Details Are Part of Our Difference
Podcast Episode – Meir Statman
With the Recent Events in Ukraine, Should I Make Changes to My Portfolio?
Embracing the Evidence at Anheuser-Busch – Mid 1980s
529 Best Practices
Tag: Barry Ritholtz
Index Funds: 40+ Years and Counting
“Recency” is one of the most insidious behavioral biases that can impact an investor’s ability to Take the Long View® with their investments. The name alone suggests it’s the opposite of what we’re about here at Hill Investment Group.
Those ruled by recency will disregard decades of data, and instead allow only the latest, relatively random data points to skew their view. A prime example occurs whenever purveyors of traditional active investing revisit a perennially misleading script that goes something like this: “If too many investors invest in index funds (i.e., if the market is left to run on auto-pilot), there will be nobody left to set proper pricing. Investors should revert to an active investment strategy, before it’s too late.”
Again, the argument is nothing new; if index funds were the only investment available, markets would indeed stop functioning. But with every new season, the traditional active camp seems to come up with a fresh batch of stats that supposedly signal that the end of index investing is nigh.
Recently, the focus has been on index investing inflows – or, more accurately, their reduced volume. So far this year, the deluge of dollars mostly heading out of active investing and into index/passive funds has decreased to a more orderly flow compared to 2017.
Is index investing on the wane? In this related piece, we share a quibble we do have with index investing, and why we typically favor a similar, but more direct approach for capturing scientific sources of expected return. But before anyone concludes it’s time to get more active at timing and selecting specific stock picks, here are three, recency-dispelling reads we suggest:
“Index Funds Are Going to Be Just Fine,” Barry Ritholtz, ThinkAdvisor
Our favorite excerpt: “Why must we complicate what is otherwise a simple explanation? Investors have become a little more financially literate; indexing is maturing as an investment style. Those who are hoping for a major reversal of a trend that has been 40 years in the making are very likely to be disappointed.”
“Indexing Fuss Unwarranted,” Larry Swedroe, ETF.com
Our favorite excerpt: “While it’s certainly possible that, at some point, passive investing could reach such a dominant share that price discovery would be limited, clearly, we are nowhere near that level, and almost certainly won’t be there for a very long time.”
“The growth of index investing has not made the markets less efficient,” The Economist
Our favorite excerpt: “Perhaps the growth of indexing has robbed the world of outstanding stockpickers. But it seems more likely that it has put a lot of bad managers out of business … And it is not as if the buying and selling of stocks by informed investors with opinions has ceased. The turnover of stocks has actually increased over time. Active investors are more active than ever.”
Rick’s Quick Take on Freakonomics’ Active-Passive Podcast
If you’ve got about 50 minutes to listen to a half-dozen big-name perspectives covering nearly 50 years of efficient market theory, I recommend Freakonomics’ podcast, “The Stupidest Thing You Can Do With Your Money.” It’s a wide-ranging overview of the active-passive debate that won’t disappoint.
Here are some of my own takeaways from listening in.
John Bogle – Reminisces on when he founded Vanguard in 1975 and launched the world’s first publicly available index fund. The costs make all the difference. With active fund costs ranging upward to 200 basis points (after expense fees and trading costs), versus index funds’ typical 4–10 basis points, the expense hurdle is too tough to overcome. It took a long time for people to get the idea, but now there is a passive revolution.
Ken French – Points out that it took 50 years for passive investing to grow from zero to 20% market share. Then, it jumped from 20% to 30% in the last decade. “Only the top 2-3% of active funds have enough skill to cover their costs,” says Ken. “If you don’t think you are one of the best people out there doing this, you probably shouldn’t even start.”
Eugene Fama – Developed the Efficient Market Hypothesis in the late 1960s (i.e., prices reflect all available information), which led to his being a co-recipient of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. The gap between his early academic inquiries and wide, practical application of the findings is telling. (My take: Remember, one important quality in evidence-based investing is ensuring the theories have withstood the test of time!)
Barry Ritholtz – Reflecting on the title of the podcast, Ritholtz commented: “Sophisticated investors refuse to admit they can’t beat the market. … Costs are a tax on smart people that don’t realize their propensity for doing stupid things.”
I’ve barely skimmed the surface of the many insights, large and small, shared in this fast-paced podcast. Want to know where Mr. and Mrs. Bogle buy their favorite sweaters? Tune in to find out!