Featured entries from our Journal

Details Are Part of Our Difference

Embracing the Evidence at Anheuser-Busch – Mid 1980s

529 Best Practices

David Booth on How to Choose an Advisor

The One Minute Audio Clip You Need to Hear

Tag: Active Management

Ready … Set … Flop!

When you invest your hard-earned money, of course you hope to end up with more than when you started. Better yet, you would prefer to NOT give up returns you could have had by investing optimally.

But what is “optimal” investing? It’s not about pursuing an active investment strategy – i.e., trying to consistently pick winners, dodge losers, and accurately forecast when to be in and out of up and down markets. Nor is it about hiring an active manager who thinks they can do the same. The evidence is clear: The challenges of active investing are more likely to set you back than advance your interests.

For the past several years, Dimensional Fund Advisors has been tracking mutual fund track records in “The Mutual Fund Landscape.” If anything, the terrain keeps getting  tougher. This year’s report found that, across 15 years ending December 2017, only half of the stock funds in existence at the beginning were even around at the end, and only 14% were able to survive and outperform their Morningstar benchmarks.

(Click to enlarge and view data appendix)

The moral of the story: To run a successful marathon it’s better to pace yourself than chase the wind. Same thing for your wealth. Take the Long View®.

Not Everything New Is News

There’s never a lack of news in the financial press:  new studies, new reporting, new crises, new opportunities … it never ends.

Some of it is worth heeding; most of it is just noise. One of our roles at Hill Investment Group is to help you find the hidden gems in all that “new news.” Here are two worthy reminders that trying to pick individual stocks or forecast the market’s many moods remains as ill-advised as ever.

On the Dangers of Stock-Picking …

In his recently published piece, “Hot Stocks Can Make You Rich. But They Probably Won’t,” Jeff Sommer of The New York Times reflects on how investors may be tempted to chase surging stocks in hot markets. “But,” he cautions (emphasis ours), “before you jump headlong into stock picking, you may want to consider the odds … [O]ver the long run, while the total stock market has prospered, most individual stocks have not.”

This may seem counterintuitive, but for supporting evidence, Sommer cites a new study by Hendrik Bessembinder of Arizona State University’s business school (my own alma mater). Sommer points out two remarkable findings from the study, often overlooked in all the excitement:

  • “58 percent of individual stocks since 1926 have failed to outperform one-month Treasury bills over their lifetimes.”
  • “[A] mere 4 percent of the stocks in the entire market … accounted for all of the net market returns from 1926 through 2015.”

Professor Bessembinder’s study concludes that individual stock picks are like lottery tickets. A stock picker may beat the odds and win big, but if you’d rather focus on winning sustainably while managing the risks, you’re better off accepting wider market returns.

On the Dangers of Market-Timing …

On the same day Sommer’s article appeared, The Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig published a nicely paired piece, “Sorry, Stock Pickers: History Shows You Underperform in Bad Markets, Too.”

You may need a subscription to read the entire article, but the title says a lot. Based on data points going back to the 1960s, Zweig notes: “The odds of finding a stock picker who can do better in down markets have long been less than 50/50.” Not only are the odds against those who try to beat the market, the costs tend to be high in every market, up or down. So, while stock pickers often tout their ability to shine the brightest when the markets are at their darkest, the evidence again suggests otherwise.

So, What’s New?

Bottom line, a traditional active investor faces hurdles that are simply too tall to be enticing, especially when there is a more logical, evidence-based strategy to lead the way. This may not be breaking news to anyone who’s been following our work for a while, but I’d say it’s still as fresh and relevant as ever.

InBev Anheuser-Busch: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

A-B-image-350pxWhile nostalgia can be an effective way to market beer, in my opinion, it’s no way to manage a brewery’s 401(k) plan. At least not if it hearkens back to a time when it was routine for plan sponsors to load up a 401(k) plan with high-cost investment selections and expect participants to sort it out for themselves.

This is what I fear has happened when InBev Anheuser-Busch (A-B) proudly announced nine additions to its 401(k) plan investment current lineup of low-cost, passively managed index funds. Much to my disappointment, the additions represent a confusing mix of mostly active funds.

When I was assistant treasurer at A-B in the mid-80s, I was proud to help the company become one of the first in the nation to replace all active funds with index funds in both its 401(k) plan lineup and pension plan investments. Our early leadership has since become common practice, buttressed by the empirical evidence on how to advance retirement plan participants’ successful outcomes.

There is a glimmer of hope in the mix. Dimensional Fund Advisors appears to be among the firms A-B announced in its new “active management” lineup. While Dimensional offers a different strategy from traditional indexing – something we refer to as “evidence-based investing” – it’s not traditionally active either. Dimensional is itself a leading advocate of avoiding largely fruitless attempts to beat the market through stock-picking or market-timing.

Even with this positive exception, I feel the new lineup still represents an unfortunate shift, sacrificing better choices on the altar of more choices.

Maybe I’m being nostalgic, but the A-B I knew, knew better.

Featured entries from our Journal

Details Are Part of Our Difference

Embracing the Evidence at Anheuser-Busch – Mid 1980s

529 Best Practices

David Booth on How to Choose an Advisor

The One Minute Audio Clip You Need to Hear

Hill Investment Group