Month: May 2008

Hidden Costs of Investment

Hidden Costs of Investment

Passives and Index Trackers are vastly cheaper than Active Funds. It is not just a question of the Total Expense Ratios but also the cost of turnover.

Take the UK All Companies Sector as an example. Most actively managed funds have an Annual Management Charge of 1.5% pa. In addition they have other expenses declared of typically another 0.1% to 0.2% pa. Let’s be nice to them and say, on average, the combination known as the Total Expense Ratio (TER) amounts to say 1.6% pa.

Compare this with say Fidelity Money Builder UK Index Tracker with an AMC of 0.1% and a total TER 0.28% pa. Before even considering portfolio turnover costs the average Actively Managed fund has to deliver a further 1.3% or so per annum without taking any more risk than the index as a whole in order to simply match a tracker. Of course, there is no point in paying extra simply to break even with what you would have got if you just tracked the index.

Let’s now look at Portfolio Turnover Rates (PTR). These describe the proportion of the fund that has been turned over due to sales and purchases and is calculated according to a formula prescribed by the FSA. It is now a requirement for these to be published for UK unit trusts and OEICs within the Simplified Prospectus. You still have to hunt around for these figures as they are often quoted separately to other cost data. I am collating details of these prospectuses and will publish links in due course.

In the FSA Occasional Paper on the Cost of Retail Investments and, in particular on page 28, the average cost of a deal in a UK fund has been estimated at 180 basis points (1.8% to you and me). To find the cost of turnover you have to multiply the above cost by the PTR.

If you take the average PTR of an Active UK fund of 70%-90% (page 47 of the FSA paper) you end up with costs in addition to the TER of between 1.26% and 1.62%. If you take the Fidelity Special Situations Fund PTR of 137% you get an overall portfolio turnover cost of 2.46%. Quite a few active funds have PTRs of over 200%.

To get the total annual cost you have to add the PTR cost to the TER. This means that the actual annual cost of the average Active UK Fund amounts to between 2.86% and 3.22%. In the case of the Fidelity Special situations Fund you get total annual fund costs of 3.96% pa.

Contrast this with some trackers. The F&C FT All Share Index Tracker has a PTR of 0% and a TER of 0.39% and the Fidelity Money Builder with a TER of 0.28% and a PTR of -2.3%. These mean that the average active fund has to outperform them without taking any more risk by up to 2.94% per annum.

The sad truth is that most active funds can’t even achieve index levels of returns let alone beat them. So, why would you pay extra for that?

Markets are basically efficient

Markets are efficient

My core belief is that markets are “efficient.” The efficient markets hypothesis holds that markets are full of people trying to make a profit by predicting the future values of securities based on freely available information. Many intelligent participants compete to trade at a profit. The price they strike in trading a share is the consensus of their opinions about the share’s value. Since the price is the same for everyone, so is the value. The price the market strikes is therefore based on all the available information about a share, everything the investors know that has happened in the past and everything they predict will happen in the future. In this sense, markets assemble and evaluate information so effectively that the price of a share is usually our best estimate of its intrinsic value.

Prices are not always perfectly correct, nor is that a condition for market efficiency. The consensus view of investors can temporarily result in prices well above or well below a share’s intrinsic value. The only condition efficient markets require is that a disproportionate number of market participants do not consistently profit over other participants. Since “mispricings” tend to occur in both directions and since managers seem to over- and under perform with random frequency when adjusted for risk and costs, markets seem to be efficient.

Optimum Portfolio Structure

The optimum portfolio structure is based on, and supported by, a substantial body of academic research into the sources of investment risk and return which has reshaped portfolio theory and greatly improved understanding of the factors that drive performance.

Three Equity Factors

Market: Shares have higher expected returns than fixed interest.
Size: Small company shares have higher expected returns than large company shares.
Price: Lower-priced “value” shares have higher expected returns than higher-priced “growth” shares.

The notion that equities behave differently from fixed interest is widely accepted. Within equities, it has been found that differences in share returns are best explained by company size and price characteristics.

Two Fixed Interest Factors

Maturity: Longer-term instruments are riskier than shorter-term instruments.
Default: Instruments of lower credit quality are riskier than instruments of higher credit quality.

In the realm of fixed interest, two factors drive returns. Though these two factors characterise interest-sensitive investments, they do not have substantially stronger long-term expected returns. Therefore, fixed interest is best kept short in maturity and high in credit quality so risk exposure can be increased in the equity markets, where expected returns are higher.

The Benefits of Diversification

One of the best-established methods of risk management in investing is diversification. The concept is simple: holding only one share in your portfolio makes you directly susceptible to its price changes. If its price plummets, so does your entire portfolio. Hold two shares instead and, unless they both plummet, the portfolio is still afloat. The key to diversification is the age old adage, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.”

The main point of diversification is to reduce risk rather than improve expected return. For many European investors, the MSCI Europe Index represents the first equity asset class in a diversified portfolio. Although this index is diversified in European companies, investors can benefit by adding further components. Take, for example, a portfolio that holds just European shares, a portfolio that holds international shares (ex Europe), and a portfolio that holds a third in both regions with a third in international bonds (Citigroup World Government Bond Index Hedged). The diversified portfolio has a substantially lower standard deviation – risk to you or I.

MSCI Europe Index: 18.6%
MSCI World Ex Europe Index: 17.7%
Balanced Portfolio: 11.7%

(Balanced Portfolio is one-third MSCI Europe Index Gross Div., one-third MSCI World ex Europe Index Gross Div., and one-third Citigroup World Government Bond Index 1-30+ Years Hedged. Data in USD.) MSCI data courtesy of Morgan Stanley Capital International.

Citigroup data courtesy of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Performance data represents past performance and does not predict future performance.

This is the power of diversification: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts

The Importance of Asset Allocation

Capital markets are composed of many classes of securities, including stocks and bonds, both domestic and international. A group of securities with shared economic traits is commonly referred to as an asset class. There are several asset classes, all with average price movements that are distinct from one another. Investors can benefit by combining the different asset classes in a structured portfolio.

I believe investors should not only diversify across securities within an asset class, but also across asset classes themselves. This should include the full range of strategies: small and large stocks, domestic and international, value and core (growth), “emerging countries,” global bonds, and even real estate. Because the asset classes play different roles in a portfolio, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Investors have the ability to achieve greater expected returns with lower standard deviations than they would in a less comprehensive approach.

However, because no two investors are alike, there is no single “optimal” asset allocation. Each investor has his or her own risk tolerances, goals, and circumstances that dictate the weightings in each asset class. In general, the greater the proportion of stocks a portfolio holds, especially small cap and value stocks, the more “aggressive” a taker of risk it is and the greater it’s long-term expected return.

Adding Value

Many investment managers either believe they can actively exploit “mispricings,” so they engage in traditional active management; or they believe they can do nothing to add value over benchmarks, so they engage in traditional index management. I believe in a different approach. This combines the broad diversification, low cost, and reliable asset class exposure of passive strategies and adds value through engineering and trading.

Multifactor Investing

Academic research has shown that the three-factor model on average explains about 96% of the variation of returns among fully diversified professional US investment plans. Investing is therefore largely about deciding the extent your portfolio will participate in each of the three risk factors. In general, the greater the risk exposure, the greater the expected return.

Chris Wicks CFP
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Do Winners Repeat?

A common method of choosing active funds is to look at past performance. This can be done with varying degrees of sophistication. The ratings agencies such as Standard & Poors and Morningstar issue star ratings and these essentially combine past investment performance with an assessment of risk in arriving at the number of stars awarded to a fund.

A recent survey has assessed the effectiveness of using past performance in fund selection by investigating to what extent performance is repeated over a series of 5 year periods from January 1982 until December 2006.

I have summarised the results of the survey of top 30 funds for each five year period below:

Initial 5 year period Still in the top 30 five years later Still Top Quartile

Jan 1982-Dec 1986 0/30 4/30
Jan 1987-Dec 1991 5/30 15/30
Jan 1992-Dec 1996 1/30 12/30
Jan 1997-Dec 2001 2/30 6/30

What it tells you is that the chances of selecting an active fund manager who will still be outperforming his peers even five years later are slim to the say the least. This validates the view that active fund managers in general fail to add value. Whilst there are undoubtedly some that have demonstrated out performance the likelihood that you will choose one is remote.

In summary spending time on selecting active fund managers is a fool’s errand as it is unlikely to add value to the performance of a portfolio. If you are a serious investor your efforts are likely to be better rewarded by investing in the market as a whole and aiming for out performance by allocating some of your investments to under valued and smaller companies. Whilst these expose you to greater risk that investing in the whole of the market there is a reasonable probability that this will be rewarded. See my I help you achieve your lifetime goals for reasons that are important to you
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Asset Allocation: What’s it all about?

The basic premise behind asset allocation is that it is generally accepted as being the most significant factor behind the performance of investment portfolios. At its highest level this is literally the split between growth (equities) and non growth assets (cash and fixed interest). There are other factors including market timing, stock selection, momentum, value tilts, smaller company tilts etc. which have varying degrees of significance. Significance is used in this case to mean statistically meaningful or measurable.

The rationale for investing in anything other than risk free (e.g. cash/Treasury Bills) is to make extra returns. Therefore the more that you add to risky assets the more you should reasonably expect to make above risk free over time. A very basic asset allocation model could therefore be to simply have a split between a UK FT All Share Index Tracker and say Cash/Bonds. The more you add to the Tracker the more risk you take but the greater the returns you expect.

You could also add a Value and/or Smaller Companies tilt if you believe the evidence provided by French and Fama that, in return for additional risk (above just investing in the market as a whole), these two factors have demonstrated a tendency to generate additional returns (in excess of the market as a whole).

A decision that you will need to make is whether to take some fund manager risk. Obviously the reason why you would do this is because you believe that there is empirical evidence to indicate that you should make some extra profits in return for the extra risk and cost to which these expose you. Most readers will already be familiar with my views on this. For now I will simply quote from the FSA Occasional Paper on the Price of Retail Investing page 47 ‘That is, it appears to be the case that, on average, resources devoted to actively managing a fund do not create any off-setting improvement in fund performance’.

We are all familiar with the term diversification but do we really understand what this means? It does not just mean splitting a portfolio between different fund manager’s offerings so as to avoid having too many ‘eggs in one basket’. Rather, it is the method by which you blend asset classes which behave differently to each other in order to reduce the risk profile of the portfolio as a whole. It can be demonstrated that if you take a number of asset classes with given risk levels (typically measured using the standard deviation) that the risk profile of the portfolio composed of them will frequently be less. So it is useful, when constructing a portfolio, to ensure it contains a range of asset classes which behave differently i.e. they are uncorrelated.

Asset classes which tend to be fairly uncorrelated with equities include property and commodity futures. Both of these can be accessed via collective investments such as OEICS and Unit Trusts as well as Exchange Traded Funds.

Interestingly, alternative investments such as hedge funds appear to potentially have the potential to substantially worsen potential portfolio returns and make their risk profile increase rather than reduce overall. This is before you take into account the relative lack of information about what they actually do or the very high charges levied by them.

You will also need to decide on the extent to which you bias the portfolio (if at all) in favour of the UK market. In general if you are dealing with UK based investors you may want to increase the weighting to UK equities beyond their actual weighting as a function of the value of world markets as a whole. If you are dealing with expats, either non Brits or maybe Brits who are likely to retire abroad you have to ask yourself whether a portfolio with an overweight UK allocation would be appropriate.
There is no hard and fast rule about exactly what splits you should adopt. In general it is better to have any asset allocation strategy than none. Once you have adopted your asset allocation strategies you need to periodically rebalance the allocations to ensure that the risk profile of the portfolio is maintained. There is evidence that many private investors loose substantial sums by chopping and changing and following the market when they would have been better off simply adopting a long term buy and hold strategy.

A good source of information on asset allocation as well as many other aspects of investment is and in particular this article.. I would also very much endorse Tim Hale’s book which you can find here. I have also found this presentation given by Tim on Asset Allocation which you may find useful.

One final point on this. You will always find conflicting views on the most effective methods of investment and many of these will be given by extremely credible people. All I can say is that you have to look where the weight of the arguments lie and then take a view.