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Managing a 401(k) Account: An Experiment on Asset Allocation

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  • James Sundali

    ()
    (Managerial Sciences Department, University of Nevada, Reno)

  • Federico Guerrero

    ()
    (Department of Economics, University of Nevada, Reno)

Abstract

The study reports the results of an asset allocation experiment in which subjects managed an endowment of money over a 20 "year" time period. While grounded in theory, the study takes an applied look at the ability of subjects to efficiently and effectively make asset allocation decisions similar to those found in 401(k) accounts. The main conclusions are as follows. First, efficient portfolios are more easily created when the set of assets to choose from is carefully constructed. Thus, financial engineers should be given the responsibility for choosing the assets available to plan participants and ensuring that combinations of these assets will fall on the efficient frontier. If followed, this advice would likely significantly reduce the amount of individual company stock offered in Defined Contribution (DC) plans in place of well-constructed low cost index funds from multiple asset classes. Second, if the assets selected for inclusion in DC plans allow the investor to easily create portfolios on the efficient frontier, then the challenge for the investor is not how to get onto the frontier but where to locate on it. The simplistic surveys that are commonly used by DC plan providers to determine risk tolerance and to recommend asset allocations are woefully inadequate for this task. More sophisticated and theoretically driven instruments must be created to educate investors on the risks and the benefits available at different points along the efficient frontier.

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File URL: http://www.business.unr.edu/econ/wp/papers/UNRECONWP06017.pdf
File Function: First version, 2006
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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by University of Nevada, Reno, Department of Economics & University of Nevada, Reno , Department of Resource Economics in its series Working Papers with number 06-017.

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Length: 50 pages
Date of creation: Dec 2006
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:unr:wpaper:06-017

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Keywords: 401(k) accounts; asset allocation;

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  1. Richard H. Thaler, 2008. "Mental Accounting and Consumer Choice," Marketing Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(1), pages 15-25, 01-02.
  2. Kroll, Yoram & Levy, Haim & Rapoport, Amnon, 1988. "Experimental tests of the mean-variance model for portfolio selection," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 388-410, December.
  3. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard H. Thaler, 1993. "Myopic Loss Aversion and the Equity Premium Puzzle," NBER Working Papers 4369, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Richard H. Thaler & Shlomo Benartzi, 2001. "Naive Diversification Strategies in Defined Contribution Saving Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(1), pages 79-98, March.
  5. James Tobin, 1956. "Liquidity Preference as Behavior Towards Risk," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 14, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  6. Samuelson, Paul A, 1969. "Lifetime Portfolio Selection by Dynamic Stochastic Programming," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 51(3), pages 239-46, August.
  7. Mitchell, Olivia S. & Utkus, Stephen P. (ed.), 2004. "Pension Design and Structure: New Lessons from Behavioral Finance," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199273393, September.
  8. Shlomo Benartzi & Richard H. Thaler, 2002. "How Much Is Investor Autonomy Worth?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 57(4), pages 1593-1616, 08.
  9. Campbell, John Y. & Viceira, Luis M., 2002. "Strategic Asset Allocation: Portfolio Choice for Long-Term Investors," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198296942, September.
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