Guidestone Financial Resources is the Southern Baptist Convention's agency charged with investing and protecting retirement funds for pastors, staff members and other SBC personnel. O.S. Hawkins is the President of Guidestone and issued his annual report to the Southern Baptist Convention on June 16, 2010. Guidestone has done a great job in enhancing their website and providing additional investment products, including the 2009 launch of the Inflation Protected Bond Fund. This fund seeks to provide inflation protection and income by investing in inflation-indexed debt securities such as Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (i.e. TIPS), and is a fund worthy of consideration in the inflation years to come.
My bachelor's degree is in business, with a major in corporate finance and a minor in accounting. I trade a small amount of my short term savings in stocks and options through a personal account at Ameritrade, but I rely on Guidestone for the investing all of my retirement funds. The three year annualized return for the Guidestone funds designed for Southern Baptists who wish to simply allow the money managers at Guidestone to do their investing for them do not look good:
MyDestination 2005 has a three year annualized negative return of 1.46%
MyDestination 2015 has a three year annualized negative return of 4.16%
MyDestination 2025 has a three year annualized negative return of 4.43%
MyDestination 2035 has a three year annualized negative return of 10.19%
MyDestination 2045 has a three year annualized negative return of 11.14%
In essence, by the time you take out the average 1% investment fee charged by Guidestone, the average Southern Baptist who left his money in one of these funds has lost 2.5 to 12.5 percent of his retirement savings during the past three years. Obviously, the market performed very poorly in 2008/2009, but since the spring of 2009 until the spring of 2010, the market has increased by over 50%. Yet the annualized return for three years is still significantly negative. O.S. Hawkins, knowing that many leave the market during down times, stated during the annual report: “Those who panicked at the trough (spring 2009)… locked in their losses, but those who stayed the course have seen their account values recover. Saving for retirement is like a marathon, not a sprint." Hawkins also emphasized that while GuideStone cannot control financial markets and the global economy, it can control how its Funds perform in relation to other funds. According to industry research firm Fi360, GuideStone Funds ranked 39th out of 297 total funds in America as of March 31, 2010.
All that Hawkins said is true -- but it is not the whole truth.
It is a problem when Southern Baptists remove their retirement funds from equities when the market is "in the trough," but it is wisdom for Southern Baptists to remove their retirement funds from equities when "the market is in the palace." In other words, if a Southern Baptist pays close attention to the market, he will know when the market is overbought and due for a correction. A correction is when the market drops 10% from its previous high. We are currently in the midst of a market correction. From Dow Jones of 11,200 in April 2010 to Dow Jones 9,686 this past Friday, July 2, 2010. That is a 13% correction in two months. Last week the S&P 500 closed below 1040 (close of 1022 this past Friday) which is a key technical indicator that the S&P 500 could fall into the mid-800's within the next few months. In other words, there are signs that the market might be in a bearish stage instead of a simple correction. Nobody really knows, but if someone had been watching the signs of the market and noticed it was overbought and overpriced last April and pulled their retirement funds out of equities and placed them in bonds, their retirement savings would be enormous. That is precisely what I did.
For example, if a Southern Baptist had $100,000 of retirement in MyDestination 2025 in April 2010 when the market was over 11,000 and decided to pull those retirement funds out of MyDestination 2025 and place them all in one of the bond funds offered by Guidestone, the balance of that Southern Baptists' retirement account in July 2010 would be approximately $102,000 (with contributions). Had they left their retirement funds in MyDestination 2025 for the three months since the beginning of April 2010 to the beginning of July 2010 their retirement funds would be at $87,000. Following the first strategy rather than the second would be a real money savings of $15,000 to the Southern Baptist who moved his money. $15,000 is a great deal of money for people with $100,000 in retirement savings. Double those savings ($30,000) for those with $200,000 in retirement funds in April 2010 following the same strategy. Triple those savings ($60,000) for those with $300,000 in retirement funds in April 2010 and followed the same strategy.
It is often argued that it is too difficult to watch the market and make decisions about moving money in an out of equity and bond funds. It is also argued that you should leave all your money in equities because your new monthly contributions buy stocks at a reduced price. Guidestone does not want anyone "timing" the market and sets restrictions for how many times you can move money into and out of their respective accounts (once a month). Nevertheless, the savings for those Southern Baptists who pay attention to their retirement accounts and invest appropriately are enormous. Guidestone is flexible enough that no Southern Baptist ought to just put their money into an account and "forget about it." You lose too much money doing it that way. If you observe market conditions closely, pull your money out of equities when you see the market beginning a correction, then when the market hits what O.S. calls "the trough," you put your money back in the market, you are taking charge of your own money and managing it wisely.
I do wish that Guidestone would examine different investment strategies that would allow people to make money in bear markets (puts, shorts, etc...), but until that happens, it is much better to pull your retirement funds out of equities and place it into bonds than to watch your money sink with the market. Wall Street used to punish companies that had too much cash and refused to invest it. Not anymore. As of today, corporations have 1.5 trillion dollars worth of cash sitting on the sidelines. Until the corporations start investing in the market it would be wise for Southern Baptists to make sure they don't take the slide down to the trough.
In His Grace,