The Myth Of The “Passive Indexing” Revolution | RIA

From Lance Roberts at RIA:

While the idea of passive indexing works while all prices are rising, the reverse is also true. The problem is that once prices begin to fall the previously “passive indexer” becomes an “active panic seller.” With the flood of money into “passive index” and “yield funds,” the tables are once again set for a dramatic and damaging ending.

Source: The Myth Of The “Passive Indexing” Revolution | RIA

The dangers of passive investing

There is a lot to be said for passive investing.

Key Takeaways from Morningstar’s Active/Passive Barometer Report:

  • Actively managed funds have generally underperformed their passive counterparts, especially over longer time horizons.
  • Failure tended to be positively correlated with fees.
  • Fees matter. They are one of the only reliable predictors of success.

Prof. Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Dow Wall Street, writes in the WSJ:

During 2016, two-thirds of active managers of large-capitalization U.S. stocks underperformed the S&P 500 large-capital index. When S&P measured performance over a longer period, the results got worse. More than 90% of active manager underperformed their benchmark indexes of a 15-year period.

…..In 2016 investors pulled $340 billion out of actively managed funds and invested more than $500 billion in index funds. The same trends continued in 2017, and index funds now account for about 35% of total equity fund investments.

Volatility is also near record lows as the market grows less reactive to short-term events.

CBOE Volatility Index (VIX)

Lower fees and lower volatility should both improve investment performance, so what could possibly go wrong?

Investors could stop thinking.

If passive funds are the investment of choice, then new money will unquestioningly flow to these funds. In turn the funds will purchase more of the stocks that make up the index.

Prices of investment-grade stocks that make up the major indices are being driven higher, without consideration as to whether earnings are growing apace.

And the higher index values climb, the more investment flows they will attract. Driving prices even higher in relation to earnings.

More adventurous (some would say foolhardy) investors may even start using leverage to enhance their returns, reasoning that low volatility reduces their risk.

The danger is that this becomes a self-reinforcing cycle, with higher prices attracting more investment. When that happens the market is in trouble. Headed for a blow-off.

Investing in passive funds doesn’t mean you can stop thinking.

Don’t lose sight of earnings.

When prices run ahead of earnings, don’t let your profits blind you to the risks.

And start thinking more about protecting your capital.

The Quants Run Wall Street Now | WSJ

From Gregory Zuckerman and Bradley Hope:

For decades, investors imagined a time when data-driven traders would dominate financial markets. That day has arrived.

…. quantitative hedge funds are now responsible for 27% of all U.S. stock trades by investors, up from 14% in 2013, according to the Tabb Group, a research and consulting firm in New York.

Quants now dominate the short-term trading market but active managers (homo sapiens) are still very dominant in the much larger long-term investment market. And this is unlikely to change any time soon.

Source: The Quants Run Wall Street Now – WSJ

How to Survive & Profit in Today’s Markets

We have observed over a number of years that many investors follow an erratic path to trading/investing. Without clear objectives, they jump from one system to another, and one time frame to another, with no plan or process.

This is attributable to lack of a solid foundation. A deep understanding of the basics of technical analysis, how markets work, and how to manage investment risk — together with confidence in your ability — are all essential to manage your investments effectively.

The biggest risk you take is investing in the stock market without a solid understanding of how it works.

I have enlisted the help of Tony Porter to present training courses for Incredible Charts. Tony is an experienced investment manager with whom I have collaborated for some time. We are on the same wave-length when it comes to Technical Analysis and Trading.

How to Survive & Profit in Today’s Markets is not an A to Z of Technical Analysis, nor of Technical Indicators. We bypass a lot of conventional thinking and focus on core skills — technical analysis, fundamental analysis, macroeconomics, trade management, money management, and self-discipline — needed to survive and profit in today’s markets.

Colin Twiggs & Tony Porter

Colin Twiggs & Tony Porter

The course is run in two parts, each of 6 weeks duration, and will be conducted through printed notes, online exercises and weekly online seminars run by Tony and/or myself.

You will find details at How to Survive & Profit in Today’s Markets.

Register Your Interest

Numbers are limited to 12 per course, and we need to contact participants to arrange course scheduling.
So please register your interest early.

Yours Sincerely,

Colin Twiggs

 

The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the craftsman that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

~ The Analects of Confucius

The Trouble With Chasing Hot Strategies | Josh Brown

This should be blindingly obvious, but amazing how often it is ignored. Great post from Josh Brown at Reformed Broker:

How do most investors (and many advisors) select funds or strategies to allocate to? They look at what’s been working, learn the story and get long…….
And then mean reversion shows up – outperforming managers subsequently underperform, hot themes become over-loved, winning strategies become too crowded to offer excess returns. “No problem,” says the advisor, I’ve got six new ideas to replace the six ideas that are no longer working!”

It’s sad to say, but this is exactly how it works. I’ve been watching this for almost 20 years…….

Research Affiliates has an interesting pair of charts demonstrating this phenomenon in a new note from Rob Arnott, Jason Hsu and Co. They illustrate that increasing fund flows are a decent predictor of subsequent underperformance and that performance-chasing is destructive to returns across all types of investment products:

Research Affiliates

S&P 500 Prime Momentum 12 month performance

S&P 500 Prime Momentum

The S&P 500 Prime Momentum strategy has now been running for twelve months, since November 2013, and returned 17.46%* for the period compared to 17.27% for the S&P 500 Total Return Index. This is below the average return for the 1996 to 2013 research period and is attributable to the sell-off of momentum stocks in recent months. Macroeconomic and volatility filters continue to indicate low to moderate risk typical of a bull market and we expect stocks to recover in the months ahead.

* Results are unaudited and subject to revision.

Are corporate profit margins sustainable?

Market capitalization as a percentage of (US) GNP is climbing and some commentators have been predicting a reversion to the mean — a substantial fall in market cap.

US Market Cap to GNP

But corporate profits have been climbing at a similar rate.

US Corporate Profits to GNP

Wages surged as a percentage of value added in the first quarter (2014) and profit margins fell sharply, adding fresh impetus to the bear outlook. But margins recovered to 10.6% in the second quarter.

Employee Compensation and Profits as Percentage of Gross Value Added

Further gains in the third quarter would suggest that profits are sustainable. Research by Morgan Stanley supports this view, revealing that improved profit margins are largely attributable to the top 50 mega-corporations in the US:

Mega cap companies (the largest 50 by size) have been able to pull their margins away from the smaller companies through globalization, productivity, scale, cost of capital, and taxes, among other reasons. We argue against frameworks that call for near-term mean reversion and base equity return algorithms off the concept of overearning. Why? The margins for the mega cap cohort in the last two downturns of 2001 and 2008 were well above the HIGHEST margins achieved during the 1974-1994 period. To us, this is a powerful indication that the mega cap cohort is unlikely to mean revert back to the 1970s to 1990s average level.

(From Sam Ro at Business Insider)

Also interesting is The Bank of England’s surprise at the lack of inflation in response to falling unemployment. One would expect wage rates to rise when slack is taken up in the labor market, but this has failed to materialize. It may be that unemployment is understated — and a rising participation rate will keep the lid on wages. If this happens in the US it would add further support for sustainable profit margins.

Australian investors

Australian stocks have taken a bit of a beating over the last few weeks, including a few of the momentum stocks in our portfolio. Risk of a bear market remains low, but a falling Aussie Dollar has prompted international investors to scale back exposure to Australian equities.

AUDUSD

This tends to become self-reinforcing as falling stock prices then prompt further sell-offs. And repatriation causes further weakness in the Aussie Dollar. The down-trend is likely to continue if support at $0.8650/$0.8700 is breached.

Investors who split their portfolio between the S&P 500 and the ASX 200 have been cushioned from the fall, with their US portfolio showing strong appreciation in Australian Dollar terms.

Risk versus volatlity

Ben Carlson cites Howard Marks on the difference between volatility and risk:

Volatility is the academic’s choice for defining and measuring risk. I think this is the case largely because volatility is quantifiable and thus usable in the calculations and models of modern finance theory.

However, while volatility is quantifiable and machinable – and can also be an indicator or symptom of riskiness and even a specific form of risk – I think it falls short as “the” definition of investment risk. In thinking about risk, we want to identify the thing that investors worry about and thus demand compensation for bearing. I don’t think most investors fear volatility…. What they fear is the possibility of permanent loss.

Read more at A Role Reversal For Stocks and Bonds | Pragmatic Capitalism.

Fidelity Reviewed Which Accounts Did Best And What They Found Was Hilarious | Business Insider

From Miles Udland:

[James O’Shaughnessy of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management] relays one anecdote from an employee who recently joined his firm that really makes your head spin.

O’Shaughnessy: “Fidelity had done a study as to which accounts had done the best at Fidelity….They were the accounts [of] people who forgot they had an account at Fidelity.”

There are numerous studies that explain why this happens. And they almost always come down to the fact that our minds work against us. Due to our behavioural biases, we often find ourselves buying high and selling low.

I have always called this “the Siemens effect” from an example I came across, in a completely different field, about 30 years ago. German electronics giant Siemens built a telecommunications exchange in a sealed container, where no human could have access and all maintenance was conducted from an outside control panel. The exchange experienced only a small fraction of the equipment failures experienced in a normal telecommunications exchange, leading to the conclusion that human intervention by maintenance staff caused most of the faults.

Likewise in investment, if you build the equivalent of a sealed system. Where there is no direct human intervention, you are likely to experience better performance than if there is constant tinkering to “improve” the system.

The caveat is, during an electrical storm it may be advisable to shut the telecommunications exchange down from the control panel. Likewise, with stocks, when macroeconomic and volatility filters warn of elevated risk, the system should move to cash or assets (e.g. government bonds) with low or negative correlation to stocks.

Read more at Fidelity Reviewed Which Accounts Did Best And What They Found Was Hilarious | Business Insider.