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Why Investors Say They Need At Least $3 Million for Retirement

By Suzanne Woolley

It’s one of the thorniest financial questions: how much is enough to retire comfortably? 

The answer is somewhere between $3 million and $5 million, according to the 553 investors worldwide who shared their views in the latest MLIV Pulse survey. About a third of investors pegged it at $3 million, and roughly another third at $5 million.

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Most respondents are optimistic they’ll move closer to their retirement goal by ending 2023 with more in retirement savings than at the end of 2022. Last year, inflation and rising borrowing costs hammered stocks, and since bond prices also plunged, the average US 401(k) retirement account was down 20% at plans where Vanguard Group is a recordkeeper.

This year, both professional and retail investors expect stocks and bonds to resume their traditional relationship by moving in opposite directions, with fixed-income serving as a cushion for any potential losses from riskier assets.

Respondents were not as sure about whether they’d ultimately have enough saved to maintain their lifestyle in retirement. Less than half of investors placed the odds of that at 100%.

“It’s no wonder many would-be retirees are doubting the viability of their nest eggs,” said Christine Benz, Morningstar’s director of personal finance and retirement planning. “While inflation appears to be cooling off, it increases the amount of funds that a person needs to have in retirement.”

Of course, building a seven-figure nest egg is an impossibility for many would-be retirees. Only about two-thirds of US private-sector workers had access to a workplace retirement savings plan in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average participant account balance across the 5 million or so plans where Vanguard is a recordkeeper was $112,572 at the end of 2022, and the median balance was just $27,376.

Uncertain Outlook

That uncertainty likely also reflects the economic outlook, with corporate profits shrinking and recession a possibility later this year.

Whether the expected gain in 401(k) balances will come from investments or from contributions is unclear. A lot of retirement savings are invested in index funds that track the S&P 500 and, particularly for older savers, in actively managed equity funds heavily weighted in the benchmark index’s top stocks.

During the bull run, mega-cap tech stocks like Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp., Inc., Alphabet Inc. and Meta Platforms Inc. came to dominate the index, leading to very concentrated investment portfolios for many savers. These stocks kicked off the year with a nice rally after a horrible 2022. Nevertheless, investors expect those market leaders to be supplanted. Asked whether the same general group of giant tech stocks will drive the US stock market performance over the next three years, 58% said they expect new leaders to emerge. 

“When five names in the S&P 500 make up more than 20% of the index, those names tend to lag the index over the next three to five years,” said Bob Shea, chief investment strategist at Dynasty Financial Partners. 

Read more: Where to Invest $1 Million Right Now

Non-US Assets

Shea also expects 2023 to be a year when non-US assets, particularly in Asia, begin to outperform. Asia was chosen by the highest percentage of MLIV survey respondents as the region outside the US most likely to have the best dollar-denominated returns in 2023. China’s faster-than-expected reopening helped fuel a rally that started in November, but recent geopolitical tensions and concerns about the country’s economic recovery have weighed on the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index, which is down about 11% from a late January peak.

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Most investors aren’t adjusting their retirement plans despite the uncertain economic outlook and recent losses in their accounts. Some 56% of survey respondents said they were sticking with their retirement plans. About 8% said they are thinking about never retiring.

MLIV Pulse is a weekly survey of Bloomberg News readers on the terminal and online, conducted by Bloomberg’s Markets Live team, which also runs a 24/7 MLIV blog on the terminal. To subscribe to MLIV Pulse stories, click here. 

This week, the MLIV Pulse survey focuses on soft landing, hard landing and Ukraine. Click here to share your views.

(Adds details on US retirement savings in 7th paragraph)

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