A Retirement Portfolio to Defy the Doomsayers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In a recent post on my blog I set out to try to debunk the depressing thinking that everyone's retirement plan is doomed to fail.

In my post I wrote the following, hoping to encourage people to come back to the markets and investing:
"People willing and able to spend the time (and save some money) can build a portfolio of a few dividend stocks, a couple of country funds and a broad index fund, then pay some attention to what is going on in the world and their portfolios and probably come out at least OK (no guarantees)."

The focus of such a simple portfolio is not beating the market over some period but instead meeting the humble objective of having enough money when you need it. This is the real financial goal of most people, even if they have never expressed it that way.

In choosing a broad-based index fund, it might seem logical to use a global fund like the iShares MSCI All Country World Index Fund ( ACWI), but that would be a mistake.

ACWI has lagged the S&P 500 by 12 percentage points over the last year due to its exposure to Japan and the eurozone countries.

Anyone who believes Japan and Europe will continue to struggle relative to the U.S. would be better off using a broad-based, domestic ETF in concert with a couple of carefully selected country funds.

No fund comes without risks, but for a broad fund, I would suggest the PowerShares S&P 500 Low Volatility Portfolio ( SPLV), which owns the 100 least volatile stocks in the S&P 500.

SPLV should provide a smoother ride over the course of the entire stock market cycle, which can reduce the chances of panic selling after a large decline in the market.

This fund is heaviest in utilities at 31% of the fund, which makes rising interest rates the biggest threat to the fund. Typically, rising rates are bad for utilities as money flows from this sector to bonds.

The Federal Reserve has told us we are at least a couple of years from rates going up, but when rates do go up, this fund will lag. This is why that excerpt from my blog advises investors to pay some attention to what is going on in the world and how it might affect their portfolios.

When choosing country funds remember to avoid countries that seem to be in terrible fiscal shape, such as Japan and the troubled members of the eurozone.

This portfolio is not really for people who manage their investments intensively. Thus, there won't be the same reward for choosing a country fund that one might get from choosing a stock well. But choosing a country fund requires less time than making a good stock pick. It also entails less risk.

Fund providers such as iShares offer ETFs that track individual companies. This allows investors to choose volatile countries such as Colombia, countries with low volatility such as New Zealand or countries that represent some sort of call option on the future such as Vietnam.

For a little more predictability, along with good fundamental tailwinds, investors could consider the iShares MSCI Chile Investable Market Index Fund ( ECH), the iShares Norway Capped Investable Market Index Fund ( ENOR) and the WisdomTree Australia Dividend Fund ( AUSE).

All three countries have resource-based economies. This creates some risk, although it can be offset with U.S. exposure, because the U.S. is considered more of a service-based economy.

Chile has a very stable economy and constant demand for equities through what amounts to privatized social security. When demand for copper is healthy, then Chile will do very well, but a drop in the price of copper is a risk factor.

In the same way that Chile is reliant on copper, Norway is reliant on oil. Norway is one of the only countries to have a budget surplus and no net debt. Norway has handled its wealth prudently and is positioned very well to handle a downturn in the price oil.

Australia has coal and iron ore, much of which goes to China. A slowdown in China is a threat to the Australian miracle (no recession since 1991) as is a potentially overheated housing market.

There have been concerns about the housing market for a couple of years, but there has yet to be a related crisis. Investors can easily monitor the situation there and act accordingly, though.

There are plenty of dividend stocks to choose from that have long-term track records of both earnings and dividend growth. There are also plenty of articles on the Internet to help investors pick dividend stocks.

This raises the question of whether dividend stocks are simply the latest fad.

My firm owns Johnson & Johnson ( JNJ), Philip Morris International ( PM) and Kinder Morgan Partners ( KMP) for our clients.

These stocks, along with any other similar names, must also be monitored. There were plenty of bank stocks that before 2007 had decades of dividend growth.

This type of combination for an equity portfolio will not be a world-beater, but it can, along with an adequate savings rate, get the job done -- and you won't have to spend all of your time in front of a computer.

At the time of publication, JNJ, PM, KMP, SPLV were client holdings. At the time of publication, the author also held shares of PM and ECH.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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