Best Portfolio Does Not Mean Optimal Portfolio

The best portfolio is not necessarily the optimal portfolio.

As this thought-provoking article by Joachim Klement, CFA, highlights, “In theory, the optimal portfolio is the best portfolio, but in reality, the optimal is often far from the best for any given investor. Or to recall a quote variously attributed to Albert Einstein, Yogi Berra, and Richard Feynman, among others: “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.””

The article highlights the shortcomings of a portfolio optimisation approach. No surprises there!

Nevertheless, a key point made in the article is that many people in a Trustee or Fiduciary role see the portfolio optimisation process as a black-box exercise which is full of assumptions.

If true, this can be a challenge, particularly for those presenting the results and “the client never understands how these assumptions lead to the proposed allocation”.

I am sure this occurs to varying degrees and as a result there is a real risk that there is not a good understanding of the purpose of each investment allocation within the portfolio.

This often leads to the most pertinent point made in the article:

“But since clients do not grasp the purpose of each investment in the context of the overall portfolio, they are more likely to give up on the portfolio, or parts of it, in times of trouble. As a result, the best portfolio is not the optimal portfolio, but rather the one that the client can stick with through the market’s ups and downs. This means reframing the role of different asset classes or funds relative to the investor’s goals and sophistication rather than to volatility and return.”

 

Exactly. Reframing the role of the different asset classes can be achieved by taking the discussion away from the largely two-dimensional world of an optimal portfolio, market risk and return, and focusing instead on how the allocations will help meet a client’s investment goals over time.

Therefore, we can move beyond the Markowitz portfolio (the basis of Modern Portfolio and the “Optimal” Portfolio).  This is not to diminish the Markowitz optimal portfolio and the benefits of diversification, the closest thing to a free lunch in investing. Markowitz also placed a number on risk through the variance of returns.

Nevertheless, variance of return may not be an appropriate measure of risk. Other measures of volatility can be used, just as more sophisticated portfolio optimisation approaches can be implemented. Neither of which would address the key issues of the article as outlined above. In fact, they may compound the issues, particularly the black-box nature of the process.

Other measures of risk should be considered, the most important risk being failure to meet one’s investment objectives.

If your investment goal is to optimise risk and return the “optimal” portfolio is likely to be the “best” portfolio. Albeit, I am not sure this is the primary objective for most individuals and companies. For example, other investment objectives may include liquidity, income/cashflow generation, endowments. (I also don’t think the most optimal equities portfolio is the best portfolio, there are other risks to consider e.g. liquidity and concentration risk which would mean moving away from the optimal portfolio.)

There are personal and aspiration risks to take into consideration e.g. ability to weather large loses. There could be investment goals with different time periods – the optimal portfolio is generally for a single period, not multi-periods.

This is not to say don’t use an optimisation approach, it is a good starting point. Albeit, the portfolio allocation will likely need to be adjusted to take into consideration a wider set of investment objectives, risk tolerances, and behavioural factors. I would have thought this is standard practice.

 

Expanding the discussion with the client will help identify a more robust portfolio and increase the understanding of the role of each allocation within the Portfolio.

In effect, a more customising investment solution will be generated, rather than a mass-produced product.

As noted in the article, reframing the role of different asset classes within a portfolio relative to the investor’s goals and the sophistication of the client rather than to volatility and return will likely result in better outcomes for clients.

Such an approach is consistent with Liability Driven Investment (LDI), where the liabilities are matched with predictable cashflows and the excess capital is invested in a growth/return seeking portfolio, which would include the likes of equities.

Such an approach is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for individuals.

It is also more consistent with a behavioural bias approach.

 

As the paper concludes:

“In my experience, such behavioral approaches to portfolio construction work much better in practice than black box “optimal portfolios.”

“Consultants, portfolio managers, and wealth managers who take their fiduciary duty seriously should seriously consider ditching their “optimal portfolios” in favor of these theoretically less optimal but practically more robust solutions.”

“Because you are not acting in the client’s best interest if you build them a portfolio that they won’t stick with over the long term.”

 

The above would resonate with most investment professionals I know, yet strangely it does not appear to be “conventional” wisdom. Perhaps ditch is to stronger a word, too provocative.

It would be hard to argue with implementing a more practical and robust solutions aligned with a wider set of investment objectives is not in the best interest of clients, particularly if they are able to stay with the investment strategy over the longer term.

 

Referenced in the article is the work undertaken by Ashvin Chhabra, Beyond Markowitz. This work is well worth reading. Essentially he frames the investor’s risks as being:

  • Personal Risk – e.g. the risk of not losing too much that would impact on life style, this supports the safety first type portfolio
  • Market Risk – e.g. risk within the investment
  • Aspirational risk – e.g. taking risks to achieve a higher standard of living

 

This would is a great framework for a Wealth Management / Financial Planning process. Of note, market risk is only one component.

Lastly, the concept of a single Optimal Portfolio is far from the likely solution under this framework.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

The Regret Proof Portfolio

Based on analysis involving the input of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Memorial Prize-winning behavioural economist, a “regret-proof” investment solution would involve having two portfolios: a risky portfolio and a safer portfolio.

Insurance companies regularly implement a two-portfolio approach as part of their Liability Driven Investment (LDI) program: a liability matching portfolio and a return seeking portfolio.

It is also consistent with a Goal Based Investing approach for an individual: Goal-hedging portfolio and a performance seeking portfolio. #EDHEC

Although there is much more to it than outlined by the article below, I find it interesting the solution of two portfolios came from the angle of behavioural economics.

I also think it is an interesting concept given recent market volatility, but also for the longer-term.

 

Background Discussion

Kahneman, discussed the idea of a “regret-proof policy” at a recent Morningstar Investment Conference in Chicago.

“The idea that we had was to develop what we called a ‘regret-proof policy,’” Kahneman explained. “Even when things go badly, they are not going to rush to change their mind or change and to start over,”.

According to Kahneman, the optimal allocation for someone that is prone to regret and the optimal allocation for somebody that is not prone to regret are “really not the same.”

In developing a “regret-proof policy” or “regret minimization” Portfolio allows advisors to bring up “things that people may not be thinking of, including the possibility of regret, including the possibility of them wanting to change their mind, which is a bad idea generally.”

 

In developing a regret proof portfolio, they asked people to imagine various scenarios, generally bad scenarios, and asked at what point do you want to bail out or change your mind.

Kahneman, noted that most people — even the very wealthy people — are extremely loss averse.

“There is a limit to how much money they’re willing to put at risk,” Kahneman said. “You ask, ‘How much fortune are you willing to lose?’ Quite frequently you get something on the order of 10%.”

 

Investment Solution

The investment solution is for people to “have two portfolios — one is the risky portfolio and one is a much safer portfolio,” Kahneman explained. The two portfolios are managed separately, and people get results on each of the portfolios separately.

“That was a way that we thought we could help people be comfortable with the amount of risk that they are taking,” he said.

In effect this places a barrier between the money that the client wants to protect and the money the client is willing to take risk on.

Kahneman added that one of the portfolios will always be doing better than market — either the safer one or the risky one.

“[That] gives some people sense of accomplishment there,” he said. “But mainly it’s this idea of using risk to the level you’re comfortable. That turns out to not be a lot, even for very wealthy people.”

 

I would note a few important points:

  1. The allocation between the safe and return seeking portfolio should not be determined by risk profile and age alone. By way of example, the allocation should be based primarily on investment goals and the client’s other assets/source of income.
  2. The allocation over time between the two portfolios should not be changed based on a naïve glide path.
  3. There is an ability to tactically allocate between the two portfolios. This should be done to take advantage of market conditions and within a framework of increasing the probability of meeting a Client’s investment objectives / goals.
  4. The “safer portfolio” should look more like an annuity. This means it should be invested along the lines that it will likely meet an individual’s cashflow / income replacement objectives in retirement e.g. a portfolio of cash is not a safe portfolio in the context of delivering sufficient replacement income in retirement.

 

Robust investment solutions, particularly those designed as retirement solutions need to display Flexicurity.   They need to provide security in generating sufficient replacement income in retirement and yet offer flexibility in meeting other investment objectives e.g. bequests.  They also need to be cost effective.

The concepts and approaches outlined above need to be considered and implemented in any modern-day investment solution that assists clients in achieving their investment goals.

Such consideration will assist in reducing the risk of clients adjusting their investment strategies at inappropriate times because of regret and the increased fear that comes with market volatility.

Being more goal focussed, rather than return focused, will help in getting investors through the ups and downs of market cycles. A two-portfolio investment approach may well assist in this regard as well.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

2018 was a shocking Year

Well its official, 2018 was a shocking year in which to make money. Not for some time, 1972, has so many asset classes failed to deliver 5% or more in value.

In terms of absolute loses, e.g. Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns than 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, 2018 is historical.

 

Here is a run through the numbers:

International Equities were down around 7.4% in local currency terms in 2018:

  • The US was one of the “better” performing markets, yet despite reaching historical highs in January and then again in September, had its worst year since the GFC, December was is its worst December return outcome since the 1930s.
  • The US market entered 2018 on a record run, experiencing it longest period in history without incurring a 5% or more fall in value.  This was abruptly ended in February.
  • During the year the US market reached its longest period in history without incurring a Bear market, defined as a fall in value of more than 20%. Albeit, it has come very close to ending this record in recent months.
  • Elsewhere, many global equity markets are down over 20% from their 2018 peaks and almost all are down over 10%.
  • Markets across Europe and Japan fell by over 12% – 14% in 2018
  • The US outperformed the rest of the world given its better economic performance.
  • The New Zealand sharemarket outperformed, up 4.9%!

Commodities, as measured by the Bloomberg Index, fell over 2018. Oil had its first negative year since 2015, falling 20% in November from 4 year highs reached in October. Even Gold fell in value.

Hedge Fund indices delivered negative returns.

Global credit indices also delivered negative returns, as did High Yield

Emerging Market equities where negative, underperforming developed markets.

Global listed Property and Infrastructure indices also returned negative returns.

Fixed Interest was more mixed, Global Market Indices returned around 1.7%:

  • US fixed interest delivered negative returns for the year, as did US Inflation Protected fixed interest securities. US Longer-term securities underperformed shorter-term securities.
  • NZ fixed interest managed around +4.7% for the year.

The US dollar was stronger over 2018, this provided some relief for those investing outside of their home currency and maintained a low level of currency hedging.

The above analysis does not include the unlisted asset classes such as Private Equity, Unlisted Infrastructure, and Direct Property investments.

 

Two last points:

  • Balance Bear, under normal circumstances, fixed interest, particularly longer-term securities, would perform strongly when equity markets deliver such negative returns as experienced in 2018. This certainly occurred over the last quarter of 2018 when concerns over the outlook for global economic growth became a key driver of market performance. Nevertheless, over the year, fixed interest has failed to provide the usual diversification benefits to a Balanced Portfolio (60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income). Many Balanced Portfolios around the world delivered negative returns in 2018 and failed to beat Cash.
  • Volatility has increased. Research by Goldman Sachs highlights this. In 2018 the US S&P 500 Index experienced 110 days of 1%+ movements in value, this compares to only 10 days in 2017.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance useful again

Flexicurity is the concept that individuals need both security and flexibility when approaching retirement investment decisions.  See EDHEC-Risk Institute.

 

Annuities, although providing security, can be costly, they represent an irreversible investment decision, and often cannot contribute to inheritance and endowment objectives. Also, Annuities do not provide any upside potential.

Likewise, modern day investment products, from which there are many to choose from, provide flexibility yet not the security of replacement income in retirement.  Often these Products focus solely on managing capital risk at the expense of the objective of generating replacement income in retirement.  In short, as outlined by EDHEC-Risk, modern day Target Date Funds “provide flexibility but no security because of their lack of focus on generating minimum levels of replacement income in retirement.”

 

Therefore, a flexicure retirement solution is one that provides greater flexibility than an annuity and increased security in generating appropriate levels of replacement income in retirement than many modern day investment products do.

 

EDHEC offers a number enhancements to improve the outcomes of current investment products.

 

One such approach, and central to improving investment outcomes for the current generic Target Date Funds (TDF), is designing a more suitable investment solution in relation to the conservative allocation (e.g. cash and fixed income) within a TDF.  Such an enhancement would also eliminate the need for an annuity in the earlier years of retirement.

 

From this perspective, the conservative allocations within a TDF are risky when it comes to generating a secure and stable level of replacement income in retirement. These risks are not widely understood nor managed appropriately.

The conservative allocations with a TDF can be improved by being employed to better matching future cashflow and income requirements. While also focusing on reducing the risk of inflation eroding the purchasing power of future income.

This requires moving away from current market based shorter term investment portfolios and implementing a more customised investment solution.

The investment approach to do this is readily available now and is based on the concept of Liability Driven Investing applied by Insurance Companies.  Called Goal Based Investing for investment retirement solutions. #Goalbasedinvesting

The techniques and approaches are available and should be more readily used in developing a second generation of TDF (which can be accessed in some jurisdictions already).

This is relevant to improving the likely outcome for many in retirement. With this knowledge it would help make finance more useful again, in providing very real welfare benefits to society. #MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

 

For a better understanding of current crisis of global pension industry and introduction to Flexicure see this short EDHEC video and their very accessible research paper introducing_flexicure_gbi_retirement_solutions_1.

 

This is my last Post of the year.

Flexicure, is my word of the year! Hopefully, we will hear this being used further in relation to more Robust Investment Portfolios, particularly those promoted as Retirement Solutions.

As you know, my blog this year has had a heavy focus on retirement solutions and has drawn upon the analysis and framework of EDHEC-Risk Institute.

In addition, the thoughts of Professor Robert Merton have been important, particularly around placing a greater emphasis on replacement income in retirement as an investment objective and that volatility of replacement income is a better measure for investment risk for those investing for retirement.

I have also noted the limitation of Target Date Funds and how these can be improved e.g. with the introduction of Alternatives.

Nevertheless, the greatest enhancement would come from implementing a more targeted cashflow and income matching portfolio within the conservative allocations as discussed above.

 

Wishing you all the best for the festive season and a prosperous New Year.

 

 

Happy investing.

 

#MakeFinanceUsefulAgain

#flexicure

#goalbasedinvesting

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

 

 

Recent Market volatility and end of year market and economic forecasts

There are lots of economic and market forecasts at this time of the year. Many are easily accessed on the internet.

Does anyone care about these forecasts? Or do we place too much emphasis on these forecast? These topics are covered in a recent Institutional Investor article. Some good points are made.

 

The current market volatility is likely to be front of mind presently for many investors. Others may be seeing it as an opportunity.  What ever your view of 2019, a longer term perspective should always be maintained.

Either way, it has been a tough year to make money .

 

Most likely, your view of the current market volatility is closely tied to your forecast for 2019.

On this note, there are number of reasons to be “relaxed” about the current market volatility as outlined in the recent Think Advisor article.

 

Why should we be relaxed about the current bout of volatility? The most pertinent reasons from the article are as follows:

The US economy is still strong

US Economic growth accelerated in 2018 while the rest of world slowed. Global growth is expected to moderate in 2019 from the current pace in 2018.

Albeit, the US economy is still strong with unemployment at its lowest level since 1969, consumer and business confidence remains healthy, forward looking indicators are supportive of ongoing economic growth.

Although growth is slowing in Europe and China the environment remains supportive of ongoing economic expansion.

Global sharemarkets appear to have already adjusted for a more moderate level of global economic growth in 2019.

 

Stock Fundamentals are okay

Global corporate earnings are forecast grow over the next twelve months, supported by the economic backdrop outlined above.

As alluded to above, value has appeared in many global markets given recent declines.

 

Yield curve inversion

Markets are pre-occupied with the possibility of a US inverted yield curve. This appears overdone. Yield curve Inversion is when the yield (rate of interest) is lower on longer dated fixed interest securities compared to shorter dated securities. Under normal circumstance longer dated securities have a higher yield than shorter dated securities.

As highlighted previously  an inverted yield curve is a necessary but not sufficient pre-condition to recession. Not every yield curve inversion is followed by a recession .

There is also a considerable time lag between yield curve inversion and economic recession. A period of time in which sharemarkets have on average performed strongly.

Lastly, the traditional measure of yield curve inversion, 3 month yield vs 10 year yield, is not inverted!

 

Of the reasons provided in the article, the above are the most relevant and worthy of taking note of.

Nevertheless, global trade is a key source of the current market volatility and is likely to remain so for sometime.  Likewise it may take time for markets to gain comfort that global economic growth has stabilised at a lower rate of expansion. Therefore, continued market volatility is likely.

Alternatively, a pause in the US Federal Reserve raising short term interest rates would also likely provide a boost to global sharemarkets.

 

PIMCO, as recently reported, highlight that the risk of a recession in the US has climbed in 2019.

This prediction is made in the context that the US is nearing a decade long period of economic expansion, the longest period in its history without experiencing an economic recession (defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth).

PIMCO note “The probability of a U.S. recession over the next 12 months has risen to about 30 percent recently and is thus higher than at any point in this nine-year-old expansion, Even so, the models are flashing orange rather than red.”

“The last few months have given us a sense of the types of risks that are out there, that both the economy and markets are going to face in 2019,” ….. “At a minimum, like we have seen this year, expect ongoing volatility and that’s true across all segments of the financial markets.”

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

  

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

It has been a tough Year to make Money

2018 has been a tough year in which to make money.

2018 is “The worst time to make money in the markets since 1972” according to a recent Bloomberg article.

“Things have not been this bad since Richard Nixon’s presidency”.

Research undertake by Ned Davis Research, who places markets into eight big asset classes, everything from bonds (Fixed Interest) to US and international stocks and commodities, not one of them is “on track to post a return this year of more than 5%, a phenomenon last observed in 1972”….

As they note, in terms of absolute loses, think Global Financial Crisis (GFC 2007/08), investors have incurred far worst returns in 2018, nevertheless, as far as breadth of asset classes failing to deliver upside returns, “2018 is starting to look historic.”

Nothing has worked this year.  Year to date: global equities are down, as are emerging markets, hedge fund indices, global commodities (even oil), International Credit, Global High Yield, US Fixed Interest, US Inflation Protected Bonds, while Global Aggregate Fixed Interest have eked out a small gain.  Investments into unlisted assets have been more rewarding.

 

“That’s all but unique in history. Normally when something falls, something else gains. Amid the financial catastrophe of 2008, Treasuries rallied (increased in value). In 1974, commodities were a bright spot. In 2002, it was REITs. In 2018, there’s nowhere to run.”

 

Outcomes are a little better if you are a New Zealand (NZ) based investor, Cash is on track to return around 2%, 6 month Term Deposits 3.5%, NZ Fixed Interest is up around 4%, and the NZ Sharemarket is currently up 3%.  Still they are all short of 5%.  Meanwhile the recent strength in the NZ dollar has detracted from offshore returns.

 

It has been a tough year, global equities reached all-time highs in January, fell heavily in February and March, only to recover up to October, with the US Sharemarket reaching a new historical high.

Since October yearly gains have been erased due to a number of factors, some, but not all, of these factors are briefly outlined below.

 

In short, as highlighted by a recent Barron’s article markets appear to be panicking over everything.

Recent market drivers in brief:

  • Primarily concern for Sharemarkets has been a reduction in global economic growth expectations. Global investor sentiment toward the pace of global economic growth in 2019 has become more cautious over recent months. Global sharemarkets have adjusted accordingly. Albeit, the sharmarket adjustment does appear to be overdone relative to the likely moderating in global growth in 2019, which has also  largely been anticipated.
  • Global Trade concerns continue to negatively impact global markets e.g. Australia and commodities, primarily the ongoing negotiations between the US and China are a source of market volatility and uncertainty.
  • Brexit more recently. The UK are going to have to pay a price for leaving the EU, why? too stop other countries ever considering leaving the EU as a viable option. Unfortunately, while Brexit is an important issue and will be a source of volatility, the negative consequences will largely sit with the UK rather than the rest of the world.
  • There has been considerable oil price volatility, the price of oil fell by over 20% in November.
  • There has also been uncertainty as to likely pace of increases in the Federal Funds Rate by the US Federal Reserve (US Central Bank).

 

Inverted Yield Curve

Lastly, markets have also latched onto the inversion of the US Yield curve.

Inversion is when the yield (rate of interest) is lower on longer dated fixed interest securities compared to shorter dated securities. Under normal circumstance longer dated securities have a higher yield than shorter dated securities.

An “inverted” yield curve has been useful, though not perfect, in predicting economic recession and equity bear markets (when sharemarkets fall in value of over 20%),

 

On this occasion the market has focused on the three year security versus the five year security.

Normally, the market focuses on the three month versus the 10 year security as the best predictor of economic recession.  For a further discussion see Risk of Economic Recession and Inverted Yield Curve and US Recession warning. An inverted yield curve is a necessary but not sufficient condition in predicting a recession, and there is often a lag.

 

As the Barron article highlights: “Since 1965, the three-year yield has been higher than the five-year on seven different occasions. In 1973, the stock market had already sunk into a recession. In the other six instances, the median distance to a recession was 25 months—or more than two years. The S&P 500 went on to gain a median 20% over the 24 months following such an inversion. “Historically, not only have returns tended to be very strong, but the bear market has generally been years away,”

 

Happy investing.

 

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

An Alternative Future for Kiwisaver Funds

I have blog previously on the benefits of Alternative investments for a robust portfolio.

They would benefit Target Date Funds (Life Cycle Funds) and they have benefited Endowments and foundations for many years.

As the Funds Under Management (FUM) grows within Kiwisaver there will be an increasing allocation to Alternative investments. This will include the likes of unlisted assets (Private equity, direct property, and direct infrastructure), hedged funds, and liquid alternative strategies such as Alternative Risk Premia strategies.

 

A recent paper by Preqin, Preqin-Future-of-Alternatives-Report-October-2018, assesses the likely size, shape and make-up of the global alternative assets industry in 2023, the emphasis being on private capital and hedge funds.

Preqin are specialist global researchers of the Alternative investment universe and provide a reliable source of data and insights into alternative assets professionals around the world.

 

Needless to say, Alternatives are going to make up a large share of investment assets in the future.

Preqin’s estimates are staggering:

  • By 2023 Preqin estimate that global assets under management of the Alternatives industry will be $14tn (+59% vs. 2017);
  • There will be 34,000 fund management firms active globally (+21% vs. 2018).

 

This is an issue from the perspective of capacity and ability to deliver superior returns.  Therefore, manager selection will be critical.

 

Preqin outlined the drivers of future growth as the following:

  • Alternatives’ track record and enduring ability to deliver superior risk-adjusted returns to its investors, Investors need to access alternative sources of return, and risk, such as private capital.
  • They note the steady decline in the number of listed stocks, as private capital is increasingly able to fund businesses through more of their lifecycle;
  • A similar theme is playing out in the debt markets, there are increasing opportunities in private debt as traditional lenders have exited the market; and
  • The emerging markets are seen as a high growth area.

 

According to Preqin the following factors are also likely to drive growth:

  • Technology (especially blockchain) will facilitate private networks and help investors and fund managers transact and monitor their portfolios, and reduce costs vs public markets.
  • Control and ESG: investors increasingly want more control and influence over their investments, and the ability to add value; private capital provides this.
  • Emerging markets: the Chinese venture capital industry already matches that of the US in size; further emerging markets growth will be a ‘double whammy’ of GDP growth + higher penetration of alternative assets.
  • Private individuals: the ‘elephant in the room’, as the mass affluent around the world would like to increase their investment in private capital if only the structures and vehicles (and regulation) permitted; technology will help.

 

The Preqin report covers many other topics and interviews in relation to the Alternative sector.

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Challenging the conventional wisdom of active management

The attached paper, Challenging Conventional Wisdom of Active mgmt *, undertakes a review of the most recent academic literature on active equity management.  It concludes by challenging the conventional wisdom of active management.

 

The conventional wisdom of active management, which is based on research over 20 years old, runs along the lines of the following:

  1. The average fund underperforms after fees.
  2. The performance of the best funds does not persist.
  3. Some fund managers are skilled, but few have skill in excess of costs.

 

Nevertheless, a review of the current literature finds a substantial body of research that disagrees with the conventional wisdom of active management.

 

The authors of the paper conclude “taken as a whole, our review of current academic literature suggests that the conventional wisdom is too negative on the value of active management.

The literature that followed Carhart (1997), the basis of current conventional wisdom of active management, has documented that “active managers have a variety of skills and tend to make value-added decisions, such that, after accounting for all costs, many actively managed funds appear to generate positive value for investors.”

“While the debate between active and passive is not settled and many research challenges remain, we conclude that the current academic literature finds active management more promising for investors than the conventional wisdom claims.”

 

Quoting from the paper’s introduction:

  1. “Regarding average performance, Berk and van Binsbergen (2015) find the average active fund outperforms an equivalent index fund by 36 basis points per year, while Cremers, Petajisto, and Zitzewitz (2012) and Linnainmaa (2013) show that standard approaches to estimating average fund performance can be biased against finding that active management adds value.”
  2. “Considering performance persistence, Bollen and Busse (2005) and Kosowski, Timmermann, Wermers, and White (2006) both find some evidence of persistence among top-performing funds.
  3. “Several studies identify groups of funds that appear to have skill in excess of costs. For example, Cremers and Petajisto (2009) show that funds with ‘high active share,’ meaning funds with holdings that greatly differ from their benchmark, tend to outperform their benchmark. They also show that the performance of funds with low active share drives the results of previous studies indicating that the average actively managed fund underperforms. Similarly, Amihud and Goyenko (2013) show that funds with past performance that is not readily explained by common factors, such as the performance of large-cap stocks versus small-cap stocks, perform well in the future.”

 

“The research has also considered how the actions of active managers create value in different ways. Wermers (2000), among others, shows that many funds select stocks that outperform the market, while Kaplan and Sensoy (2005) and Jiang, Yao, and Yu (2007) show that some funds can correctly time the market. Other research finds that active managers create value through corporate oversight (Iliev and Lowry, 2015) and tax management (Sialm and Starks, 2012). The returns on these activities vary; Pastor, Stambaugh, and Taylor (2017) and von Reibnitz (2018) show that the amount of value creation depends on market conditions. “

 

It must be remembered that it over 20 years since the publication of Carhart’s landmark study on mutual funds.  Its conclusion—that the data did “not support the existence of skilled or informed mutual fund portfolio managers”—helped form the ‘conventional wisdom’ that active management does not create value for investors.

 

20 years on, this paper could well be a landmark paper and is well worth reading.

 

I don’t want to enter the passive vs active debate. I find it very dogmatic. From personal experience I can see a place for both passive and active management, including the use of Exchange Traded Funds and alternative investment strategies. There are active managers who can consistently add value, nevertheless they are rare.

I do think some people hold on to some pretty outdated views on active management and analysis based only on US Mutual Fund data may have its limitations.

 

Often it is hard to identify successful active managers. A recent paper from a very well respected British university concluded that Asset Consultants were not very good at identifying successful managers.  Nevertheless, their research results showed that active managers did outperform on average!!

 

With regards to fees, see my Post, Investment Fees and Investing like an Endowment – Part 2.

 

From my own investment management experience there are a couple of guiding principles I always reflect upon, which I think are relevant for the active vs passive debate:

  1. Beware of Hubris before the fall
  2. “It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong” quote attributed to John Maynard Keynes

 

Happy investing.

 

*The paper is: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Active Management: A Review of the Past 20 Years of Academic Literature on Actively Managed Mutual Funds, K.J. Martijn Cremers, Jon A. Fulkerson, and Timothy B. Riley, September 2018.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

Balanced Bear Market

A “Balanced Bear” is when both equities and bonds sell off together.

As a result, a Balanced Fund, 60% invested in the stockmarket (equities) and 40% invested in fixed income (bonds), has a larger than normally expected period of underperformance – a Balanced Fund Bear Market.

During these periods the diversification benefits of bonds relative to equities disappears.

As you will know, historically if the stock market is selling off sharply, money is moving into fixed income. This drives up the price of fixed income securities helping to partially offset the negative returns from the stock market.  A Balance Fund can come through these periods of equity market uncertainty relatively unscathed.

In a Balance Bear, equities are falling in value and fixed income is also falling in value given interest rates are rising (noting as interest rates rise the price, and therefore value, of a fixed income security falls).

This type of market environment was evident in early 2018 and was a prominent feature of the market volatility in early October 2018.

 

The thesis of the Balanced Bear has been promoted by Goldman Sachs and their equity analyst Christian Mueller-Glissmann raised the idea on CNBC in February of this year.

Goldman Sachs have written extensively on the Balance bear using historical US financial market data.

Importantly, a Balanced Fund is now into its longest period of outperformance, reflecting the very strong record run in US equities since 2009 and that interest rates, albeit they have risen from their June 2016 lows, are still at historical lows and have provided solid returns over the longer time frames.  The same can be said about New Zealand “Balanced Funds”.

 

The Anatomy of equity bear markets is well documented, not so for a Balanced Fund bear market.

In this regards Goldman Sachs (GS) has undertaken a wealth of analysis.

 

Requirements for a Balanced Bear – usually a Balance Bear requires a material economic growth or inflation shock.

In this regard, the largest Balance Fund declines over the last 100 years have been in or around US recessions (economic growth shock).

Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs also found that the Balance Fund can have long periods of low real returns (i.e. after inflation) without a recession e.g. mid 40s and late 70s. These periods are associated with accelerating inflation.

 

Naturally, equities dominate the risk within a Balanced Fund, therefore large equity market declines e.g. Black Monday 1987 are associated with periods of underperformance of Balanced Funds.

Not surprisingly, most of the largest Balanced Fund falls in value have been during US recessions, but not all e.g. 1994 Bond market bubble collapsing, stagflation of 1970 (low economic growth and high inflation), 1970’s oil shock.  It is worth noting that the 1987 sharemarket crash was not associated with a US recession.

 

Also of note, the stagflation periods of the 1970’’s and 80’s are periods in which there were large falls in both equities and bonds.

 

Bond market bears – are usually triggered by Central Banks, such as the US Federal Reserve, raising short term interest rates in response to strong growth and an overheating of the economy.  Bond market bears have been less common in modern history given the introduction of inflation targets anchoring inflation expectations.

 

Equity markets can absorb rising interest rates up to the point that higher interest rates are beginning to restrict economic activity. An unanticipated increase in interest rates is negative for sharemarkets and will lead to higher levels of volatility e.g. 1994 or recent tapper tantrum of May 2013.

 

As noted in previous blogs, most equity bear markets have been during recessions…but not all.

Goldman Sachs makes this point as well, noting the majority of 60/40 drawdowns of more than 10% have been due to equity bear markets, often around recessions. They note it is very seldom the case that equities deliver positive returns during a 60/40 drawdown (they estimate only in c.5% of cases).

With regards to recessions, Goldman Sachs note that there have been 22 recessions since 1900 and 22 S&P 500 bear markets. However, not every bear market automatically coincided with a recession in the last 100 years – out of the 22 since 1900, 15 were around a recession – 7 due to other factors.

 

Also, high equity valuations don’t signal a bear market. Nevertheless, they do signal below average returns over the medium to longer term. Albeit, sharemarket bear markets are not associated with low valuations!

 

Therefore, assessing the risk of a US recession is critical at this juncture.  As covered in a recent Post the “warning signs” of recession are not present currently based on a number of US Recession warning indicators.

 

Lastly, as also noted in a previous Post it is very difficult to predict bear markets and the costs of trying to time markets is very expensive.  The maintenance of a truly diversified portfolio and portfolio tilting will likely deliver superior return outcomes over the longer term.

A more robust and truly diversified portfolio reduces portfolio volatility increasing the likelihood of investors reaching their investment goals.

 

It is a good time to reflect on the diversification of your portfolio at this time in the market cycle. As Goldman Sachs note, both equities and bonds appear expensive relative to the last 100 years.

In a Balanced Bear scenario there are very few places to hide.

  

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

Future trends in ETFs are rather daunting. Are you prepared?

The recent survey by EDHEC-Risk Institute (EDHEC) of European professional investors into their practices, perceptions and future plans for investing into Exchange Trade Funds (ETF) is of interest and well worth reading.

The survey gathered information from 163 European investment professionals. Respondents to the survey were high-ranking professionals within their respective organisations, representing firms with large assets under management (36% of respondents represent firms with assets under management exceeding €10bn). Respondents to the survey are from the United Kingdom, European Union, Switzerland, and a small sample from other countries outside the European Union.

 

What is the dominant purpose of ETF usage?

The survey results clearly indicate that the current usage of ETFs is dominated by a truly passive investment approach. “Despite the possibilities that ETFs offer – due to their liquidity – for implementing tactical changes, they are mainly used for long-term exposure.”

Gaining broad market exposure remains the main focus of ETF users – 71% of respondents use ETFs to gain broad market exposure, versus 45% who use ETFs to obtain specific sub-segment exposure (sector, style).

“In line with this expression of conservatism in their use of ETFs, which is mainly focused on traditional passive management, it can also be noted that investors are largely satisfied by ETFs in traditional asset classes but more reserved about ETFs for alternative asset classes”

 

What are the future growth drivers?

The European ETF market has seen tremendous growth over the past decade or so. At the end of December 2017, the assets under management (AUM) within the 1,610 ETFs constituting the European industry stood at $762bn, compared with 273 ETFs amounting to $94bn at the end of December 2006 (ETFGI, 2017).

“A remarkable finding from our survey is that a high percentage of investors (50%) still plan to increase their use of ETFs in the future, despite the already high maturity of this market and high current adoption rates.”

Why? lowering investment cost is the primary driver behind investors’ future adoption of ETFs for 86% of respondents in 2018 (which is an increase from 70% in 2014).

Interestingly, EDHEC find investors are not only planning to increase their ETF allocation to replace active managers (70% of respondents in 2018), but are also seeking to replace other passive investing products through ETFs (45% of respondents in 2018).

 

How do investors select ETFs?

Cost and quality of replication. Both of which are more easy to identify from a quantitative perspective.

EDHEC argue” Given that the key decision criteria are more product-specific and are actually “hard” measurable criteria, while “soft” criteria that may be more provider-specific have less importance, competition for offering the best products can be expected to remain strong in the ETF market. This implies that it will be difficult to build barriers of entry for existing providers unless they are related to hurdles associated with an ability to offer products with low cost and high replication quality.”

 

A section I found more interesting:

What are the Key Objectives Driving the Use of Smart Beta and Factor Investing Strategies?

EDHEC find that “the quest for outperformance is the main driver of interest in smart beta and factor investing. In fact, 73% of respondents agree that smart beta and factor investing indices offers significant potential for outperformance”

The most important motivation behind adopting such strategies is to improve performance.

Interestingly they find that the actual implementation of such strategies is still at an early stage

EDHEC found that among those respondents who have made investments in smart beta and factor investing strategies, these investments typically made up only a small fraction of portfolio holdings.

“More than four-fifths of respondents (83%) invest less than 20% of their total investments in smart beta and factor investing strategies and only 11% of respondents invest more than 40% of their total investments in smart beta and factor investing strategies”

As they say, ”It is perhaps surprising that almost a decade after the influential report on Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (see Ang, Goetzmann and Schaefer, 2009), which emphasised the benefits of factor investing for investors, adoption of such an approach remains partial at best.

 

Not surprisingly, those that use factor strategies, the use of them is not related to factor timing and more to extracting the long term premia from the factors.

 

In relation to fixed interest, “17% of the whole sample of respondents already use smart beta and factor investing for fixed-income. Some 80% of this sub-sample of respondents invest less than 20% of their total investment in smart beta and factor investing for fixed-income.”

It appears that respondents show a significant interest for smart beta and factor investing for fixed-income. The interest appears to be there, but likelihood of implementation not so much.

Interestingly, from responses “it thus appears that investors are doubtful that research on factor investing in fixed-income is sufficiently mature at this stage. Given the strong interest in such strategies indicated by investors, furthering research in fixed-income factor investing is a promising venture for the industry.”

 

The survey looked into a number of other areas, for example do investors have the necessary information to evaluate smart beta and factor investing strategies? What requirements do investors have about smart beta and factor investing strategy factors?

 

Future Developments

What are investor expectations for further development of ETF products?

The following areas where identified as potential are of further ETF product development:

  • Ethical/Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) ETFs,
  • emerging market equity ETFs and emerging market bond ETFs,
  • ETF indices based on smart beta and on multi-factor indices, EDHEC note that more than two-fifths of the respondents want further developments in at least one of the categories related to smart beta equity or factor indices. “This shows that the development of ETFs based on advanced forms of equity indices is now by far the highest priority for respondents.”……… “We also note that additional demand for ETFs based on smart bond indices is not so far behind”…..

 

Fixed Income and Alternatives

The survey results indicate that respondents desire further development in the area of fixed income and alternative asset classes.

Also there is an increased interest in integration of ESG in smart beta and factor investing, and strategies in alternative asset classes.

“So, there is still a lack of products when it comes to asset classes other than equity, and this lack is particularly critical for the fixed-income asset class, which is largely used by investors.”… “It is likely that the development of new products corresponding to these demands may lead to an even wider adoption of smart beta and factor investing solutions.”

  

 

Happy investing.

 

Global Investment Ideas from New Zealand. Building more Robust Investment Portfolios.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement