay careful attention to their accounts if they want to avoid any aggressive investments and losses.

Let’s say for example, two people are starting their retirement planning. One investor is a 25-year old college graduate with a full time job; let’s call her Staci. The other is a 50-year old father with a full-time job trying to support his family; let’s call him Steve. They both plan to retire at age 70 (giving Staci 45 more years to invest until retirement and giving Steve 20 more years). Who can afford to take on more risk? Staci can take on more risk because she has more time to accommodate for any losses that may occur. It all depends on what type of investor she is as to whether or not she is willing take on that risk.

Both of these hypothetical clients need a plan for retirement. I’m going to explain an ideal plan for the two investors and a plan that isn’t so ideal because it is negatively affected by other factors.

In a perfect world, let’s say Staci and Steve both plan to invest $500 to start off with into their retirement portfolio. She also opens a Roth IRA account because it offers her tax-free growth (meaning when it’s time to withdraw funds she won’t have to pay any taxes), and invests $400 into that. The other $100 she decides to invest in savings bonds with a 40 year maturity. Her financial advisor informed her that stocks are best for long-term growth. So, on top of the initial $500 investment, she decides to invest 10% of her weekly ($400) paycheck into her company’s 401k account and diversifies that among several risky and not-so-risky stocks. At the end of the 45 years, her investment portfolio has grown to approximately $110,000. Steve decides to invest $250 into mutual funds. The other $250 he invests into 20-year savings bonds. On top of his $500 investment, he also puts 5% of his weekly ($600) paycheck into his company’s 401k account and invests it into the safer stocks. His investment grows to approximately $45,000 after 20 years. As you can see from this example, Staci has earned more than twice the profit as Steve on her portfolio than his, due to her time horizon and the risk she was willing to take.

We all know the world isn’t perfect, and there are obstacles that get in the way of many long-term goals, including retirement planning. Now let’s look at an imperfect plan for the two investors. Again, Staci and Steve both have $500 to invest and each diversifies that amount into the same securities as before, as well as their 401k investments. This time, there is a 10-year recession that occurs within the time period they are investing. Staci loses approximately 20% on her overall portfolio and Steve loses 10% due to this recession. Staci’s company is also doing very poorly and decides to lay off many of their associates, including her. She spends almost two years until she finds new employment and her 401k investments are brought to a halt until she found a new job. Due to the recession and job loss, at the end of the 45-year period her investment grows to approximately $85,000, a 23% loss from her “perfect” portfolio. Steve’s 10% loss brings his total investment to $40,500 after 20 years. As you can see here, Staci suffered a greater loss than Steve during the recession and her temporary job loss because she took on a greater risk, although she was more able to afford the loss given her longer time horizon until retirement.


All investors are going to encounter some type of risk throughout their life. Market volatility is an aspect of this risk that cannot be avoided. It can however, be more or less of an issue depending on the type of assets and securities you are investing in. When it comes to short-term market volatility, investors should not change the way they are investing their retirement assets. That volatility can change on a daily basis. On the other hand, long-term market volatility is something investors may want to shy away from if it’s causing them to incur large losses. (

Two of the most important things to remember when planning for retirement are allocating your assets and diversifying your investments. This will reduce some of the investment risk of the stock market. Investing in assets with low correlation may also be a good idea, so that their growth doesn’t rise or fall at the same time. Many people invest in mutual funds to increase their diversification, although this doesn’t always happen. A mutual fund may consist of the same types of investments.

You should also evaluate and rebalance your retirement portfolio periodically and consistently, so that you don’t end up with any unexpected losses. It’s better to stay consistent with your portfolio rather than making a drastic change such as liquidating all of your assets. Many 401k plans also offer automatic rebalancing, which may also be a useful option for an investor to have on their account.

Market volatility, fund performance, and account contributions or withdrawals can change the investments in your portfolio. If one asset class continues to perform better than another, this can affect your long-term returns. As you come closer to retirement, you may even want to consider changing your asset allocations and wealth requirements. Stock market losses are inevitable but you don’t want to incur any losses that could’ve been prevented (Conversations 3).

In my opinion, every person employed in the United States should have a 401k. It’s going to have its gains and losses, but at the same time many employers will match the amount you invest into it. It is also tax deferred until retirement, meaning you won’t have to pay any taxes on it until you retire. 401ks are affected by market volatility, but they can still be a worthwhile investment especially for young people beginning their retirement planning.

IRAs are also a good investment to consider, especially for the older investor. There is a limit of $5000 annually for anyone under age 50, and $6000 for anyone older 50 that can be invested into an IRA. With a Roth IRA, all of the money belongs to you, but the Government owns a portion of a Basic IRA due to future unpaid taxes. If you expect to be earning a greater income in the future (thus having to pay a higher tax rate), then you may want to consider a Roth IRA. In my opinion, a Roth IRA is suitable for any young investor. Many students straight out of college (for example) expect to be finding a career and earning an increasing annual income over time. They would benefit from a Roth IRA and paying a lower current tax rate. A Basic IRA on the other hand would be of greater benefit to the older investor who doesn’t expect their tax rate to change. IRAs may be more attractive to investors during times of market volatility because they aren’t as affected by it as 401ks.

Bonds and mutual funds may also be attractive to an older investor nearing retirement. Bonds aren’t as affected by market volatility as stocks, and are a safer investment.

Derivatives may or may not be affected by market volatility depending on the underlying assets they represent. I would not recommend them to young, inexperienced investors, because they need to be aware of the risk they are taking on. For a more experienced investor, derivatives can have a significant effect on their portfolio if they know how to use them.

These are only some of the options for retirement planning. Some others include social security, annuities, and self-employment plans.

None of these investments are perfect. There is risk associated with all investments; you just have to decide how much of that risk you are willing and able to take. Controlling the volatility of the market is impossible, because timing the way it’s going to move is also impossible. Not all investments are for everyone either. There are certain plans that are more suitable for younger as opposed to older investors (and vice versa), and for people who are willing to take on more or less risk. Many investors don’t pay attention to short-term volatility, although it is much more important for people planning for retirement. It can mean a difference between living comfortable and just getting by. Future retirees need to make sure they save enough to last through their retirement, given their limited time horizon and income to plan their investments.

Market volatility is inevitable. If you want to start retirement planning, it is almost unavoidable. Retirees are particularly vulnerable to market volatility and changes in the market. People often fear the loss of their investments, especially as they are nearing retirement, and market volatility can be a huge factor in these losses. It is best to start researching, keep an eye on your investments, and speak with the finance professionals. There is no correct way to invest for retirement.

There is also no age that is too young to start planning for retirement. This is our future we are talking about, and it’s a good idea to start saving as soon as possible. We all hope for a relaxing future after all of the years of work we put in to get ourselves there. Do something about it, and start planning today!

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