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Retirement investing is an integral part of American personal finance. With $8.9 trillion parked in over 800 thousand retirement plans [401K], millions of Americans will increasingly rely on their 401K accounts to fund their future retirement needs. This article is part of a series of case studies we are conducting for various 401K plans. In this article, we will discuss how participants in Hewlett Packard's 401K plan can achieve reasonable investment results using asset allocation strategies. We will also discuss how those portfolios are positioned in today’s market environment.

Hewlett Packard (HP) (NYSE: HPQ) is one of the largest IT companies. Founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard in Palo Alto, California, HP was the earliest technology company that eventually led to the formation of Silicon Valley. Today Hewlett-Packard has over 300 thousands employees world wide.

HP is known to be employee friendly. It has been named several times as one of the best companies to work for. Its 401k plan provides a well diversified array of high quality funds.

Hewlett Packard's 401K plan consists of 29 funds. These funds enable participants to gain exposure to 5 major assets: US Equity, Foreign Equity, Emerging Market Equity, REITs and Fixed Income. The the list of minor asset classes covered:

Large Blend: SPY, VTI
Large Value: IWD, VTV
Large Growth: IWF, VUG
Mid-Cap Blend: MDY, IWR
Foreign Large Blend: EFA
Foreign Large Growth: EFG
Foreign Large Value: EFV
Foreign Small/Mid Growth: SCZ
Diversified Emerging Mkts: EEM, VWO
Real Estate: IYR, ICF, VNQ
World Bond: BWX
Emerging Markets Bond: PCY, EMB
Inflation-Protected Bond: TIP
Intermediate-Term Bond: AGG, BND
Long Government: IEF, TLT
UltraShort Bond: BSV
Muni National Long: MUB
High Yield Bond: HYG, JNK

As of 9/13/2010, this plan investment choice is rated as Above Average based on MyPlanIQ Plan Rating methodology that was designed to measure how effective a plan's available investment funds are. It has the following detailed ratings:

Diversification – Rated as great (score: 89%)

Fund Quality – Rated as above average (score: 76%)

Portfolio Building -- Rated as above average (score: 72%)

Overall Rating: above average (score: 78%)

The chart and table below show the historical performance of moderate model portfolios employing strategic and tactical asset allocation strategies (SAA and TAA, both provided by MyPlanIQ). For comparison purpose, we also include the moderate model portfolios of a typical five asset SIB (Simpler Is Better) plan. This SIB plan has the following candidate index funds and their ETFs equivalent:

US Equity (SPY or VTI)
Foreign Equity (EFA or VEU)
Emerging Market Equity (EEM or VWO)
Fixed Income (AGG or BND)

Performance chart (as of 9/13/2010)

Performance table (as of 9/13/2010)

1 Yr AR (%) 1 Yr Sharpe (%) 3 Yr AR (%) 3 Yr Sharpe(%) 5 Yr AR (%) 5 YR Sharpe (%)
Plan SAA 15.95 145.83 2.34 10.27 5.76 29.43
5 SIB SAA 13.09 96.52 2.49 8.77 6.74 29.02
Plan TAA 15.53 103.28 9.35 73.75 11.43 88.56
5 SIB TAA 9.99 68.82 8.11 66.77 11.62 92.08

Currently, asset classes in emerging market stocks (EEM, VWO), REITs (Real Estate Investment Trusts) (VNQ, IYR, ICF) and fixed income (AGG, BND) are doing relatively well. These asset classes are available to HP 401k participants.

To summarize, Hewlett Packard 401K plan participants can achieve reasonable investment returns by adopting asset allocation strategies that are tailored to their risk profiles. Currently, the tactical asset allocation strategy indicates overweighing on emerging market stocks, REITs and fixed income funds.

Disclosure: long EEM,TLT