The balancing act of the least liked investment activity

A recent Research Affiliates article on rebalancing noted: “Regularly rebalancing a portfolio to its target asset mix is necessary to maintain desired risk exposure over the portfolio’s lifetime. But getting investors to do it is another matter entirely—many would rather sit in rush-hour traffic! “

“A systematic rebalancing approach can be effective in keeping investors on the road of timely rebalancing, headed toward their destination of achieving their financial goals and improving long-term risk-adjusted returns.”

Research Affiliates are referencing a Wells Fargo/ Gallup Survey, based on this survey “31% of investors would opt to spend an hour stuck in traffic rather than spend that time rebalancing their portfolios. Why would we subject ourselves to gridlock instead of performing a simple task such as rebalancing a portfolio?

 

I can’t understand why rebalancing of an investment portfolio is one of least liked investment activity, it adds value to a portfolio overtime, is a simple risk management exercise, and is easy to implement.

It is important to regularly rebalance a Portfolio so that it continues to be invested as intended to be.

 

A recent article in Plansponsor highlighted the importance of rebalancing. This article also noted the reluctance of investors to rebalance their portfolio.

As the article noted, once an appropriate asset allocation (investment strategy) has been determined, based on achieving certain investment goals, the portfolio needs to be regularly rebalanced to remain aligned with these goals.

By not rebalancing, risks within the Portfolio will develop that may not be consistent with achieving desired investment goals. As expressed in the article “Participants need to make sure the risk they want to take is actually the risk they are taking,” …………..“Certain asset classes can become over- or under-weight over time.”

Based on research undertaken by BCA Research and presented in the article “Rebalancing is definitely recommended for all investors, perhaps more so for retirement plan participants than others, as they are more likely to be concerned with capital preservation than capital appreciation.”

The following observation is also made “While a portfolio that is not rebalanced will have a greater allocation to equities during a bull market and, therefore, outperform a rebalanced portfolio, all rebalanced portfolios outperformed an unbalanced portfolio during periods leading up to market corrections and recessions,” Hanafy says, citing a BCA Research study which looked at three main rebalancing scenarios of a simple 60/40 portfolio since 1973.

The potential risks outlined above is very relevant for New Zealand and USA investors currently given the great run in the respective sharemarkets over the last 10 years.

When was last time your investment fiduciary rebalanced your investment portfolio?

 

Rebalancing becomes more important as you get closer to retirement and once in retirement:

“There are two main components to retirement plans: returns and the risk you take,” …… “When you do not rebalance your portfolio, a participant could inadvertently take on too much risk, which would expose them to a market correction. This is important because, statistically, as participants reach age 40 to 45, how much risk they take on is far more important than how much they save. When you are young, the most important thing is how much you save.”

Rebalancing Policy

As the article notes, you can systematically set up a Portfolio rebalancing approach based on time e.g. rebalance the portfolio every Quarter, six-months or yearly intervals.

It is not difficult!

Alternatively, investment ranges could be set up which trigger a rebalancing of the portfolio e.g. +/- 3% of a target portfolio allocation.

Higher level issues to consider when developing a rebalancing policy include:

  • Cost, the more regularly the portfolio is rebalanced the higher the cost on the portfolio and the drag on performance. This especially needs to be considered where less liquid markets are involved;
  • Tax may also be a consideration;
  • The volatility of the asset involved;
  • Rebalancing Policy allows for market momentum. This is about letting the winners run and not buying into falling markets too soon. To be clear this is not about market timing. For example, it could include a mechanism such as not rebalancing all the way back to target when trimming market exposures.

 

My preference is to use rebalancing ranges and develop an approach that takes into consideration the above higher level issues. As with many activities in investing, trade-offs will need to be made, this requires judgement.

 

As noted above, it appears that rebalancing is an un-liked investment activity, if not an over looked and underappreciated investment activity. This seems crazy to me as there is plenty of evidence that a rebalancing policy can add value to a naïve monitoring and “wait and see” approach.

I think the key point is to have a documented Rebalancing Policy and be disciplined in implementing the Policy.

 

This also means that those implementing the Rebalancing Policy have the correct systems in place to efficiently carry out the Portfolio rebalancing so as to minimise transaction costs involved.

Be sure, that those responsible for your investment portfolio can efficiently and easily rebalance your portfolio. Importantly, make sure the rebalancing process is not a big expense on your portfolio e.g. trading commissions and the crossing of market spreads (e.g. difference between buy and sell price), and how close to the “market price” are the trades being undertaken?

These are all hidden costs to the unsuspecting.

 

A couple of last points:

  • It was noted in the recent Kiwi Investor Blog on Behaviour Finance that rebalancing of the portfolio was an import tool in the kit in helping to reduce the negative impact on our decision making from behavioural bias. It is difficult to implement a rebalancing policy when markets are behaving badly, discipline is required.
  • The automatic rebalancing nature of Target Date Funds is an attractive feature of these investment solutions.

 

To conclude, as Research Affiliates sums up:

  1. Systemic rebalancing raises the likelihood of improving longer-term risk-adjusted investment returns
  2. The benefits of rebalancing result from opportunistically capitalising on human behavioural tendencies and long-horizon mean reversion in asset class prices.
  3. Investors who “institutionalise contrarian investment behaviour” by relying on a systematic rebalancing approach increase their odds of reaping the rewards of rebalancing.

 

It is not hard to do.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Technology focus that will transform the Wealth Management Industry – Robo Advice alone won’t be enough

The Professional Wealth Magazine (PWM) argues that Private Banks must take “goaled-based tech to heart”.

In their recent article they see technology assisting Wealth Managers in the following areas:

  1. Customer facing;
  2. Client relationship management; and
  3. Goals-Based wealth management Investment Solutions.

The first two are well known, the third, as PWM note, is flying under the radar. Combined they are the future of a successful wealth management business.

Quite obviously Robo Advice models use technology. Nevertheless, Goals-Based wealth management provides the opportunity for greater customisation and a more robust investment solution that better meets the needs of the customer.

Therefore, technology will play a major role in delivering more customised Investment Solutions to a wider range of people.

 

Technology is going to play a major role in the industry’s transformation.

As has been argued: “In order to be part of the fourth industrial revolution, the people-centric industry of wealth management must transform the production, customisation and distribution of retirement solutions, …..”

(See my first Kiwi Investor Blog Post, Advancements in Portfolio Management, for an article written by Lionel Martellini, of EDHEC Risk Institute, that appeared in the Journal of Investment Management in 2016: Mass Customization versus Mass Production – How an Industrial Revolution is about to take place in money management and why it involves a shift from investment products to investment solutions.)

 

The PWM article covered a recent symposium held in Paris focusing on fintech, quantitative management and big data, the technologically-led trends transforming the global industry.

The participants at the symposium gathered to consider: what should be the role of technology in client acquisition and servicing, data analysis, and portfolio management?

With regards to technology in general PWM note, “Private banks need to put technological solutions at the heart of their operations if they are to meet the demands raised by clients and relationship managers, though there will always be a need for human interaction”

However, having acknowledged that technology is critical for a successful Wealth Management business of the future, it appears to be a difficult issue to address. PWM “calculate that of the 150 global private banks we monitor closely for technological, business, customer-facing and portfolio management trends, less than one third have implemented a serious technological solution to the challenges encountered by their clients and relationship managers.”

“Many have only devised client-interfaces such as online forms, apps and screens allowing choices of services. But a handful have gone much further…….”

 

Under the radar

PWM noted that “…there is probably one technology-led sphere which is totally under-appreciated by the industry, which was highlighted at the summit. This is that of goals-driven wealth management (GDWM), ….”

 

Goals-Based investing is an improvement on the generic industry approach. Rather than viewing your investments as one single diversified portfolio, where the allocations are primarily based on your risk tolerance and the concept of risk is measured by volatility or standard deviation of returns, Goals-Based investing creates distinct milestones (goals) that are closely aligned with the priorities in your life.

Goals-Based investing closely matches your investment assets with your unique goals and objectives (customisation). It is the Wealth Management counterpart to Liability Driven Investing (LDI), which is implemented by pensions and insurance companies where their investment problems are reflected in the terms of their future liabilities (expected future insurance claims), much like a Wealth Management client’s future priorities (goals). LDI is also implemented by Pension Funds, particularly those with Defined Benefits, which are known future liabilities/cashflows.

Goals-Based Investing offers a more robust investment solution, provides a closer alignment of retirement goals and investment assets. It will also help investors avoid some common behavioural biases, such as regret and hindsight bias.

The benefits of Goals-Based Investing are a:

  1. More stable level of income in retirement;
  2. More efficient use of capital – potentially need less retirement savings;
  3. Better framework to make trade-off between allocations to equities and fixed income; and
  4. Improved likelihood of reaching desired standard of living in retirement.

In summary, a Goals-Based investment strategy increases the likelihood of reaching a customer’s retirement income objectives. It can also achieve this with a more efficient allocation of capital. This additional capital could be used for current consumption or invested in growth assets to potentially fund a higher standard of living in retirement, or used for other investment goals e.g. endowments and legacies.

 

As the PWM article points out, technology is allowing “wealth managers to use institutional tools, helping clients to prepare for key life events….. Length of investment terms, risk tolerances, prices, taxes, depreciation levels can all be plugged into a model by relationship managers. Optimal asset allocations can then be arrived at and modified to plan for specific goals.“

“While few private banks currently approach this topic seriously, it surely must become the wealth management paradigm for the future. It will still require human wealth managers to advise clients and shepherd them through the process, but it will put an algorithmic system at the centre of the asset allocation decision. There is no substitute for this and it will most likely steal the very soul of wealth management.”

The Bold is mine, LDI is an institutional tool implemented to meet specific goals.

 

This is beyond a straight forward Robo Advice model and the filling out of a generic risk profile questionnaire. Technology is being applied to determine more customised investment solutions, taking into consideration a greater array of personal information and then implementing an investment solution using more advanced portfolio techniques, such as LDI.

 

The article covers other technology related issues in relation to wealth management, such as increasing competition from the likes of Google, Facebook, Alibabas and Tencents.

Importantly, PWM see room for a human element in all of this.

 

PWM conclude we are at the beginning of the industry’s “revolution”, technology will play a part in the success of the modern wealth manager and in capturing the next generation of investors:

“The battle for the hearts and minds of the next generation and for the soul of wealth management has yet to be fought and won. But the opening salvos have been fired.”

“Private banks have interesting weapons in their armouries. Some still need to be modernised for effectiveness. But at the moment, those that appear to be vital for future success appear to be GDWM (goals-driven wealth management) tools, networking apps and screens for impact and ethics.

“The private bank of the future will manage, introduce and evaluate, as well as working closely with the next generation. These disciplines require a raft of technological systems and an army of relationship managers, not just to operate them, but to take the output which they deliver and use this to help build a long-term relationship with families of the future.”

Again bold is mine.

 

The future, according to PWM, is a raft of technology solutions with Goals-Based investing as the underlying investment solution.

The appropriate use of technology and the mass production of customised investment solutions will be the Uber moment for the Wealth Management industry. The technology and investment knowledge is available now.

The customisation of investment solutions involves a Goals-Based investment approach, based on the principles of LDI.

A winning outcome will be the combination of smart technology and the mass production of customised investment solutions that more directly meet the needs of the customer in achieving their retirement goals.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

 

Improve investment decisions – Behavioural Finance

Behavioural finance is the branch of behavioural economics that focuses on finance and investment. It encompasses elements of psychology, economics, and sociology.

Behavioural finance has gained increased prominence since Daniel Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 2002. (Kahneman was recently involved in analysis of the regret-proof Portfolio.)

Kahneman is best known for identifying a range of cognitive biases in his work with the late Amos Tversky. These biases, and heuristic (which are mental shortcuts we take to solve problems and make judgments quickly), are consistent deviations away from rational behaviour (as assumed by classical economics).

Richard Thaler, also awarded a Nobel Prize, has made a large contribution to Behavioural Economics, his work has had a lasting and positive impact within Wealth Management.

There is a continued drive to better understand how our behaviour affects the decisions we make.

From an investing perspective, failing to understand our behaviour can come with a cost.  By way of example, the cost could be the difference between the returns on an underlying investment and the returns received by the investor.

 

In short, we have behavioural biases and are prone to making poor decisions, investment related or otherwise. Therefore, it is important to understand our behavioural biases. Behavioural Finance can help us make better investment decisions.

There are lots of good sources on Behavioural Finance, none other than from Joe Wiggins, whose blog, Behavioural Investment, provides clear and practical access to the concepts of Behavioural Finance.

 

By way of example, Joe has recently published “A Behavioural Finance Toolkit”. This is well worth reading (Behavioural Finance Toolkit).

The Toolkit helps us understand what Behavioural Finance is and then identifies the major impediments to making effective investment decisions.

These impediments are captured in the “MIRRORS” checklist outlined below:

As the Toolkit outlines: “An understanding of our own behaviour should be at the forefront of every decision we make. We exhibit a number of biases in our decision making. While we cannot remove these biases, we can seek to better understand them. We can build more systematic processes that prevent these biases adversely influencing the decisions we make.

Investors should focus on those biases that are most likely to impact their investment decisions – and those supported by robust evidence. We have developed a checklist to reduce errors from the key behaviours that affect our investment decisions – ‘MIRRORS’.”

 

M Myopic Loss Aversion We are more sensitive to losses than gains, and overly influenced by short-term considerations.
I Integration We seek to conform to group behaviour and prevailing norms.
R Recency We overweight the importance of recent events.
R Risk Perception We are poor at assessing risks and gauging probabilities.
O Overconfidence We over-estimate our own abilities.
R Results We focus on outcomes – the results of our decisions – when assessing their quality.
S Stories We are often persuaded by captivating stories.

The Toolkit provides detail on each of these impediments.

 

Risk Perception is the big one for me, particularly the ability to gauge probabilities and to effectively probability weight risks.

This is vitally important for investors and for those that sit on Investment committees.

Identifying risks is relatively easy, we tend to focus on what could go wrong.

As this The Motley Fool article highlights, being pessimistic appears to sound smart, and being optimistic as naïve. As quoted in the article: John Steward Mill wrote 150 years ago “I have observed that not the man who hopes when others despair, but the man who despairs when others hope, is admired by a large class of persons as a sage.”

 

Albeit, in truth, assigning a probability to a risk, the likelihood of an event occurring, but also its impact, is a lot more difficult than merely stating a “potential” risk.

Remember, “more things can happen than will happen” – attributed to Elroy Dimson who also said “So you manage risks by comparing them to potential returns, and through diversification. Remember, just because more things can happen than will happen doesn’t mean bad things will happen.”

 

The Toolkit highlights that Noise affects our decision making.

“Our decisions are affected by noise; random fluctuations in irrelevant factors. This leads to inconsistent judgement. Investors can reduce the effects of noise and bias through the consistent application of simple rules.”

 As quoted “Where there is judgement, there is noise, and usually more of it than you think” – Kahneman

 

Accordingly, the Toolkit offers six simple steps to improve our decision making; three dos and three don’ts.

  • Do have a long-term investment plan.
  • Do automate your saving.
  • Do rebalance your portfolio.
  • Don’t check your portfolio too frequently.
  • Don’t make emotional decisions.
  • Don’t trade! Make doing nothing the default.

The central point: “These six steps seem simple but are not easy. We cannot remove our biases, or ignore the noise. Instead, we must build an investment process that helps us overcome them.”

There is a lot of common sense in the six steps outlined above.

 

Finally the Toolkit outlines four books that have changed the way we think about thinking!

I’d like to suggest a couple of books that I value highly, which are on topic, and with a risk focus angle as well:

  1. The Undoing Project, A Friendship That Changed Our Mind, Michael Lewis, this book outlines the relationship between Kahneman and Tversky, and the collaboration they had in developing their theories, including highlighting the different experiments they undertook. In doing so, Lewis provides practical insights into the types of biases we have in making decisions.
  2. Against the Gods, The Remarkable Story of Risk, Peter L. Bernstein. True to its label this book provides a history of the perception of risk and its management over time, right up to modern times, emphasising: more things can happen than will happen!

 

Both books provide fascinating accounts of history.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

 

 

Risk Measure of Wealth Management

Risk is not the volatility of your investment portfolio, or volatility of returns, risk is determined by your investment goals.

This is the view of Nobel laureate Professor Robert Merton. Such an assessment of risk also underpins many Goals-Based wealth management solutions.

More robust investment solutions are developed when the focus on risk moves beyond variations of returns and volatility of capital. The key risk is failure to meet your investment objectives.

 

The finance industry, many financial advisors and academics express risk as the variation in returns and capital, as measured by the standard deviation of returns, or variance.

Nevertheless, clients often see risk as the likelihood of not attaining their investment goals.

The traditional financial planning approach is to understand client’s goals, then ask questions to determine risk tolerance, which then leads to advising a client to adopt a portfolio that has a mean expected return and standard deviation corresponding to the Client’s risk appetite.  Standard deviation of returns, variation in capital, becomes the measure of risk.

 

Nevertheless, a different discussion with clients on their goals will likely result in a different investment solution. It will also improve the relationship between the Client and the Advisor.

Such a discussion will lead to more individualised advice and a better understanding of the choices being made. Clients will be in a better place to understand the impacts of their choices and the probability of achieving their goals. It will be more explicit to them in making trade-offs between playing it safe and taking risks to achieve their investment goals.

A goals based approach provides a more intuitive, transparent, and understandable planning approach.

Ultimately it leads to a more robust portfolio for the Client where information from the goals-based discussion can be mapped to a specific range of portfolios.

It is also a dynamic process, where portfolios can be updated and changed on new discussions and information. The process can adapt for multiple-goals over multiple time periods.

This is in stark contrast to the single period single objective, static portfolio traditionally implemented based on risk appetite.

There is also a strong foundation in Behaviour Economics supporting the Goals-Based investment approach.

 

I have covered Merton’s view in previous Posts, so please don’t accuse me of confirmation bias!

Merton’s views on risk is also well presented in a 2016 i3 Invest article in Australia, Risk is determined by Investment goal.

“Risk is not simply expressed as the volatility of your invested assets, but is determined by your ultimate goal, according to Nobel laureate Robert Merton.”

 

The i3 article provides an example on how your goal determines to a large degree what your risk-free asset is.

The goal provides a starting point for determining:

  • how far removed you are from achieving your objectives; and
  • importantly, how much risk you need to take to have a chance of meeting these objectives.

 

“If you had as your goal to pay your (Australian dollar) tax bill in a year from now, then what is the safe asset for you?”

“It would be an Australian dollar, one year, zero coupon, Australian Treasury Bill that matures in one year. That would be the sure thing.”

 

As the i3 article mentions Merton has criticised the idea that superannuation is a pot of money, instead of a basis for generating an income stream.

Merton argues that there should be greater focus on generating replacement income in retirement and we need to stop looking at account balances and variations in account balances. Instead, we should focus on the income that can potentially be generated in retirement from the investment portfolio, pot of money.

 

This is not a radical idea, this is looking at the system in the same way as Defined Benefit Funds did, the “old” style funds before the now “modern” defined contributions fund (where the individual takes on all the investment risk).  Defined contributions funds focus on the size of the pot.  The size of the superannuation pot (Kiwisaver account balance) does not necessarily tell you the standard of living that can be supported in retirement.  This is Merton’s critical point.

 

A greater focus on income is aligned with goals-based investment approach.

As Merton’s explains, if we accept we should focus on income, targeting sufficient replacement income in retirement, the development of a comprehensive income product in retirement is not difficult. He concludes, “This doesn’t require the smartest scientist in Australia to solve this problem. We know how to do it, we just need to go out and do it,”.

 

As noted above I have previously Posted on Merton’s retirement income views. The material from these Posts comes from a Podcast between Steve Chen, of NewRetirement, and Professor Merton. The Podcast is 90 minutes in length and full of great conversation about retirement income. Well worth listening to.

 

For those wanting a greater understanding of Merton’s views and rationale please see:

  1. What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth
  2. Is variability of retirement income a better measure of risk rather than variability of capital? – What matters for retirement is income not the value of Accumulated Wealth

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

 

Behavioural Drivers of Wealth Management

Underpinning The Regret Proof Portfolio and Best Portfolio Does not Mean Optimal Portfolio is, amongst a number of things, Behavioural Economics.

 

A recent paper A New Approach to Goals-Based Wealth Management published in the Journal of Investment Management (JOIM), provides a very comprehensive framework for a Goals-Based Wealth Management approach.

 

Behavioural Economics forms the foundations of Goals-Based Wealth Management.

 

As the JOIM Paper notes “Traditionally, the financial industry, financial advisors, and academics in finance have associated the notion of “risk” with the standard deviation of an investor’s portfolio. Investors, on the other hand, typically associate “risk” with the likelihood of not attaining their goals.”

This is important from the perspective of client communications: “In traditional financial planning, advisors look to understand what an investor’s goals are, then they ask questions designed to determine the investor’s tolerance for portfolio standard deviation, which leads to advising the investor to adopt a portfolio that has a mean and standard deviation corresponding to the investor’s risk appetite”

Goals-Based Wealth Management is defined “as a process that focuses on helping investors realize their goals, both short-term and long-term,..”

Behavioural Economics comes into play by “using language and ideas that are more natural for investors” in determining appropriate investment goals.

 

Behavioural Economics Foundations

The JOIM Paper provides a very good overview of the behavioural economics that forms the foundations of their Goals-Based Wealth Management Investment solution.

Inputs comes from the:

  1. pioneering and very influential academic literature on Behavioural Economics
  2. growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management

 

Richard Thaler’s work, who is a 2017 Nobel prize winner for his contribution to Behavioural Economics, provides a central pillar to the Goals-Based Wealth Management solution outlined in the JOIM Paper.

Thaler’s worked on the “endowment effect”, which is the asymmetric valuation of assets by individuals.  Namely, individuals value items more when they own them as opposed to when they do not.

This is related to loss aversion in Prospect Theory. Loss aversion refers to people’s tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains.  Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains.  Loss aversion was first identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

 

Mental accounting theory is also a significant contribution from Thaler and it is also an essential foundation for Goals-Based Wealth Management.

Mental accounting is where people treat money with different risk-return preference, depending on what use the money is to be put to. It is a way of keeping track of our money related transactions.

From a practical perspective, mental accounting helps elicit investors goals, and is “facilitated by breaking down overall portfolio goals into sub-portfolio goals using the ideas of mental accounts, where different goals are managed in different accounts, each aggregating into the overall portfolio.”

 

Lastly the JOIM Paper notes the work undertaken that developed Behavioural Portfolio Theory.  This theory postulates that investors behave as if they have multiple mental accounts. “Each mental account portfolio has varying levels of aspiration, depending on the goals for the mental account.  These ideas naturally lead to portfolio optimization where investors are goal-seeking (aspirational), while remaining concerned about downside risk in the light of their goals. Rather than trade-off risk versus return, investors trade off goals versus safety…”.

 

Practitioner’s Perspective

The JOIM Paper also notes the growing practitioner literature on goals-based wealth management.

Specifically, they reference three major contributions:

Nevins advocates a goal-orientated approach to help investors deal with biases such as overconfidence, hindsight bias, and overreaction.   Nevins’ work extended the mental accounting approach. He also argues that traditional investment planning fails to recognize investor’s behavioural preferences and biases.

Contributions by Zwecher, complements Nevins, he argues that risk management can be “done more actively and efficiently by demonstrating how a retirement portfolio that provides income, generates growth, and protects assets from disasters, can be created by adopting a bucketing (mental accounting) approach.”

Research undertaken by Brunel discussed the equal importance of two goals for an investor: being able to avoid nightmares while realizing dreams. “Brunel’s work focussed on demonstrating how goals-based wealth management can be achieved across multiple time horizons for multiple life goals. He also suggested how to map the language customers use in describing the importance of dreams or the severity of nightmares into acceptable probabilities that the investor will realize such dreams or avoid such nightmares.”

 

In short, Practitioners have recognized the need for a goals-based approach.

The premise is, if customers can better articulate and discuss their goals, including safety, then they are able to work with Practitioners to build more robust investment solutions that are better designed to meet their aspirations and investment objectives.

 

Happy investing.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

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

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.

 

The Market Fox interviews a Wise Owl of the Australian Investment Industry

This is worth sharing, a Podcast interview by Daniel Griolio with Jack Gray, an Australian investment industry veteran.

This is a great interview for those new and old to the industry.

 

Although Jack is wise, he is not silent like an owl.  Jack is well known to many within the industry for his forthright views, okay strong opinions.  Which is great, we need more of this to challenge the status quo and to have intellectually honest debates.  Not to make things more complicated but to challenge some of the industry practices.  Jack touches on the downside of holding strong beliefs and being willing to share them in the Podcast, it comes with a cost.  It is who he is, he calls out if he believes things are wrong.

Jack joined the investment industry later in life after a career in Academia, he talks about how he had to learn things from scratch, there are some great insights here e.g. what advice would you give to a young Jack Gray starting out?

The interview is wide ranging and Daniel does a great job keeping it flowing, with lots of good discussion, stories, and introspection.

Topics include:

  • thinking about probabilities;
  • heuristics;
  • you don’t need a lot of maths to be comfortable investing;
  • IQ vs temperament in investing successfully;
  • the short term focus of the industry;
  • industry agency issues;
  • investment firms learning to play to their strengths and being different;
  • IA; and
  • Robo Advice.

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Shortcomings of Target Date and Life Cycle Funds

Target Date Funds, also referred to as Glide Path Funds or Life Cycle Funds, reduce the equity allocation in favour of more conservative investments, fixed interest and cash, as the investor gets closer to retirement.

They do this on the premise that as we get older we cannot recover from financial disaster because we are unable to rebuild savings through human capital (salary and wages).  These Funds follow a rule of thumb that as you get closer to retirement an investor should be moved into a more conservative investment strategy.  This is a generalisation that does not take into consideration the individual circumstances of the investor nor market conditions.

Target Funds are becoming increasingly popular.  Particularly in situations where the Investor does not want or can afford investment advice.  The “Product” adjusts the investor’s investment strategy throughout the Life Cycle for them, no advice provided.

 

All good in theory, nevertheless, these “products” have some limitations in their design which is increasingly being highlighted.

No, it is not that they are moving investors into cash and fixed interest at a time of record low cash returns and over-valued fixed interest markets.  This is an issue, but a topic for another Blog.  Albeit this is touched on below from a slightly different angle.

 

Essentially, Target Date Funds have too main short comings:

  1. They are not customised to an individual’s consumption liability, human capital or risk preference e.g. they do not take into consideration future income requirements or likely endowments, level of income generated up retirement, or the investors risk profile, appetite for risk, or risk tolerance.
  • They are prescribed asset allocations which are the same for all investors who have the same number of years to retirement, this is the trade-off for scale over customisation.
  1. Additionally, the glide path does not take into account current market conditions.
  • Risky assets have historically shown mean reversion (i.e. asset returns eventually return back toward the mean or average return, prices display volatility to the upside and downside.
  • Therefore, linear glide paths, most target date funds, do not exploit mean reversion in assets prices which may require:
    • Delays in the pace of transitioning from risky assets to safer assets
    • May require step off the glide path given extreme market risk environments

 

Therefore, there is the risk that some Target Date Funds will fall short of providing satisfactory outcomes and meeting the key requirement in retirement of sufficient income.

 

Target Date Funds, Life Cycle Funds, focus on the investment horizon without protecting investors’ retirement needs, they focus on one risk, market risk.

The focus is not on producing retirement income or hedging risks in relation to investment risk, inflation risk, interest rate risk, and longevity risk.

As noted above, most target date funds don’t make revisions to asset allocations due to market conditions.  This is inconsistent with academic prescriptions, and also common sense, both of which suggest that the optimal investment strategy should also display an element of dependence on the current state of the economy.

 

The optimal target date or life cycle fund asset allocation should be goal based and multi-period:

  • It requires customisation by goals, of human capital, and risk preferences
  • Some mechanism to exploit the possibility of mean reversion within markets

 

All up, this requirements a more Liability Driven Investment approach, Goal Based Investing.

My first blog outlines the revolution required within the industry to Mass Customisations.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement

US Equity Market 9 Years of Advancement

The US equity market recently celebrated 9 years of advancement without a bear market (a Bear market is defined as an equity market decline of greater than 20% from its peak).

This 9 year Bull market is closing in on the historical record of 9 years and five and half months.  The longest post-war Bull market stretched from 11 October 1990 to 24 March 2000.  To break that record the current Bull market will have to continue until the last week of August 2018.

The US equity market experienced a “correction” in February 2018 (a correction is defined as a fall in market value of between 10 and 20%) on inflation and higher interest rate concerns.  I wrote about this in this blog and also put into historical perspective here and here.  

 

Bull markets end with a Bear market.  Bear markets usually coincide with recession.  Very rarely has there been a Bear Equity Market without recession.  Nevertheless, there have been bear markets without a recession.

Fortunately the global economy has good momentum and recession does not look imminent. Most economic forecasts are for economic growth throughout 2018 and into 2019.

Albeit, the current Bull market does face some risks.  Key amongst those risks are:

  • Earnings disappointment in 2019. Earnings momentum is vulnerable this late in the economic cycle
  • Economic data disappoints – global equity markets are priced for continuation of the current “Goldilocks” economic environment, not too hot and not too cold.
  • Inflation data surprises on the upside
  • Policy mistake by a Central Bank given the extraordinary policy positions over the last 10 years of very low interest rates and Quantitative Easing, e.g. US Reserve Bank needs to raise short term interest rates more quickly than currently anticipated
  • Longer term interest rates rise much higher than currently expected

 

Therefore, lots to consider as the year progresses.

 

I enjoyed this quote from Howard Marks “there are two things I would never say (since they require far more certainty than I consider attainable): “get out” and “it’s time.”  It’s rare for the market pendulum to reach such an extreme that views can properly be black-or-white.  Most markets are far too uncertain and nuanced to permit such unequivocal, sweeping statements.”

Well worth thinking about when making portfolio investment decisions.

 

Please see my Disclosure Statement