Kiwi Wealth caught in an active storm

We need to change the conversation on investment management fees.

Kiwi Wealth recently released an insightful article on the case for having your money managed actively.

This article has, inevitably, being meet with a passionate defence of Index Management (also referred to as Passive Management). A debate that has been going on for some time, and we really need to move on!

Kiwi Wealth make the following comment in the introduction:

“The “active versus passive” debate has been a fixture in the investment industry for nearly 50 years. Passive investing is one of the cheapest ways to access equity markets globally, and has helped to drive down fees across the board. Passive investment managers and their suppliers have gone further than just offering low cost products however, and have portrayed actively-managed portfolios as a bad option for investors. We disagree, and believe, headlines supporting passive investing are largely driven by passive investment managers and index providers looking to frame the debate to their own advantage.”

 

I can’t disagree with that.

As the Kiwi Wealth paper touches on, there is a role for passive and active in constructing a robust portfolio.

The debate has moved on from black vs white, active vs passive, there are shades of grey in return outcomes (but maybe not 50 of them!).

The black and white debate is evident in this GoodReturns article, Passive Managers Reject Criticism. Also note the comments section as well.

 

I have written a number of Posts on Index management, highlighting their limitations, and risks, albeit I can see a role for them as part of a portfolio, as I can active management.

As with active management, it is important to understand and appreciate the limitations of what you are investing in.

I also hope we don’t follow Australia’s lead as an industry and focus too much on investment management fees. There is an appropriate level of fees, but it is not the lowest cost provider.

We need to change the conversation on investment management fees as recently highlighted by BlackRock, a large Index/Exchange Traded Fund (ETF) provider.

 

Index Funds do buy high and sell low, primarily because companies move in and out of indices.

Analysis by Research Affiliates highlights the trading costs of Index Funds (Passive Funds). Index Fund providers understand this and seek to minimise these costs.

As an aside, passive index funds are not passive, they are actively managed.

Albeit, there are huge trading costs around market index changes over time. These costs are incurred by the Index Funds, yet the costs are not evident given they are also included in market index returns. Index Funds incur these costs.

These costs are high, Research Affiliates estimates the difference in return between a company exiting and entering an Index to be 9.52%. The majority of this performance difference occurs on the day of index changes. It also only occurs on that proportion of the portfolio that is changing.

Stocks entering an Index tend to underperform over the next 12 months, while those leaving an Index tend to outperform over the following year.

For more, see this article on why low cost index investing is not necessarily low risk.

In another Post I highlighted that Index Funds have exposure to unrewarded risks and are often poorly diversified e.g. think when Telecom made up over 30% of the NZX and the US market is currently highly concentrated.

 

These articles are separate to the current issue of overvaluation in sectors of the US market, recently labelled, rather misleadingly, an Index Bubble, by Michael Burry, who was one of the first investors to call and profit from the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-08 that triggered the Global Financial Crisis.

 

Just on active management, there is a growing level of academic research challenging the conventional wisdom of active management and in support of active management, as I highlight in the Post Challenging the Convention Wisdom of Active Management.

The research Paper attached to this Post is the most downloaded paper from Kiwiinvestorblog.

 

Closely related, and what has busted open the active vs passive debate, leading to the shades of grey, is the disaggregation of investment returns – the isolation of drivers of investment returns.

As the Post highlights returns can be broadly attributed to three drivers: Market returns (beta), factors and hedge fund strategies beta, and alpha (returns after the betas, which can be purely attributed to manager skill).

The disaggregation of investment returns is prominently expressed by factor investing (e.g. value, momentum, low vol) and that investors can now access “hedge fund” type strategies for less than what some active equities managers charge. These are “active” returns.

The disaggregation of returns and technology will drive future ETF innovation, particularly within the Fixed Income space and alternative investments.

As you know, the isolation of the drivers of investment returns is also driving the fee debate, as the Kiwi Wealth paper infers, investors do not want to pay high fees for an “active” return outcome that can be sourced more cheaply.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

A short history of Portfolio Diversification

Advancements in technology and new knowledge have made it easier to diversify portfolios and manage investment management fees. Greater clarity over sources of returns have placed downward pressure on active manager’s fees.  True sources of portfolio diversification can command a higher fee and are worth considering.

Is your portfolio managed as if it is the 1980s? the 1990s? Does it include any of the key learnings from the Tech Bubble crash of 2000 and the market meltdown of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC or Great Recession)?

Finally, is your portfolio positioned for future trends in portfolio management?

 

Below I provide a shot history of the evolution of portfolio diversification. The evolution of portfolio diversification is interesting and can be referenced to determine how advanced your portfolio is.

 

The framework, idea, and some of the material comes from a very well written article by Aberdeen Standard Investments (ASI).

Unless stated otherwise, the opinions and comments below are mine.

 

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Nobel Laureate and pioneer of investment theory Harry Markowitz’s 1952 paper “Portfolio Selection” provided the foundations for Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT).

Markowitz’s analysis provided the mathematical underpinnings for portfolio optimisation.

The key contribution of Markowitz was the quantification of portfolio “risk”. Portfolio Risk was measured by the variation in investment returns – standard deviation of returns.

Markowitz’s paper led to the concept of an “optimal portfolio”, a framework in which both risk and returns are considered. Optimal portfolios offer the maximum expected return for a defined level of risk.

The benefits of diversification were clear to see. Diversification reduces risk without sacrificing returns.

As the ASI article noted: Markowitz called diversification “the only free lunch in finance”.

MPT led to the establishment of the 60:40 portfolio, a portfolio of 60% equities and 40% fixed income.

Increased Diversification of the 60:40 Portfolio

The 60:40 portfolio dominated for a long period time. This portfolio was also largely domestically orientated i.e. the concept of investing internationally was not widely practiced in the 1960 – 70s, even early 1980s.

The next phase in portfolio diversification largely focused on increasing the level of diversification within the equity and fixed income components of 60:40 Portfolio.

As outlined in the ASI paper, four trends combined to drive a broadening of investments in 1980s and 90s:

  • deregulation of financial markets
  • rapid growth in emerging markets
  • financial innovation
  • academic ‘discoveries’.

Deregulation played a major role, particularly the ending of fixed currency exchange rates and the relaxing of capital controls. This enabled an increased level of investing internationally.

This also coincided with the discovery of the “emerging markets”, leading to an increased allocation to emerging market equities and fixed income securities.

Financial innovation resulted in the development of several new financial instruments, including mortgage-backed securities, high-yield bonds (formally called Junk Bonds), and leverage loans.

The use of derivatives also grew rapidly following the establishment of Option Pricing Theory.

Other academic discoveries led to style investing, such as value and growth, and the rise of investing into smaller companies to add value and increase diversification.  Style investing has been superseded by factor investing, which is discussed further below.

ASI conclude, that at the end 1990’s portfolio diversification could be characterised as including:

  • domestic and international equities
  • value and growth stocks
  • large-cap and small-cap stocks
  • developed and emerging markets
  • government, mortgage and corporate fixed income securities.

 

Fundamentally, this is still a portfolio of equities and bonds. Nevertheless, compared to the domestic two-asset class 60:40 Portfolio of the 1960 – 70s it offered more diversification and weathered the severe market declines of tech bubble burst in 2000 and GFC better.

Pioneering Portfolio Management – the Yale Endowment Model

The 2000’s witnessed the emergence of the “Endowment Model”. This followed a period of strong performance and evidence of their diversification benefits during the tech bubble burst of 1999-2000.

The Endowment model has been characterised as being based on four core principles: equity bias, diversification, use of less-liquid or complex assets, and value-based investing.

Endowments allocate the largest percentages of their portfolios to alternative asset classes like hedge funds, private equity, venture capital, and real assets e.g. property.

The endowment model was pioneered by David Swensen at Yale University. Yale’s alternative assets fell into three categories: absolute return (or hedge funds); real assets (or property and natural resources); and private equity.

For more on diversification approach adopted by Endowments and Sovereign Wealth Funds please see my previous Post Investment Fees and Investing like and Endowment – Part 2.

Learnings from Norway

The extreme severity the GFC tested all portfolios, including the Endowment Model.

The dislocation in markets muted the benefits of diversification from alternative investments and left many questioning the actual level of diversification within their portfolio.

In 2009 this disappointment prompted the Norwegian Government Pension fund to commission a study to investigate their returns during the GFC.

The study was undertaken by three prominent professors, Andrew Ang (Columbia Business School), William Goetzmann (Yale University) and Stephen Schaefer (London Business School). The paper is well worth reading.

This study went on to influence portfolio diversification considerations and captures some major learnings from the GFC. The study brought factor investing into greater prominence.

Factors are the underlying drivers of investment returns.  The Nordic study recommended that factor related returns should take centre stage in an investment process.

As a result, the Norwegians rethought about how they structured their portfolios. Other countries have followed, incorporating factor investing into their asset allocations.

Please see my previous Post on Factor Investing and this interview with Andrew Ang, one of the authors of Nordic study, for further details.

Innovation and pressure on Investment Management Fees

The period since the GFC has yielded an increasing level of innovation. This innovation has been driven in part by factor investing, technology advancements, pressure on reducing investment management fees, and increased demand to access more liquid alternative investment strategies to further diversify portfolios.

The disaggregation of investment turns has provided a new lens in which to view portfolio diversification. With technology advancements and the rise of factor investing returns from within markets have been isolated. Broadly speaking, investment returns can be attributed to: market exposures (beta e.g. sharemarkets); underlying factors (e.g. value and momentum); hedge fund strategy returns (e.g. relative value and merger arbitrage); and returns purely attributable to manager skill (called alpha, what is left if the previous sources cannot explain all the return outcome). For a fuller discussion please see my earlier Post on Disaggregation of Investment Returns.

These trends have resulted in the proliferation of ETFs and the downward pressure on investment management fees. The active manager has been squeezed, with investors only wanting to pay fees relative to the source of return i.e. very very low fees for beta and higher fees for alpha.

These developments have also resulted in the rise of liquid alternatives. Returns once attributed to hedge funds can now be more easily accessed, from a cost and liquid perspective.

Increasingly these strategies are available in an Exchange Trade Fund (ETF) structure.

True Portfolio Diversification

Consequently, there is a now a greater ability to significantly diversify the portfolios of the 1980s and 1990s and take on the learnings from GFC and 2000 Tech bubble.

Increasingly Institutional investors accept that portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes. This has diminishing diversification benefits e.g. adding global listed property or listed liquid infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that includes global equities.   True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth. Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks.

True diversification involves taking the learnings from the endowment model and the Norwegian Government Pension Fund study.

As a result, the inclusion of alternative investments is common place in many institutionally managed portfolios. For further discussion, see my previous Post on adding alternatives to a portfolio, it is an Evolution not a Revolution.  This Post highlights that more asset classes does not equal more diversification may also be of interest.

Goal Based Investing and the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio

Advancements in technology have helped investors understand the different dimensions of risk better and move away from the sole risk measure of MPT (standard deviation of returns).

Likewise, there has been a growing appreciation that failure to meet your investment objectives is the greatest investment risk.

More advanced portfolio construction approaches such as Liability Driven Investing (LDI) have been embraced.

Goal-Based Investing for the individual is based on the concepts of LDI.

The move toward Goal-Based Investing completely upturns portfolio construction, likely resulting in the extinction of the 60:40 Portfolio.

This paradigm shift within the industry is best captured by analysis undertaken by EDHEC Risk Institute.  I covered the most relevant EDHEC article in more depth recently for those wanting more information. This Post outlines future trends in Wealth Management.

Future Direction of Diversification

The ASI article finishes by discussing several trends they believe are reshaping portfolio construction. Some of these trends have been discussed on Kiwiinvestorblog.

I would like to highlight the following trends identified by ASI:

  1. Investors continue to shift from traditional to alternative assets, see the recent Prequin Post.
  2. Investors are increasingly integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) analysis into their decision-making process.
  3. Opportunities to invest in emerging markets are increasing.
  4. Individuals have to take more responsibility for their financial futures. This is known as the Financial Climate Change.

 

As ASI conclude “If done well, diversification can lead to improved long-term returns delivered in a smoother fashion.”

I would also add, and it is worth reflecting upon, although the benefits of diversification are without question, Modern Portfolio Theory of the 1950s can hardly be considered modern.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

Kiwi Investor Blog achieves 100 not out

Kiwi Investor Blog achieves 100 Posts.

Thank you to those who have provided support, encouragement and feedback. It has been greatly appreciated.

 

Before I briefly outline some of the key topics covered to date by Kiwiinvestorblog.com, the “intellectual framework” for the Blog has largely come from EDHEC Risk Institute in relation to Goals-Based investing and how to improve the outcomes of Target Date Funds in providing a more robust investment solution.

Likewise, Noble Laureate Professor Robert Merton’s perspective on designing an appropriate retirement system has been influential. Regulators and retirement solution providers should take note of his and EDHEC’s work.

Combined, EDHEC and Professor Merton, are helping to make finance useful again.

Their analysis into more robust retirement solutions have the potential to deliver real welfare benefits for the many people that face a challenging retirement environment.

A Goals-Based approach also helps the super wealthy and the High Net worth in achieving their investment and hopefully philanthropic goals, resulting in the efficient allocation of capital.

The investment knowledge is available now to achieve this.

 

To summaries, the key topics of Kiwi investor blog:

 

  • Likewise, much ink has been spilt over Target Date Funds. I believe these are the vehicle to achieving the mass production of the customised investment solution. Furthermore, they are likely to be the solution to the KiwiSaver Default option. The current generation have many shortcomings and would benefit by the implementation of more advanced investment approaches such as Liability Driven Investing. This analysis highlights that Target Date Funds that are 100% invested in cash at time of retirement are scandalous.

 

 

  • The first kiwiinvestorblog Post was an article by EDHEC Risk Institute outlining the paradigm shift developing within the wealth management industry, including the death of the Policy Portfolio, the move toward Goals-Based Investing and the mass production of customised investment solutions. These themes have been developed upon within the Blog over the last 22 months.

I covered the EDHEC article in more depth recently.

 

 

  • The mass production of customised investment solutions has been a recurrent topic. Mass customisation enabled by technology will be the Uber Moment for the wealth management industry. Therefore, the development of BlackRock and Microsoft collaborating will be worth following.

 

 

 

  • Several Posts have been on Responsible Investing. I am in the process of writing a series of articles on Responsible Investing. The next will be on Impact Investing. The key concern, as a researcher, is identifying those managers that don’t Greenwash their investment approach and as a practitioner seeing consistency in terminology.  The evidence for Responsible Investing is compelling and there is a wide spectrum of approaches.

 

 

  • There has been a focus on the issues faced by those near or in Retirement, such as the Retirement Planning Death Zone. These discussions have led to conclusion that Warren Buffet could be wrong in recommending high allocations to a low cost index funds. Investment returns are greatly impacted by cashflows into and out of the retirement fund.

 

  • I don’t tend to Post around current market conditions; market views and analysis are readily available. I will cover a major market development, more to provide some historical context, for example the anatomy of sharemarket corrections, the interplay between economic recession and sharemarket returns, and lastly, I first covered the topic of inverted yield curves in 2018.  I provided an update more recently, Recessions, inverted yield curves, and Sharemarket returns.

 

My word for 2019 is Flexicure, as outlined in my last Post of 2018, Flexicurity in Retirement Income Solutions – making finance great again – which brings together many of the key topics outlined above.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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