Vanguard recently released a report on “How America Invests”, based on the 5 million households with Vanguard retail accounts (taxable and IRAs, not 401ks). It looked at investor behavior from 2015 through 2019, along with the first quarter of 2020, when there was a sharp market decline due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a lot of information packed inside, but here are a few quick takeaways.

The average portfolio of a Vanguard household. The averages seem reasonable, but I was a bit surprised that 16% of households are 100% bonds. Even if I was extremely conservative, I would still own something like 20% stocks to hedge against the risk of inflation and rising rates.

The typical Vanguard household holds a long-term, risk-taking portfolio that’s both diversified and balanced. The average portfolio consists of 63% equities (stocks), 16% fixed income (bonds), and 21% cash (short-term reserves). However, there are substantial differences in risk-taking across investors, with equity risk ranging from conservative to aggressive for investors with otherwise similar asset levels or ages. At the extremes, 16% of households hold no equities, while 22% hold very risky portfolios containing at least 98% equities.

Self-directed investor glide path vs. what Vanguard thinks is best. It is interesting to see what people actually own when they are self-directed, as compared to what Vanguard recommends in their Target-date Retirement Fund and their Vanguard Personal Advisory Services (VPAS) that charges an 0.30% annual fee.

This chart compares the asset allocation (% in stocks) of self-directed investors (blue line is median) against that of Vanguard target-date funds (red line). We see that there is a lot of variation amongst self-directed investors, but overall they do decrease their exposure over time like nearly all target-date funds. However, they don’t decrease it nearly as much as Vanguard’s target-date funds past the age of 65. (Click to enlarge.)

This chart compares the asset allocation (% in stocks) of self-directed investors (dark beige is median) against that of those being advised by Vanguard Personal Advisory Services (light blue line is median). Here, the recommended median asset allocation is much closer to that of the self-directed median. Comparing with the chart above, we see a gap betwewn VPAS and their own Target Retirement funds. Why are their target-date funds so much more conservative? (Click to enlarge.)



Mutual funds are still the most popular, but ETFs are gaining. Only 13% of Vanguard households hold any ETFs at all as of 2019, but that number is double that of 2015.

Younger investors tend to own index funds, while older investors still hold a lot of actively-managed funds. This chart tracks the usage of index funds/actively-managed funds/cash vs. age. I’m actually a little surprised at how much actively-managed funds are held by the older cohorts. Contrast this with the fact that roughly 2/3rd of Vanguard’s global assets under management are in their index funds/ETFs. (Click to enlarge.)

Vanguard account owners are not active traders! Over 75% of Vanguard households place zero trades per year. The Vanguard stereotype would probably be the polar opposite of the Robinhood stereotype. (As someone with the majority of their assets at Vanguard and only a small percentage in trading apps, I’m quite fine with that!) Check out this quote (emphasis mine):

Fewer than one-quarter of Vanguard households trade in any given year, and those that do typically only trade twice. Most traders’ behavior is consistent with rebalancing or is professionally advised.

During the COVID-19 market volatility, Vanguard households stayed boring and long-term focused. The quote below essentially says “they did nothing different”.

Twenty-two percent of households traded in the first half of 2020—a rate typical of trading for a full calendar year. Despite the increase in trading, less than 1% of households abandoned equities completely during the downturn, while just over 1% traded to extremely aggressive portfolios. The net result of the portfolio and market changes was a modest reduction in the average household equity allocation, from 63% to 62%.

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Vanguard – How The Boring, Long-Term Focused Part of America Invests from My Money Blog.


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