Sobering low return estimates

AQR has updated their estimates of medium-term (5- to 10-year) expected returns for the major asset classes.

Their expected real return for the traditional U.S. 60/40 portfolio (60% Equities / 40% Bonds) is just 2.4%, around half its long-term average of nearly 5% (since 1900).

It is also down from 2.9% estimated last year.

 

AQR conclude that medium term expected returns are “sobering low”. Their return estimates are after inflation (real returns) and are compounded per annum returns.

“They suggest that over the next decade, many investors may struggle to meet return objectives anchored to a rosier past”.

“We again emphasize that our return estimates for all asset classes are highly uncertain. The estimates in this report do not in themselves warrant aggressive tactical allocation responses — but they may warrant other kinds of responses. For example, investment objectives may need to be reassessed, even if this necessitates higher contribution rates and lower expected payouts. And the case for diversifying away from traditional equity and term premia is arguably stronger than ever.”

 

The AQR estimate for a Balance Fund return are similar to those published recently in a CFA Institute article of 3.1%.

 

AQR update their estimates annually.  They manage over US$186 billion in investment assets.

 

Return Estimates

Reflecting the strong returns experienced in 2019 across all markets, particularly US equities, future returns estimates are now lower compared to last year.

This is Highlighted in the Table below.

Medium-Term Expected Real Returns

Market

2019 Estimate

2020 Estimate

US Equities

4.3%

4.0%

Non-US Developed Equities

5.1%

4.7%

Emerging Markets

5.4%

5.1%

US 10-year Government Bonds

0.8%

0.0%

Non US-10 Year Government Bonds

-0.3%

-0.6%

US Investment Grade Credit

1.6%

0.9%

 

Bloomberg have a nice summary of the key results:

  • Anticipated returns for U.S. equities dropped to 4% from 4.3% a year earlier.
  • U.S. Treasuries tracked the move, with AQR predicting buyers will merely break even.
  • Non-U.S. sovereigns slipped deeper into negative territory, with a projected loss of 0.6% a year.
  • Emerging-market equities will lead the way, the firm projects, with a return of 5.1%.

 

This article by Institutional Investor also provides a good run down of AQR’s latest return estimates.

More detail of return estimates can be found within the following document, which I accessed from LinkedIn.

 

Lastly, AQR provide the following guidance in relation to the market return estimates:

  • For shorter horizons, returns are largely unpredictable and any predictability has tended to mainly reflect momentum and the macro environment.
  • Our estimates are intended to assist investors with their strategic allocation and planning decisions, and, in particular, with setting appropriate medium-term expectations.
  • They are highly uncertain, and not intended for market timing.

 

In addition to the CFA Article mentioned above, AQRs estimates are consistent with consensus expected returns I covered in a previous Post.

 

Although AQR’s guidance to diversify away from traditional equity and fixed income might be like asking a barber whether you need a haircut, surely from a risk management perspective the diversification away from the traditional asset classes should be considered in line with the prudent management of investment portfolios and consistency with industry best practice?

In my Post, Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment, suggested changes to current investment approaches are covered.

Finally, Global Economic and Market outlook provides a shorter term outlook for those interested.

 

Happy Investing

Please read my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

Investing in a Challenging Investment Environment

The Global financial backdrop can be summarised as:

  1. Late Cycle
    • The US economy is into its longest period of uninterrupted growth, it has been over ten years since the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) and the US experiencing a recession.
    • Likewise, the US sharemarket is into it longest period without incurring a 20% or more fall (which would be a bear market).
  2. Exceptionally low interest rates. As you will be aware over $14 trillion of European and Japanese fixed income securities are trading on negative interest rates.
  3. Central Banks around the world are reducing short-term interest. By way of example, the US Federal Reserve has undertaken a mid-cycle adjustment, with more to come, the European Central Bank recently cut interest rates, as has China’s Central Bank. The Reserve Bank of Australia and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand have reduced cash rates very aggressively in recent months. It appears that interest rates will remain lower for longer.
  4. Rising geo-political risk, namely an ongoing and escalating trade dispute between the US and China, while Brexit has a cameo role on the global stage, and there are rising tensions in the middle-east.
  5. Global growth has slowed. The pace of economic activity has slowed around the world, this is most noticeable in Europe, Japan, and China, and is concentrated within the manufacturing sector. The service sectors have largely been unaffected.

 

Against this backdrop the US sharemarket has outperformed, continually reaching all-time highs, likewise for the New Zealand sharemarket.

Value stocks have underperformed high growth momentum stocks. The performance differential between value and growth is at historical extremes.

Lastly emerging Markets have underperformed the developed world.

 

A good assessment of the current environment is provided in this article by Byron Wien. It is a must read, Plenty to worry about but not much to do.

 

It is not all gloom and doom

The US consumer is in very good shape, reflecting record low unemployment, rising wages, and a sound property market. The US consumer is as bigger share of the global economy as is China. Although it is not growing as fast as China, a solid pace of growth is being recorded.

Overall, economic data in the US has beaten expectations over recent weeks (e.g. retail sales).

Globally the manufacturing sectors are expected to recover over the second half of this year, leading to a rebound in global growth. Low interest rates will also help global growth.  Nevertheless, growth will remain modest and inflation absent.

Globally, in most countries, Sharemarket’s dividend yields are higher than interest rates. This means that sharemarkets can fall in value over the next 5-10 years and still outperform fixed income.

 

How to invest in current environment

Recently there has been #TINA movement: There Is No Alternative to Equities.

Certainly equities have performed strongly on a year to date basis, so have fixed income securities (their value increases as interest rates fall).

The traditional 60/40 portfolio, 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income, has performed very strongly over the last 6-9 months, this comes after a difficult 2018.

#TINA and the longer term performance of the 60/40 portfolio is covered in this AllAboutAlpha Article, which is well worth reading.

The 60/40 portfolio has performed well over the last 10 years, and has been a strong performer over the longer term.

This performance needs to be put into the context that interest rates have been falling for the last 35 years, this has boosted the returns from the Fixed Income component of the portfolio.  Needless to say, this tail wind may not be so strong in the next 35 years.

This indicates that future returns from a 60/40 portfolio will be lower than those experienced in more recent history.

There are lots of suggestions as to what one should do in the current market environment.  This article on Livewire Markets provides some flavour.

No doubt, you will discuss any concerns you have with your Trusted Advisor.

 

At a time like this, reflect on the tried and true:

Seek “True” portfolio Diversification

The AllAboutAlpha article references a Presentation by Deutsche Bank that makes “a very compelling case for building a more diversified portfolio across uncorrelated risk premia rather than asset class silos”.

The Presentation emphasises “The only insurance against regime shifts, black swans, the peso problem and drawdowns is to seek out multiple sources of risk premia across a host of asset classes and geographies, designed to harvest different features (value, momentum, illiquidity etc.) of the return generating process, via a large number of small, uncorrelated exposures

The above comments are technical in nature and I will explain below. Albeit, the Presentation is well worth reading: Rethinking Portfolio Construction and Risk Management.

 

In a nutshell, the above comments are about seeking “true” portfolio diversification.

Portfolio diversification does not come from investing in more and more asset classes i.e. asset class silos. This has diminishing diversification benefits over the longer term and particularly at the time of market crisis e.g. adding global listed property or infrastructure to a multi-asset portfolio that already includes global equities.

True portfolio diversification is achieved by investing in different risk factors (i.e. premia) that drive the asset classes e.g. duration, economic growth, low volatility, value, and growth by way of example.

Investors are compensated for being exposed to a range of different risks. For example, those risks may include market beta (e.g. equities and fixed income), smart beta (e.g. value and momentum factors), alternative and hedge fund risk premia, illiquidity e.g. Private Equity, Direct Property, and unlisted infrastructure. And of course, true alpha from active management, returns that cannot be explained by the risk exposures just outlined. There has been a disaggregation of returns.

US Endowment Funds and Sovereign Wealth Funds have led the charge on true portfolio diversification, along with the heavy investment into alternative investments and factor exposures. They are a model of world best investment management practice.

Therefore, seek true portfolio diversification, this is best way to protect portfolio outcomes and reduce the reliance on sharemarkets and interest rates driving portfolio outcomes.

As the Presentation says, a truly diversified portfolio provides better protection against large market falls and unexpected events i.e. Black Swans.

True diversification leads to a more robust portfolio.

(I have written a number of Post on Alternatives and the expected growth in institutions investing in alternatives globally.)

 

Customised investment solution

Often the next bit advice is to make sure your investments are consistent with your risk preference.

Although this is important, it is also fundamentally important that the investment portfolio is customised to your investment objectives and takes into consideration a wider range of issues than risk preference and expected returns and volatility from capital markets.

For example, income earned up to and after retirement, assets outside super, legacies, desired standard of living in retirement, and Sequencing Risk (the period of most vulnerability is either side of the retirement age e.g. 65 here in New Zealand).

 

Think long-term

I think this is a given, and it needs to be balanced with your customised investment objectives as outlined above. Try to see through market noise, don’t over trade and don’t take on more risk to chase returns.

It is all right to do nothing, don’t be compelled to trade, a less traded portfolio is likely more representative of someone taking a longer term view.

Also look to financial planning options to see through difficult market conditions.

 

There are a lot of Investment Behavioural issues to consider, the idea of the Regret Portfolio approach may resonate, and the Behavioural Tool Kit could be of interest.

 

AllAboutAlpha has a great tagline: “Seek diversification, education, and know your risk tolerance. Investing is for the long term.”

Kiwiinvestorblog is all about education, it does not provide investment advice nor promote any investment and receives no payments. Please follow the links provided for a greater appreciation of the topic in discussion.

 

And, please, build robust investment portfolios. As Warren Buffet has said: “Predicting rain doesn’t count. Building arks does.” ………………….. Is your portfolio an all weather portfolio?

 

Happy investing.

Please see my Disclosure Statement

 

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

 

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.