BY CHARLES MCGRATH ·
Re-posted from New Research On Performance Chasing
Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.
This article originally appeared on ETF.COM here.
There is a considerable body of evidence demonstrating that the post-hire performance of active managers tends to be disappointing relative to their pre-hire performance. Specifically, managers’ performance tends to regress toward zero after adjusting for expenses, risk, exposure to common factors and survivorship bias. For example, the research has found that:
- Mutual fund net inflows associated with retail investors are positively related to past performance. Mutual fund gross inflows follow positive performance, and gross outflows follow negative performance.
- Pension clients (institutional investors) withdraw assets from managers with poor past performance and increase flows to recent winners. Yet the managers fired go on to outperform the managers hired.
- While 20 years ago, about 20% of actively managed funds were generating statistically significant alpha, that figure is now about 2% as the market has become more efficient, the competition has gotten tougher and, as described in my book, “The Incredible Shrinking Alpha,” academics have been converting what was once alpha (a source of outperformance) into beta (a common factor that can easily be replicated).
- There is little evidence of performance persistence among hedge funds and actively managed mutual funds.
Problems with performance chasing
Despite the evidence, strong past performance is the prerequisite for manager selection by individuals as well as institutional investors. Robert Ferguson, Anna Agapova, Dean Leistikow and Joel Rentzler contribute to the literature on the persistence of performance among active managers with the paper, “Chasing Performance and Identifying Talented Investment Managers,” which appears in the Spring 2018 issue of The Journal of Investing. Their focus is on explaining why investors are likely to get poor results from performance-chasing.
The authors begin by noting that while choosing managers on the basis of historical performance might make intuitive sense, “it takes an impractically long time to differentiate talented from untalented managers – far longer than the five years or so that many investors believe is sufficient.”
They provide a mathematical example involving a world that contains 20 untalented managers (who have a normal distribution of returns with a mean alpha of 0 and a standard deviation of 2.68%) and one talented manager (who generates 3% alpha, which is very large, with a 3% tracking error).
Ferguson, Agapova, Leistikow and Rentzler demonstrate that we should expect, randomly (purely by luck), one of the 20 untalented managers will generate an alpha about 50% greater than 3% over the next 20 years. In fact, they write, “the probability that the talented manager beats all 20 untalented managers over the five-year period is only about 14.8%.”
Thus, performance-chasers end up with the untalented manager 85.2% of the time. And that is using a five-year horizon. Many institutions use three-year horizons, in which case the odds of hiring the talented manager would be even worse. Even at 10 years, the odds are just 36% that the talented manager will outperform all the untalented ones.
Making matters worse is that the probability the talented manager will beat all 20 untalented managers is surprisingly small for all lengths of measurement period. Even after 15 years, it only rises to about 55%. To achieve a 95% (99%) probability that the talented manager will outperform, you need a 38-year (54-year) historical performance record.
Such lengthy records are rare. Even if they existed, the likelihood is that the manager would have received so much cash flow that the hurdles to generating alpha would have become virtually insurmountable. That’s the curse of success – it sows the seeds of its own destruction.
The authors illustrated how the probability that a talented manager’s performance will exceed the best in a pool of untalented managers can be surprisingly small, even over long periods. It helps explain why performance-chasing has produced such poor results for individual and institutional investors alike. A better use of historical performance relegates it to a secondary role, the primary focus being an a priori analysis of a manager’s investment process (security selection and trading strategy).
Larry Swedroe is the director of research for The BAM Alliance, a community of more than 140 independent registered investment advisors throughout the country.
Reposted from www.seekingalpha.com
There is an enduring debate about active versus passive management.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each strategy that investors should consider.
In this series, I will provide investors with an overview of the various strategies, and provide information that will help them select what is best for them.
I will explore Passive Investing in this piece, followed by various forms of active management in Part II.
The enduring debate among financial practitioners is whether active or passive management of portfolios is best. In this series, I want to go over four main strategies, and explore in detail the pluses and minuses of each, and who benefits most with each strategy. With this information in hand, you can be better able to select the strategy that works best for your specific situation, or, if applicable, that of your client.
Strategy 1: Passive Management
Objective: The passive investor would argue that markets are efficient and thus there is no use in trying to beat them. Thus, the objective of passively managed funds, is to buy all the stocks in a particular market, such as the S&P 500, and track the performance of that index. Because we have no way of knowing which stocks will beat the market and which will not, the passive investor would reason, you are better off buying the entire market at a very low cost, and taking the return provided by ‘the market’.
Best For: Passive investing is best for investors who want to track the market at a very low cost, and are not concerned with beating the market. Passive investors simply own the whole market, and receive the return of the index, minus any expenses.
Advantages: The advantages of passive investing are many.
- The strategy is supported by many Nobel Prize winners, and highly successful investors. Research continues to support this strategy because of the poor results of active management, and because of the research demonstrating that markets are efficient. (1) More information supporting this conclusion is included in the ‘Further Research’ section.
- Research by S&P, included in the ‘Further Research’ section below, demonstrates that over long measurement periods, active managers have a difficult time beating the passive index, which means that instead of obtaining average returns from passive investing, the index fund is actually obtaining very high returns relative to their active fund peers. (2)
- Additional research by the S&P, included in the ‘Further Research’ section below, demonstrated that for those funds that do beat the index, it was very difficult for them to continue to do so from one year to the next. (3)
- By buying the whole market, your returns tend to correlate to the market averages, with little or no tracking error.
- In addition, index funds, can be purchased at rock bottom fees as low as 0.04%. The less you pay in fees, the more you have available to take advantage of compounding over time. Every dollar paid out in expenses, loses the ability to compound and add to your wealth over time.
Disadvantages: The disadvantages of index funds are:
- You are buying the whole market, which means you own some really great companies and some not so great companies.
- Additionally, because you are tracking an index, you are guaranteed to underperform the market every year after costs and expenses.
- Index funds also do not give any consideration to the prices they pay for securities. Because traditional index funds are weighted, by market capitalization, as stocks get larger and more expensive they make up more and more of the index. This seems counter-intuitive to the very principles of investing, which tell investors to buy low and sell high.
- There are many structural issues with index funds, such as their inability to act like owners and represent the interests of shareholders. Research continues to prove that index funds vote with management the majority of the time as you can see in the ‘Further Research” section below. (4)
1. A Sampling of Research Supporting Market Efficiency
– George Gibson (1889) wrote the book, “The Stock Markets of London, Paris, and New York,” mentioning the concept of efficient markets. Gibson wrote, “when shares become publicly known in an open market, the value which they acquire may be regarded as the judgment of the best intelligence concerning them.”
– Fama (1965) defined an efficient market for the first time in his empirical analysis of stock market prices in which they conclude that they follow a random walk.
– Samuelson (1965) provided the first real arguments for efficient markets in his paper, “Proof,” that properly anticipated prices fluctuate randomly.
– Fama et al. (1969) undertook the first ever event study (although they were not the first to publish), and their results lend considerable support to the conclusion that the stock market is efficient.
– Published in 1970, the definitive paper on the efficient markets hypothesis is Eugene F. Fama’s first of three review papers: ‘Efficient Capital Markets: A Review of Theory and Empirical Work’ (Fama, 1970). He was also the first to consider the ‘joint hypothesis problem’. Granger and Morgenstern (1970) published the book, “Predictability of Stock Market Prices.”
Ellis (1975) published the article, “The Losers Game,” in the Financial Analysts Journal. The investment management business (it should be a profession but is not) is built upon a simple and basic belief: Professional money managers can beat the market. That premise appears to be false.
Malkiel (2003) examined the attacks on the EMH and concludes that stock markets are far more efficient and far less predictable than some recent academic papers would have us believe.
Malkiel (2005) showed that professional investment managers do not outperform their index benchmarks and provides evidence that by and large market prices do seem to reflect all available information.
2. Research on The Failure of Active Management
The 2017 SPIVA Scorecard demonstrated a consistent long term trend that active managers, in the aggregate, have trouble beating the index.
“over the 15-year investment horizon, 92.33% of large-cap managers, 94.81% of mid-cap managers, and 95.73% of small-cap managers failed to outperform on a relative basis.”
The 2016 SPIVA Scorecard has put together an excellent analysis showing that active funds do not beat the index. It states:
“Given that active managers’ performance can vary based on market cycles, the newly available 15-year data tells a more stable narrative. Over the 15-year period ending Dec. 2016, 92.15% of large-cap, 95.4% of mid-cap, and 93.21% of small-cap managers trailed their respective benchmarks.”
2015 SPIVA Scorecard Results:
3. S&P Research on Persistence
“out of 1,034 large-cap funds that existed in the universe as of Sept. 30, 2013, only 19.73%, or 204 funds, outperformed the S&P 500®. In the following year, 15.69% of those 204 funds outperformed the benchmark. By the end of the third year, none of those original 204 funds were able to outperform the S&P 500 on a consecutive basis.”
4. Research on the Structural Challenges of index funds
It may be said, with some approximation to the truth, that investment is grounded on the past whereas speculation looks primarily to the future, but this statement is far from complete. Both investment and speculation must meet the test of the future; they are subject to its vicissitudes and are judged by its verdict. But what we have said about the analyst and the future applies equally well to the concept of investment. For investment, the future is essentially something to be guarded against rather than be profited from. If the future brings improvement, so much the better; but investment as such cannot be founded in any important degree upon the expectation of improvement. Speculation, on the other hand, may always properly-and often soundly derive its basis and its justification from prospective developments that differ from past performance…The individual investor should act consistently as an investor and not as a speculator.” – Benjamin Graham, Security Analysis
When you look across the index universe. The top three index providers are owning more and more of corporate America, giving index funds more power over shareholder proposals. This has real consequences for capitalism that more investors should be concerned about.
“Every new indexed dollar goes to the same places as previous dollars did. This “guarantees that the most valuable company stays the most valuable, and gets more valuable and keeps going up. There’s no valuation or other parameters around that decision,”… the result will be a “bubble machine”-a winner-take-all system that inflates already large companies, blind to whether they’re actually selling more widgets or generating bigger profits. Such effects already exist today, of course, but the market is able to rely on active investors to counteract them. The fewer active investors there are, however, the harder counteraction will be.” – New Yorker Is Passive Investment Actively Hurting The Economy?
A 2017 paper looked at the effect the big three – Vanguard, BlackRock (NYSE:BLK), and State Street (NYSE:STT) – have on corporate ownership and the creation of new financial risks for capitalism. The authors from the University of Amsterdam explore the challenges with passive investing being concentrated in a few firms, versus the advantages of competition and the fragmentation of active investing. Because active investing is more fragmented, it results in corporate ownership being spread around to dozens upon dozens of firms. This prevents any one firm from having potential undue influence over corporate management.
The authors state:
“When we talk about the power of large asset managers, we are concerned with their influence over corporate control and as such their capacity to influence the outcomes of corporate decision-making. Shareholders can exert power through three mechanisms. First, they can participate directly in the decision making process through the (proxy) votes attached to their investments. In a situation of dispersed and fragmented ownership, the voting power of each individual shareholder is rather limited. But blockholders with at least five percent of the shares are generally considered highly influential, and shareholders that hold more than 10 percent are already considered “insiders” to the firm under U.S. law. The growing equity positions that passive asset managers hold thus increase this potential power.”
“The size of a node in the visualization can be interpreted as the potential shareholder power of the particular owner within the network of control over listed companies in the United States. Thus, when seen together, the Big Three occupy a position of unrivaled potential power over corporate America.
When Vanguard pioneered its index fund concept in the mid-1970s it was attacked as “un-American,” exactly because they held shares in all the firms of an index and did not try to find the companies that would perform best. Therefore, the new tripartite governing board of BlackRock, Vanguard, and State Street is potentially conflicting with the image of America as a very liberal market economy, in which corporations compete vigorously, ownership is generally fragmented, and capital is generally seen as “impatient.” Benjamin Braun has argued that passive investors may, in principle, act as “patient” capital and thus facilitate long-term strategies. Hence, the Big Three have the potential to cause significant change to the political economy of the United States, including through influencing important topics for corporations, such as short-termism versus long-termism, the (in)adequacy of management remuneration, and mergers and acquisitions. We reflected on a number of anti-competitive effects that come with the rise of passive asset management, which could have negative consequences for economic growth and even for economic equality. As well, we signaled how the continuing growth of ETFs and other passive index funds can create new financial risk, including increased investor herding and greater volatility in times of severe financial instabilities.”
Strategy 2: Active Management-Factor Funds
Objective: The objective of factor funds, or multi factor funds, is to capture specific factors that academic research has shown to beat the overall market over long measurement periods.
Factor investors, like index investors, are simply trying to own the market, while capturing the factor premiums that research shows come from some variation of the Five Factor Model, for example. This model was introduced by Eugene Fama, and Kenneth French. Their research demonstrated that stocks beat bonds (market factor), value stocks beat growth stocks (value factor), small cap stocks beat large cap stocks (Size factor), profitable companies beat non profitable companies (profitability factor), and positive investment characteristics beat those with negative investment characteristics (investment factor).
Therefore, they argued, that by tilting towards these factors of outperformance, we would stand a better chance at beating the market in a more efficient systematic manner. Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), is the largest provider of dedicated, research based, factor strategies.
They have been able to beat the market at a higher rate than traditional active management, not through security selection but rather factor tilting. Using these funds, however, requires a DFA financial advisor, which will mean an increase in cost to the investor. However, factor funds are now offered by many different providers, both in single factor and multi factor strategies.
Best For: Investors who are seeking a low cost, academically-based strategy to beat the market through the capture of factor premia. These funds are quite passive in nature but are categorized as active because of the factor tilting strategy, which does create tracking error, which at times can be significant depending on the specific factor targeting strategy utilized. This strategy is not advised for investors who are not comfortable with tracking error.
- While these funds are actively targeting specific factors, they are highly passive in nature.
- They can be purchased at a relatively low cost in mutual fund and ETF form.
- They provide exposure to specific factors which research demonstrates, may allow investors to outperform the market over the long run.
- If factors go out of favor for extended periods, investors could underperform the broad index.
- There is no telling that the future will look like the past, and thus targeting specific factors may become more challenging, or unreliable as markets, and economies change.
- Some of these strategies require a financial advisor, which may increase the overall cost to the investor, and meaningfully drag down net investment results.
In this first piece, I took a look at passive investment strategies both through the broad index fund as well as the factor fund lens. In Part II, I will explore various forms of active management, and what investors would benefit most from each. Taken together, these two pieces should be read together, and can serve as a guide to choosing the right investment strategy for you.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
Additional disclosure: This article is for informational purposes only and is not an offer to buy or sell any security. It is not intended to be financial advice, and it is not financial advice. Before acting on any information contained herein, be sure to consult your own financial advisor. This article does not constitute tax advice. Every investor should consult their tax advisor or CPA before acting on any information contained herein.
Reposted from http://www.investmentnews.com
With its data-driven models the company attracted third-most money in 2014 behind Vanguard and JPMorgan
Jan 19, 2015 @ 9:14 am
By Bloomberg News
When Molly Bernet Balunek expressed interest in putting money into mutual funds run by Dimensional Fund Advisors, she didn’t know she was in for a rigorous courtship ritual.
Before getting the go-ahead to invest in Dimensional’s products last year, Ms. Balunek, a financial adviser from Cleveland, had to submit to an interview, fill out a questionnaire and pay out of her own pocket for a two-day trip to Austin, Texas, where she listened to the company’s executives explain how they do business. The process, which Ms. Balunek described as “intense,” took about five months.
“It is a two-way evaluation process — Dimensional wanted to understand my business structure and investment philosophy as much as I wanted to understand theirs,” said Ms. Balunek.
The ritual is part of a sales process that has helped Dimensional attract the third-most money last year after Vanguard Group Inc., known for its low-cost index funds, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Like Vanguard,
Dimensional is capitalizing on a growing belief that stock pickers can’t consistently beat markets. Dimensional’s approach, though, comes with a twist: unlike traditional index strategies, the funds use data-driven models to beat traditional benchmarks.
Dimensional is among a small group of managers toppling the dominance of firms such as Fidelity Investments and Capital Group, which have built their reputations on picking individual stocks. Among the fastest-growing U.S. mutual fund firms after assets surged almost six-fold in the past decade, Dimensional attracted almost $28 billion in new money in 2014.
Dimensional believes beating the markets is an exercise in futility and most managers cannot justify the fees they charge. What sets Dimensional apart is its investment philosophy, using research pioneered by Nobel laureate Eugene Fama and Kenneth French, of focusing on specific factors or dimensions that have helped certain indexes beat benchmarks such as the S&P 500 Index.
Dimensional, which sells its funds only through approved advisers and never directly to the public, spends considerable effort educating investors on how its approach works. Its system of picking advisers breeds a high degree of loyalty. The firm received the highest grades in customer loyalty among mutual fund companies in a July 2014 survey of U.S. financial advisers conducted by Cogent Reports of Cambridge, Mass.
“They’ve developed a brilliant way of locking in money and the advisers who use them seem to love it,” said Lawrence Glazer, a managing partner at Mayflower Advisors, a Boston-based adviser that oversees $2 billion.
David Butler, who runs Dimensional’s financial adviser business, said he could “count on one hand,” the advisers who have stopped using the company’s funds in his nearly 20 years at the company.
Advisers who use Dimensional, “tend to buy into the firm’s unique philosophy and investment approach and direct a higher proportion of their mutual fund dollars to the firm,” Linda York, a Cogent vice president, wrote in an e-mail.
Dimensional’s assets have more than doubled since 2009 to $381 billion in a mix of mutual funds and institutional accounts. Part of the growth is the result of shifting client sentiment, as investors disillusioned with the ability of stock pickers to insulate them from losses during the 2008 crisis have increasingly turned to cheaper alternatives such as index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds.
Mutual funds that pick U.S. stocks experienced $98 billion in redemptions in 2014. During the same period, investors added $167 billion to domestic stock index funds and ETFs, according to data from Chicago-based Morningstar Inc.
Vanguard attracted $219 billion in mutual fund and ETF deposits last year. Fidelity had redemptions of $5.3 billion while American Funds, the mutual fund arm of Capital Group, won $345 million.
Mayflower’s Mr. Glazer said while low-cost indexing is popular at the moment, there is no guarantee it will remain so.
“If the history of asset management is any guide, the companies and styles that were the leaders in one decade, won’t be the leaders in the next decade.”
“Conventional active managers promised a lot that they weren’t able to deliver,” David Booth, 68, chairman and co-founder of Dimensional, said in an interview at his company’s headquarters in Austin.
Mr. Booth built his firm around the ideas of his University of Chicago mentor Mr. Fama, who won the 2013 Nobel Prize in economics for his work on efficient markets. In 2008, crediting the school for his success, Mr. Booth donated $300 million to his alma mater, which renamed its business school the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Mr. Fama and his research partner, Dartmouth College’s Mr. French, have argued that stock-price movements are unpredictable and that trying to pick securities that will beat the market is pointless.
“Most people are fooling themselves when they think they have the ability to hire a superior manager,” said Mr. French, in a video posted on Dimensional’s website.
The pair’s research also shows that certain factors can produce higher returns. Using historical market data, they found that over the long term, small stocks have outperformed large ones, value-oriented equities have beaten growth and more profitable companies have done better than less profitable peers. Dimensional’s funds reflect those tilts, with portfolios composed of small-cap companies, value shares and stocks of companies with above-average profits.
Over the past five, 10 and 15 years, Dimensional’s stock funds have outperformed about 70% of peers, according to Denver-based Lipper. Bond funds, a smaller piece of the business, trailed about 60%. Over the past 15 years, almost 90% of the company’s stock and bond strategies with a track record that long have topped their benchmarks, Dimensional data show.
Dimensional executives say that they can’t quantify or guarantee the amount of outperformance they can generate.
“If we can beat the benchmarks by 50 basis points a year — and in many strategies by 100 basis points — I will do handstands,” said Mr. Booth.
For the last 15 years, Dimensional’s funds have benefited from a rally in small-capitalization and value shares. Since the end of 1999, small stocks, as measured by the Russell 2000, have returned more than twice as much as large stocks, represented by the S&P 500 Index. Value stocks gained about four times as much as growth stocks.
The opposite pattern prevailed during the technology boom of the late 1990s, as big stocks and growth stocks outperformed, data compiled by Bloomberg show. In 2014, small cap stocks lagged behind large ones by a wide margin. They trailed again in 2015 through Jan. 13.
William Smead, a stock picker who runs the $952 million Smead Value Fund and invests in big companies, said if historical patterns hold, small cap stocks could lag behind large ones for the next six to nine years.
Setting realistic expectations for performance is just one piece of Dimensional’s close relationship with advisers, a relationship that began as an accident, according to Mr. Booth.
In the 1980s, the firm managed money exclusively for institutional investors. In 1988, an adviser approached Mr. Booth about investing in Dimensional funds.
The idea was intriguing and also somewhat disturbing, said Mr. Booth, who was concerned that advisers would move in and out of the funds too often, burdening other investors with higher costs. Minimizing trading costs is part of Dimensional’s plan for adding value. The solution was to create a system in which the company could pick advisers who bought into Dimensional’s approach and played by its rules.
“They don’t want advisers who are traders, they don’t want hot money and they don’t want people who are chasing performance,” said Ms. Balunek, who described the process of becoming a Dimensional adviser as more “invasive” than she anticipated.
Mr. Booth said the extended process — including having advisers pay their own way to the introductory seminar — has paid dividends.
“We have made it kind of a pain in the neck to buy the funds, but that has created a mutual affinity.”
Bob Rall, an adviser from Merritt Island, Fla., can speak to that affinity. He started out with a firm that tried to pick individual securities and said he got tired of client losses because of bad stock picks.
He found out about Dimensional 12 years ago and attended one of their conferences. Mr. Rall now has about 90% of the $35 million he oversees invested in Dimensional funds.
“They poured us big glasses of Kool-Aid, we drank it and haven’t looked back,” he said.
Advisers are also attracted to the credentials of the academics behind Dimensional’s investing and trading strategies. In addition to Mr. Fama and Mr. French, Nobel Prize winner Robert Merton of Massachusetts Institute of Technology is involved in designing products for the company.
Having advisers that believe in the firm creates another benefit for Dimensional and its customers, according to Michael Rosen, chief investment officer at Angeles Investment Advisors in Santa Monica, Calif., who oversees $45 billion for endowments and pensions.
“Educated advisers are more likely to prevent their clients from making radical changes when markets drop,” said Mr. Rosen. “The fact that those assets are sticky will add value for the investors.”
Dimensional’s approach to markets, with its tilts toward small and value stocks, at one time made it distinct in the money-management business, said Alex Bryan, an analyst with Morningstar. Many firms are now competing in the same arena including AQR Capital Management, he said, and products such as low-cost ETFs are also vying for investor capital.
“Investors have a lot of options now,” said Mr. Bryan. “They don’t have to go to Dimensional to get exposure to those strategies.”
Mr. Booth isn’t worried by the competition. He has invested in systems that will allow the firm to grow, although he refrains from projecting how big it might get. When the company passed $50 billion in assets in 2004, he said, “It was already bigger than we thought it could possibly be.”
Mr. Booth, who owns Dimensional along with other past and current employees and directors, doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. He said he has turned down repeated requests to sell Dimensional or take it public.
“The next generation of leadership is in place and they will worry about firm ownership,” said Mr. Booth. “For the time being we are ignoring the fact that we are getting older. This is what we want to be doing.”
Award presented at 24th Mutual Fund Industry Awards in New York honors firm for developing innovative retirement solutions that positively impact the retirement marketplace
Tim Maurer, CONTRIBUTOR
Personal finance is more personal than it is finance. Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
As an educator in the arena of personal finance, I generally avoid matters of public policy or politics because they tend to devolve into dogma and division, all too often leaving wisdom and understanding behind. But occasionally, an issue arises of such importance that I feel an obligation to advocate on behalf of those who don’t have a voice. The issue of the day revolves around a single word: “fiduciary.”
At stake is a Department of Labor ruling set to take effect this coming April that would require any financial advisor, stock broker or insurance agent directing a client’s retirement account to act in the best interest of that client. In other words, the rule would require such advisors to act as a fiduciary. The incoming Trump administration has hit the pause button on that rule, a move that many feel is merely a precursor to the rule’s demise.
Why? Because a vocal constituency of the new administration has lobbied for it—hard. They stand to lose billions—with a “b”—so they’re protecting their profitable turf with every means necessary, even twisted logic.
The good news is that informed investors need not rely on any legislation to ensure they are receiving a fiduciary level of service. Follow these three steps to receive the level of service you deserve:
1) Ask your advisor if he or she acts as a fiduciary.
It’s not a good sign if you get the deer-in-headlights look followed by “Fid-oo-she-WHAT?” If your advisor gets defensive, telling you that you’re better off with the status quo, that’s also concerning.
2) Ask your advisor if he or she acts ONLY as a fiduciary.
One of the biggest challenges facing investors today is that many advisors with a genuine fiduciary label are actually part-time fiduciaries. This is where it gets tricky, because there are at least three different regulatory requirements in the financial industry.
But what if your advisor is like many who are licensed sufficiently that they may act as a fiduciary when they choose, but may also take off the advisory hat and sell you something as a broker or agent? Do they tell you when they’ve gone from one to the other?
You want a full-time, one-hat-wearing fiduciary.
3) Determine if your advisor is a TRUE fiduciary.
This may be the hardest part, because it requires you to read between the lines. There are advisors who now realize that it’s simply good business to be a fiduciary. And while there’s nothing wrong with profitable business, you don’t want to work with someone just because they’ve realized fiduciary mousetraps sell better than their rusty predecessors.
Not everyone who is a fiduciary from a legal or regulatory perspective is a fiduciary at heart, and yes, it is also true that there are those who are fiduciaries at their core even though they don’t meet the official definition in their business dealings.
You want a practitioner who’s a fiduciary through-and-through—a fiduciary in spirit and in word.
“The annulment of the government’s fiduciary rule would clearly be a setback for investors trying to prepare for retirement,” says sainted financial industry agitate Jack Bogle. “But the fiduciary principle itself will live on, and even spread.”
Yes, the good news—for both advisors and investors—is that there is a strong and growing community of fiduciaries, supported by the Certified Financial Planner™ Board, the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).
Advisors can join the movement. And investors can insist on only working with a true, full-time fiduciary.
Read it on etf.com
Every year, the market provides us with some important lessons on prudent investment strategy. Many times, the market will offer investors remedial courses, covering lessons that it has already delivered in previous years. That’s why one of my favorite sayings is that there’s nothing new in investing—there’s only investment history you don’t yet know.
Last year gave us nine lessons. As you may note, many of them have appeared before. Unfortunately, many investors fail to learn from them. Rather, they keep repeating the same errors, which is what Albert Einstein called the definition of insanity. We’ll begin with my personal favorite, a lesson the market, if measured properly, teaches each and every year.
Lesson 1: Active Management Is a Loser’s Game
Despite an overwhelming amount of research that demonstrates passive investing is far more likely to allow you to achieve your financial goals, the vast majority of individual investor assets are still invested in active funds. And, unfortunately, investors in active funds continue to pay for their “triumph of hope over wisdom and experience.”
2016 was another year where the large majority of active funds underperformed, despite the great opportunity for active managers to generate alpha in the very large dispersion of returns between the best and worst performers.
For example, while the S&P 500 returned 12.0% for the year, there were 25 stocks in the index that returned at least 45.5%. Oneck Inc. (OKE) returned 132.8%, while Nvidia Corp. (NVDA) returned 223.9%. All an active manager had to do to outperform was to overweight these superperformers.
On the other side of the coin, there were 25 stocks in the index that lost at least 22.9%. Endo International (ENDP) lost 73.1% and First Solar (FSLR) lost 51.4%. To outperform, all an active manager had to do was to underweight, let alone avoid, these “dogs.”
It’s important to note that this wide dispersion of returns is not at all unusual. Yet despite the opportunity, year after year, in aggregate, active managers persistently fail to outperform. The table below shows the percentile rankings for funds from two leading providers of passively managed funds, Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) and Vanguard, for both 2016 and the 15-year period ending December 2016. (Full disclosure: My firm, Buckingham, recommends DFA funds in constructing client portfolios.)
Note that Morningstar’s data contains survivorship bias, as it only considers funds that have survived the full period. And the bias is significant, as about 7% of actively managed funds disappear every year and their returns are buried in the mutual fund graveyard. Thus, the longer the period, the worse the survivorship bias, and at 15 years, it’s quite large.
The results make clear that active management is a strategy we could call fraught with opportunity. Year after year, active managers come up with an excuse to explain why they failed that year and then assert that next year will be different. Of course, it never is.
The good news is that investors are waking up to the reality. In October, The Wall Street Journal reported that, according to Morningstar, “although 66% of mutual-fund and exchange-traded-fund assets are still actively invested … those numbers are down from 84% 10 years ago and are shrinking fast.”
Lesson 2: So Much of Returns Come in Very Short and Unpredictable Bursts
The road to investment “hell” is paved with market-timing efforts, because so much of the long-term returns provided by the market come in short, and totally unpredictable, bursts. Last year provided the following example. From January through October, the DFA Small Value Fund (DFSVX) returned 8.0%. From November through December, it returned 18.8%. For the full year, it returned 28.3%. Two-thirds of the full year’s return happened in the last two months.
These types of results are not at all unusual, For instance, the study “Black Swans and Market Timing: How Not To Generate Alpha,” which covered the 107-year period ending in 2006, found that the best 100 days (out of more than 29,000) accounted for virtually all (99.7%) of returns.
Here’s another example. There are 1,020 months in the 85-year period from 1926 through 2010. The best 85 months, an average of just one month a year (or just 8.3% of the months), provided an average return of 10.7%. The remaining 935 months (or 91.7% of the months) produced virtually no return (just 0.05%).
Peter Lynch offered the following example. He pointed out that an investor who followed a passive investment strategy and stayed fully invested in the S&P 500 over the 40-year period beginning in 1954 would have achieved an 11.4% rate of return.
If that investor missed just the best 10 months (2%), his return dropped 27%, to 8.3%. If the investor missed the best 20 months (4%), the return dropped 54%, to 6.1%. Finally, if the investor missed the best 40 months (8%), the return dropped 76%, all the way to 2.7%.
Do you really believe there is anyone who can pick the best 40 months in a 40-year period? Lynch put it this way: “Far more money has been lost by investors in preparing for corrections, or anticipating corrections, than has been lost in the corrections themselves.”
Despite this evidence, investors persist in market-timing efforts. Charles Ellis described the winning strategy in the following way: “Investors would do well to learn from deer hunters and fishermen who know the importance of ‘being there’ and using patient persistence—so they are there when opportunity knocks.”
Lesson 3: Events Occur That No One Predicted
Those who have spent their careers forecasting learn to be very humble about their predictions. The reason is that almost every year, major surprises occur. And by definition, surprises are unpredictable.
That is why, when I’m asked for a forecast, my response is that my crystal ball is always cloudy. That is also why my recommendation is to stop spending time listening to forecasts, which have no value and can cause you to stray from your well-thought-out plan. Instead, spend your time managing risk.
2016 saw at least two major unpredicted events that could have had major negative impacts on financial markets. Yet they did not. The first came in June when Great Britain voted for exiting the European Union—the so-called Brexit, which passed 52% to 48% with a referendum turnout of 72% and votes from more than 30 million people.
The other, of course, was the primary win by Donald Trump and then his election to the presidency. With both Brexit’s and Trump’s victories, the market’s immediate reaction was a dramatic self-off. And then a rapid recovery.
Lesson 4: Ignore All Forecasts; All Crystal Balls Are Cloudy
One of my favorite sayings about the market forecasts of so-called experts is from Jason Zweig, financial columnist for The Wall Street Journal: “Whenever some analyst seems to know what he’s talking about, remember that pigs will fly before he’ll ever release a full list of his past forecasts, including the bloopers.”
You’ll almost never read or hear a review of how the latest forecast from some market “guru” actually worked out. The reason is that accountability would ruin the game—you would cease to “tune in.”
But I believe forecasters should be held accountable. Thus, a favorite pastime of mine is keeping a collection of economic and market forecasts made by media-anointed gurus and then checking back periodically to see if they came to pass. This practice has taught me there are no expert economic and market forecasters.
Here’s a small sample from this year’s collection. I hope they teach you a lesson about ignoring all forecasts, including the ones that happen to agree with your own notions (that’s the deadly condition known as “confirmation bias” at work).
- In July 2015, Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital’s global chief economist, predicted that U.S. stocks could crash 50% within the next 12 months.
- In January 2016, economists at the Royal Bank of Scotland warned that investors faced a “cataclysmic year” in which stock markets could fall by up to 20% and oil could drop to $16 a barrel. The advice was to “sell everything” except safe bonds.
- In May 2016, legendary investor Carl Icahn warned that “a day of reckoning” was coming for U.S. stock markets unless the federal government stimulated the economy with greater spending. He certainly was putting his money where his mouth was, as shortly before his prediction of a big crash, Icahn Enterprises had announced in SEC filings that it had a net short position of 149%.
- Also in May 2016, Savita Subramanian, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy, appeared on BloombergTV to warn of a “vortex of negative headlines” (doesn’t that sound scary?) coming in the following month that could push the S&P 500 down to 1,850 (a level back near its February lows). The factors she cited to support this prediction were the then-upcoming Brexit vote, the June decision from the Federal Reserve and the U.S. election.
- Again in May 2016, John Hussman of Hussman Funds wrote: “Prevailing market conditions continue to hold the expected stock market return/risk profile in the most negative classification we identify. That profile reflects not only extreme valuations on the most reliable measures we’ve tested across history, but market internals and other features of market action that remain unfavorable. …. In any event, looking beyond the near-term horizon, I doubt that any shift in market action will meaningfully reduce the likelihood of a 40-55% loss in the S&P 500 over the completion of the current market cycle.”
- In August 2016, UBS warned of an imminent crash in the S&P 500. The bank predicted there would be a major correction within the next two months.
As poor as the preceding forecasts turned out to be, this one is my personal favorite: Just six weeks into 2016, Goldman Sachs announced that (whoops!) it had abandoned five of its six recommended “top trade” calls for the year, having gotten them wrong.
One might ask: If they got those wrong, why ever would we think they’ll get it right this time? Of course, Goldman Sachs was just as confident of its new trade calls as it was when it made its old forecasts. Overconfidence is an all-too-human trait.
To be fair, there were surely some forecasts that turned out right. The problem is that you can’t know ahead of time which ones to pay attention to and which ones to ignore. What my experience has taught me is that investors tend to pay attention to the forecasts that agree with their preconceived ideas (again, that pesky confirmation bias) while ignoring forecasts that disagree. Being aware of our biases can help us overcome them.
Lesson 5: Even With A Clear Crystal Ball …
Imagine you had a crystal ball that allowed you to foresee the economic and political events of 2016, but not stock prices. Surely that would be of great value in terms of investment decisions—or would it have been?
Would you have been a buyer of stocks if you knew that the first few weeks of 2016 would produce the worst start to a year since the Great Depression? The S&P 500 Index closed 2015 at 2,043. By Jan. 20, it had fallen to 1,859, a drop of just more than 9%.
Would you have been a buyer of stocks knowing that Great Britain would vote to exit the European Union, creating great uncertainty for the global economy and financial markets? Within three days, the S&P 500 Index fell from 2,113 at the close on June 23 to 2,001 on June 27, a drop of more than 5%.
Would you have been a buyer of stocks if you knew that, once again, the economic growth rate would disappoint, with growth failing to reach even a tepid 2%? Most of the world’s developed economies were basically stagnating, bordering on recession.
Finally, would you have been a buyer of stocks knowing that Donald Trump would win the presidential election? Be honest now, especially if you happen to lean Democrat. Within moments of his victory becoming clear, the DJIA fell more than 800 points and S&P futures had sunk more than 5%.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that, in each instance, the market recovered, and relatively quickly. The lesson here is that, even with a clear crystal ball (which no one has), it’s very difficult to predict stock markets. Thus, you shouldn’t try. It’s a loser’s game.
Lesson 6: Last Year’s Winners Are Just As Likely To Be This Year’s Dogs
The historical evidence demonstrates that individual investors are performance-chasers—they watch yesterday’s winners, then buy them (after the great performance), and watch yesterday’s losers, then sell them (after the loss has already been incurred).
This causes investors to buy high and sell low, which is not exactly a recipe for investment success. This behavior explains the findings from studies showing that investors actually underperform the very mutual funds in which they invest.
Unfortunately, a good (poor) return in one year doesn’t predict a good (poor) return the next year. In fact, great returns lower future expected returns, and below-average returns raise future expected returns. Thus, the prudent strategy for investors is to act like a postage stamp. The lowly postage stamp does only one thing, but it does it exceedingly well: It adheres to its letter until it reaches its destination.
Similarly, investors should adhere to their investment plan (asset allocation). Sticking with one’s plan doesn’t mean just buying and holding. It actually means buying, holding and rebalancing (the process of restoring your portfolio’s asset allocation to your investment plan’s targeted levels).
Using passive asset class funds from Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA), the following table compares the returns of various asset classes in 2015 and 2016. (Full disclosure: My firm, Buckingham, recommends DFA funds in constructing client portfolios.) As you can see, sometimes the winners and losers of 2015 repeated their respective performances, but other times the winners became losers and the losers became winners. For example:
Lesson 7: “Sell in May and Go Away” Is the Financial Equivalent of Astrology
One of the more persistent investment myths is that the winning strategy is to sell stocks in May and wait to buy back into the market until November.
While it’s true that stocks have provided greater returns from November through April than they have from May through October, since 1926, an equity risk premium has still existed in those May-through-October months. From 1927 through 2015, the “Sell in May” strategy returned 8.3% per year, underperforming the S&P 500 by 1.7 percentage points per year. And that’s even before considering any transaction costs, let alone the impact of taxes (with the “Sell in May” strategy, you’d be converting what would otherwise be long-term capital gains into short-term capital gains, which are taxed at the same rate as ordinary income).
How did the “Sell in May and Go Away” strategy work in 2016? The S&P 500 Index’s total return for the period from May through October was 4.1%. Alternatively, during this same period safe, liquid investments would have produced virtually no return. In case you’re wondering, 2011 was the only year in the last eight when the “Sell in May” strategy would have worked.
A basic tenet of finance is that there’s a positive relationship between risk and expected return. To believe that stocks should produce lower returns than Treasury bills from May through October, you have to believe stocks are less risky during those months—a nonsensical argument. Unfortunately, as with many myths, this one seems hard to kill off. And you can bet that, next May, the financial media will be resurrecting it once again.
Lesson 8: Hedge Funds Are Not Investment Vehicles, They Are Compensation Schemes
This lesson has appeared about as regularly as our first lesson, which is that active management is a loser’s game. Hedge funds entered 2016 coming off their seventh-straight year of trailing U.S. stocks (as measured by the S&P 500 Index) by significant margins.
Unfortunately, the streak has continued into an eighth year, as the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index returned just 2.5% in 2016, and underperformed the S&P 500 Index by 9.5 percentage points. The table below shows the returns for various equity and fixed income indexes.
As you can see, the hedge fund index underperformed the S&P 500 and eight of the 10 major equity asset classes, but managed to outperform all three of the bond indexes. An all-equity portfolio allocated 50% internationally and 50% domestically, and equally weighted in the asset classes within those broad categories, would have returned 11.0%, outperforming the HFRX index by 8.5 percentage points. A 60% equity and 40% bond portfolio with the same weights for the equity allocation would have returned 6.9% using one-year Treasurys, 7.6% using five-year Treasurys and 7.1% using long-term Treasurys.
Thus, each of these three portfolios would have outperformed the hedge fund index. Given that hedge funds tout their freedom to move across asset classes as their big advantage, one would think that it would have shown up. The problem is that the efficiency of the market, as well as the costs of the effort, turns that supposed advantage into a handicap.
The evidence is even worse over the long term. For the 10-year period from 2007 through 2016, the HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index lost 0.6% per year, underperforming every single equity and bond asset class. As you can see in the following table, hedge fund underperformance ranged from 0.4 percentage points when compared to the MSCI EAFE Value Index, to as much as 8.8 ercentage points when compared to U.S small-cap stocks.
Perhaps even more shocking is that, over this period, the only year the hedge fund index outperformed the S&P 500 was in 2008. Even worse, when compared to a balanced portfolio allocated 60% to the S&P 500 Index and 40% to the Barclays Government/Credit Bond Index, it underperformed every single year.
For the 10-year period, an all-equity portfolio allocated 50% internationally and 50% domestically, again equally weighted in the asset classes within those broad categories, would have returned 4.1% per year. A 60% equity and 40% bond portfolio with the same weights for the equity allocation would have returned 3.0% per year using one-year Treasurys, 4.1% per year using five-year Treasurys and 5.1% per year using long-term Treasurys. All three dramatically outperformed the hedge fund index.
The bottom line is that the evidence suggests investors are best served by thinking of hedge funds as compensation schemes, not investment vehicles
Lesson 9: Don’t Let Your Political Views Influence Your Investment Decisions
One of my more important roles as director of research for Buckingham Strategic Wealth is preventing investors from committing what I refer to as “portfolio suicide”—panicked selling that arises from fear, whatever the source of that fear may be. After the election of President Donald Trump, it seemed like the vast majority of times I was called in to help investors stay disciplined and adhere to their financial plans involved anxiety generated by politics.
We often make investment mistakes because we are unaware that our decisions are being influenced by our beliefs and biases. The first step to eliminating, or at least minimizing, errors is to become aware of how our choices are impacted by our views, and how those views can influence outcomes.
The 2012 study “Political Climate, Optimism, and Investment Decisions” showed that people’s optimism toward both the financial markets and the economy is dynamically influenced by their political affiliation and the existing political climate. Among the authors’ findings were:
- Individuals become more optimistic and perceive the markets to be less risky and more undervalued when their own party is in power. This leads them to take on more risk, and they overweight riskier stocks. They also trade less frequently. That’s a good thing, because the evidence demonstrates that the more individuals trade, the worse that they tend to do.
- When the opposite party is in power, individuals’ perceived uncertainty levels increase and investors exhibit stronger behavioral biases, leading to poor investment decisions.
Now, imagine the nervous investor who sold equities based on his views about, or expectations for, a Trump presidency. While those who stayed disciplined have benefited from the rally following the election, investors who panicked and sold not only missed the bull market, but now face the incredibly difficult task of figuring out when it will be once again safe to invest.
I know of many investors with Republican/conservative leanings who were underinvested after President Obama was elected. And now it’s investors with Democratic/liberal leanings who have to face their fears. The December Spectrem Affluent Investor and Millionaire Confidence Index surveys provide evidence of how political biases can impact investment decisions.
Prior to the election, respondents who identified as Democrats showed higher confidence levels than respondents who identified as Republicans or Independents. This completely flipped after the election. Democrat investors registered a confidence reading of -10, while Republican and Independent investors showed confidence readings of +9 and +15, respectively.
What’s important to understand is that if you lose confidence in your plan and sell, there’s never a green flag that will tell you when it’s safe to get back in. Thus, the strategy most likely to allow you to achieve your financial goals is to have a plan that anticipates there will be problems, and to not take more risk than you have the ability, willingness and need to assume. Furthermore, don’t pay attention to the news if doing so will cause your political beliefs to influence your investment decisions.
In conclusion, this year will surely provide investors with more lessons, many of which will be remedial courses. And the market will provide you with opportunities to make investment mistakes. You can avoid them by knowing your financial history and having a well-thought-out plan.
This commentary originally appeared January 27 on ETF.com
Larry Swedroe is the Director of Research for Buckingham Strategic Wealth. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and is regularly published on ETF.com and Advisor Perspectives. He has made appearances on national television shows airing on NBC, CNBC, CNN and Bloomberg Personal Finance. Larry holds an MBA in finance and investment from New York University, and a bachelor’s degree in finance from Baruch College in New York.