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: Jason Zweig

Who’s in Your Corner?

At Hill Investment Group, we love to ask questions – to get to know you upon initial meeting and discover more about you as we go. But what questions should investors be asking? Here are “The 19 Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor” (or a prospective advisor) according to Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal. At the highest level, these 19 questions seek to establish the rhetorical question: Are you paying your advisor to serve YOUR best interests or their own?

“The obligation of those who give investment advice to serve clients, not themselves, is called fiduciary duty. That obligation is far from universal and, in some ways, is in retreat,” says Zweig (emphasis ours).

The challenge, however, is merely asking an advisor if they are a fiduciary may not suffice. Zweig’s queries will help you differentiate fake fiduciary “talk” from a real fiduciary “walk.”

Zweig also provides the answers he feels are most appropriate, while leaving #12 (“What is your investment philosophy?”) curiously blank. We agree wholeheartedly with nearly all of his suggested responses, although there are a couple we would qualify. And of course we have quite a lot to say about that curiously blank one. Here, we’ll simply add the words of Dimensional Fund Advisors’ co-founder Rex Sinquefield, as he describes evidence-based investing: “This investment approach is easy to communicate, is verifiable, and is eminently defensible.”

This and many other great insights are found in Dimensional’s recently published “35 Quotations on a Better Way to Invest.” Want a copy of it, or would you like to know where else we differ on Zweig’s other questions (and why)? Just ask!

Oh, by the way, YES, we are a fiduciary firm – in name and practice.

Advisor or Enabler? We Like Advisor.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Individual investors become their own worst enemies when they choose to play in financial markets instead of investing in them.

But here’s an interesting wrinkle. In one of his recent posts, Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Zweig shared a seemingly contradictory stat on that, in which do-it-yourself investors came out ahead of their advisor-assisted counterparts.

What’s up with that? Are we wrong??

Let’s take a closer look at the case. Zweig’s illustration compares investor experience in two virtually identical Fidelity biotech funds – except one is designed for direct investment and the other caters to investors being served by financial advisors.

You’d expect those who invested directly would engage in ill-advised market-timing and more severely underperform what the fund actually returned, compared to those who were advised to patiently buy and hold. Instead, investors in the advisor-tailored fund did worse in Zweig’s illustration. How come?

The illustration Zweig used may well have been a case of some market-timing investors getting lucky during a specific timeframe. But another culprit to consider may be the “advisors” recommending the advisor-tilted fund.

Zweig describes: “Not all advisers chase performance, but all too many still do. Buying what’s hot and dumping what’s not, they are no less human than their clients.”

In describing what a good advisor should be doing for you, Zweig quotes Dimensional Fund Advisors’ co-CEO Dave Butler: “Advisers [should] provide a human element that gives clients confidence and comfort in not deviating from a plan.”

Zweig elaborates:

“[Y]ou should hire an adviser not for his or her investing prowess, but to help organize your finances, prioritize your goals, minimize your taxes, and navigate the shoals of retirement and estate planning. Done right, those services can make you far richer — and happier — than the pipe dream of investment outperformance is likely to.”

In short, we believe a good advisor should help you avoid, not enable, your “worst enemy” tendencies. Plus, they should be even more disciplined than you are at ignoring any market-timing habits and stock-picking cravings to which they themselves may be vulnerable.

The defense rests.

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.

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