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The New England Patriots are the winningest professional football team of the new millennia. While one could post a long list of reasons for their success, there is one that stands above the rest. In a recent interview, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stated that they start each year with one goal – win the Super Bowl. Unlike many other teams, the Patriots do not settle for a better record than last year or improved statistics. Their single-minded goal is absolute and crystal clear to everyone on the team. It provides a framework and benchmark to help them coach, manage and play for success.

Interestingly, when most individuals, and many institutions for that matter, think about their investment goals, they have hopes of achieving Super Bowl-like returns. Despite their well-intentioned ambitions, they manage their portfolios based on benchmarks that are not relevant to their goals. In this article, I introduce an investment benchmark that simplifies the tracking process toward goals, which if achieved, provide certitude that one’s long-term objectives will be met.

The S&P 500

Almost all investors benchmark their returns, manage their assets and ultimately measure their success based on the value of a stock, bond or blended index(s). The most common investor benchmark is the S&P 500, a measure of the return of 500 large-cap domestic stocks.

But the performance of the S&P 500 and your retirement goals are unrelated. The typical counter-argument claims that the S&P 500 tends to be well correlated with economic growth and is a valid benchmark for individual portfolio performance and wealth. While that theory can be easily challenged over the past decade the question remains: Is economic growth a more valid benchmark than achieving a desired retirement goal? Additionally, there are long periods like today where the divergence between stock prices and underlying economic fundamentals is grossly askew. These variances result in long periods when stock market performance varies greatly from economic activity.

Even if we have a very long investment time frame and are willing to ignore the large variances between price and valuation, there is a much bigger problem to examine. Consider the following question: If you are promised a consistent annualized return of 10% from today until your retirement, will that allow you to meet your retirement goals?