Every investor has, I hope, read the standard disclaimer on mutual fund and ETF performance documents that ‘past performance does not predict future performance,’ or other text to that effect. Still, when you read a fund company’s statement that ‘x% of our funds have out-performed their category average’ or that ‘x% of our funds are rated 4- and 5-star by Morningstar,’ this seems meaningful. Similarly, if you read that the average small value fund has returns ‘y’% per year over the last 10 years, this also seems significant. There is a major factor that is missing in many of these types of comparisons of fund performance, however, that tend to make active funds look better than they really are (as compared to low-cost index funds) as well as making a mutual fund family’s managers look more skillful than they might actually be.
As the market rally persists, many investors will no doubt be kicking themselves and wishing that they had bought in earlier. Some will convince themselves that they better get on board or risk missing out on this bull market. There are many good reasons to invest money, but choosing to get in because of the potential gains that you could have made is not one of them. In the same way that people capitulate and sell out near market bottoms, there is also a big behavioral driver that seems to make people capitulate and join the herd towards the end of big bull markets. I am not saying that we are poised for decline (I am not a good market timer), but simply noting that buy or sell decisions made on the basis of what you wished you had done last month or last year is often truly dangerous. Continue reading →
In a recent article, I analyzed a model portfolio designed by Money magazine, in conjunction with analysts at Morningstar. The focus of my piece was whether I could reconcile the projections of risk and return for this portfolio with my own calculations. I was pleasantly surprised that the results seemed very consistent.
As a follow-up to that piece, I wanted to see whether I could improve this portfolio in terms of the projected performance. Continue reading →
One of the most important variables in creating an investment strategy to meet a specific goal (such as retirement) is what you assume about the future returns from stocks, bonds, and other available investment opportunities. Another highly important input to planning is your estimate of the risk associated with each investment alternative. These estimates of future risk and return will determine how much you need to save, when you can expect to retire, and how much income you can expect in retirement. Where do these estimates come from? Continue reading →
If you ask most investors how risky corporate bonds are compared to government bonds, or to compare emerging market stocks vs. domestic stocks, you’ll find that most investors have a sense of the relative risk based on personal experience—but nothing concrete. If you ask the same investors how risky an investment in gold is vs. the S&P 500 their answers usually get even more ambiguous.
However, in the last several years, we’ve seen a remarkable (yet largely unheralded) new source of information to help investors determine the risk level of an asset class or sector. Continue reading →
There are a large number of statistical measures available for looking at a mutual fund, ETF, stock or a combination of these in the total portfolio.
For an individual investor, what are the important measures and what do they mean? Over the next two days I will highlight the measures I think are critical to understanding and managing your investing portfolio.
Today, I’ll start with the best measurement of risk in any investment – its volatility. Continue reading →
I just read a very important study by Vanguard called Mutual Fund Ratings and Future Performance. The title would seems to suggest that this study is going to look at whether mutual fund ratings such as Morningstar’s star ratings are a reasonable prediction of future performance. The study does tackle this issue, but it also addresses an issue that is, I believe, even more important and that most investors are totally unaware of:
empirical evidence has supported the notion that a low-cost index fund is difficult to beat consistently over time. Yet, despite both the theory and the evidence, most mutual fund performance ratings have given index funds an “average” rating.