Click on the link below for a detailed analysis of quarterly performance of the global equity and fixed income markets.
Click on the link below for a detailed analysis of quarterly performance of the global equity and fixed income markets.
Costs matter. Whether you’re buying a car or selecting an investment strategy, the costs you expect to pay are likely to be an important factor in making any major financial decision.
People rely on a lot of different information about costs to help inform these decisions. When you buy a car, for example, the sticker price indicates approximately how much you can expect to pay for the car itself. But the costs of car ownership do not end there. Taxes, insurance, fuel, routine maintenance, and unexpected repairs are also important considerations in the overall cost of a car. Some of these costs are easily observed, while others are more difficult to assess. Similarly, when investing in mutual funds, different variables need to be considered to evaluate how cost‑effective a strategy may be for a particular investor.
Mutual funds have many costs, all of which affect the net return to investors. One easily observable cost is the expense ratio. Like the sticker price of a car, the expense ratio tells you a lot about what you can expect to pay for an investment strategy. Expense ratios strongly influence fund selection for many investors, and it’s easy to see why.
Exhibit 1 illustrates the outperformance rate, or the percentage of funds that beat their category index, for active equity mutual funds over the 15-year period ending December 31, 2017. To see the link between expense ratio and performance, outperformance rates are shown for quartiles of funds sorted by their expense ratio. As the chart shows, while active funds have mostly lagged indices across the board, the outperformance rate has been inversely related to expense ratio. Just 6% of funds in the highest expense ratio quartile beat their index, compared to 25% for the lowest expense ratio group.
This data indicates that a high expense ratio presents a challenging hurdle for funds to overcome, especially over longer time horizons. From the investor’s point of view, an expense ratio of 0.25% vs. 1.25% means savings of $10,000 per year on every $1 million invested. As Exhibit 2 helps to illustrate, those dollars can really add up over time.
Exhibit 1. High Costs Can Reduce Performance, Equity Fund Winners and Losers Based on Expense Ratios (%)
Exhibit 2. Hypothetical Growth of $1 Million at 6%, Less Expenses
For illustrative purposes only and not representative of an actual investment. This hypothetical illustration is intended to show the potential impact of higher expense ratios and does not represent any investor’s actual experience. Assumes a starting account balance of $1 million and a 6% compound annual growth rate less expense ratios of 0.25%, 0.75%, and 1.25% applied over a 15-year time horizon. Performance of a hypothetical investment does not reflect transaction costs, taxes, other potential costs, or returns that any investor would have actually attained and may not reflect the true costs, including management fees of an actual portfolio. Actual results may vary significantly. Changing the assumptions would result in different outcomes. For example, the savings and difference between the ending account balances would be lower if the starting investment amount were lower.
Going beyond The expense ratio
The poor track record of mutual funds with high expense ratios has led many investors to select mutual funds based on expense ratio alone. However, as with a car’s sticker price, an expense ratio is not an all-encompassing measure of the cost of ownership. Take, for example, index funds, which often rank near the bottom of their peers on expense ratio.
Index funds are designed to track or match the components of an index formed by an index provider, such as Russell or MSCI. Important decisions in the investment process, such as which securities to include in the index, are outsourced to an index provider and are not within the fund manager’s discretion. For example, the prescribed reconstitution schedule for an index, which is the process of deleting or adding certain stocks to the index, may cause index funds to buy stocks when buy demand is high and sell stocks when buy demand is low. This price-insensitive buying and selling may be required so that the index fund can stay true to its investment mandate of tracking an underlying index. This can result in sub-optimal transaction prices for the index fund and diminished overall returns. In other words, for a given amount of trading (or turnover), the cost per unit of trading may be higher for such a strictly regimented approach to investing. Moreover, this cost will not appear explicitly to investors assessing such a fund on expense ratio alone. Further, because indices are reconstituted infrequently (typically once per year), funds seeking to track them may also be forced to buy and sell holdings based on stale eligibility criteria. For example, the characteristics of a stock considered value as of the last reconstitution date may change over time, but between reconstitution dates, those changes would not affect that stock’s inclusion or weighting in a value index. That means incoming cash flows to a value index fund could actually be used to purchase stocks that currently look more like growth stocks, and vice versa. Metaphorically, these managers’ attention may be more focused on the rear-view mirror than on the road ahead for investors.
For active approaches like stock picking, both the total amount of trading and the cost per trade may be high. If a manager trades excessively or inefficiently, costs like commissions and price impact from trading can eat away at returns. Viewed through the lens of our car analogy, this impact is like the toll on your vehicle from incessantly jamming the brakes or accelerating quickly. Subjecting the car to such treatment may result in added wear and tear and greater fuel consumption, increasing your total cost of ownership. Similarly, excessive trading can lead to negative tax consequences for a fund, which can increase the cost of ownership for investors holding funds in taxable accounts. Such trading costs can be reduced by avoiding unnecessary turnover and seeking to minimize the cost per trade.
In contrast to both highly regimented indexing and high-turnover active strategies, employing a flexible investment approach that reduces the need for immediacy, and thus enables opportunistic execution, is one way to potentially reduce implicit costs. Keeping turnover low, remaining flexible, and transacting only when the potential benefits of a trade outweigh the costs can help keep overall trading costs down and help reduce the total cost of ownership.
The total cost of ownership of a mutual fund can be difficult to assess and requires a thorough understanding of costs beyond what an expense ratio can tell investors on its own. We believe investors should look beyond any one cost metric and instead evaluate the total cost of ownership of an investment solution.
PRINCIPLE #7 IS HERE!
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You never know which market segments will outperform from year to year. By holding a globally diversified portfolio, investors are well positioned to seek returns wherever they occur. Trying to correctly time your entry point to the market is difficult, and unfortunately humans have an instinctive desire to take control and make a change when things aren’t moving in the direction we want.
The problem is that what appears to be an intelligent alternative may actually be a distraction. Remember, hindsight is twenty-twenty. There are always short-term investments that do better than a balanced portfolio, but chasing returns is dangerous. What works is having a successful investment strategy and the discipline to stick with it.
Market timing is a seductive strategy. If we could sell stocks prior to a substantial decline and hold cash instead, our long-run returns could be exponentially higher. But successful market timing is a two-step process: determining when to sell stocks and when to buy them back. I can think of a couple of examples where getting these two key things correct would have been extremely difficult and maybe even impossible.
First, leading up to the presidential election in 2016, everyone predicted that a victory for Donald Trump would send the stock market into a tailspin. Nearly every media outlet predicted a market crash if Trump won, and many investors took the advice and withdrew. Yet after some brief jitters following Trump’s win, the stock market kept marching skyward. By the time Trump clinched the presidency, the market rallied and closed the trading day 256 points higher.
And let’s not forget the Brexit news of a couple of summers ago. Wasn’t Britain’s exit from the European Union finally the trigger of the next Stock Market crash? If you read the headlines and listened to the noise, you may have sold your stocks that June when the DJIA was just over 18,000. Four days after Brexit, the market stabilized and began its steady incline.
So how do we get our egos and emotions out of the investment process? One answer is to distance ourselves from the daily noise by appointing a financial advisor to help stop us from doing things against our own long-term interests. Investment advice is not about making predictions about the market. It’s about education and diversification and designing strategies that meet the specific needs of each individual. Ultimately it’s about saving investors from their own, very human, mistakes. What often stops investors from getting returns that are there for the taking are their very own actions—lack of diversification, compulsive trading, buying high, selling low, going by hunches and responding to media and market noise.
An advisor begins with the understanding that there are things we can’t control (like the ups and downs in the markets), and things we can (like proper diversification, rebalancing, minimizing fees, and being mindful of tax consequences). Most of all, an advisor helps us all by encouraging the exercise of discipline—the secret weapon in building long-term wealth.
Working with markets, understanding risk and return, diversifying and portfolio structure—we’ve heard the lessons of sound investing over and over. But so often the most important factor between success and failure is ourselves. Do you have a plan for navigating the “media noise”, and avoiding the temptation to time the market?
Our partner, Dimensional Fund Advisors’ analysis of US-based mutual funds shows that only a small percentage of funds have outperformed industry benchmarks after costs—and among top-ranked funds based on past results, only a small percentage have repeated their success. Check out the short video!
With school back in session in most of the country, many parents are likely thinking about how best to prepare for their children’s future college expenses. NOW is a good time to sharpen one’s pencil for a few important lessons before heading back into the investing classroom to tackle the issue.
THE CALCULUS OF PLANNING FOR FUTURE COLLEGE EXPENSES
According to recent data published by the College Board, the annual cost of attending college in the US in 2017–2018 averaged $20,770 at public schools, plus an additional $15,650 if one is attending from out of state. At private schools, tuition and fees averaged $46,950.
It is important to note that these figures are averages, meaning actual costs will be higher at certain schools and lower at others. Additionally, these figures do not include the separate cost of books and supplies or the potential benefit of scholarships and other types of financial aid. As a result, actual education costs can vary considerably from family to family.
Exhibit 1. Average Published Cost of Attending College in the US
Source: The College Board, “Trends in College Pricing 2017.”
To complicate matters further, the amount of goods and services $1 can purchase tends to decline over time. This is called inflation. One measure of inflation looks at changes in the price level of a basket of goods and services purchased by households, known as the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Tuition, fees, books, food, and rent are among the goods and services included in the CPI basket. In the US over the past 50 years, inflation measured by this index has averaged around 4% per year. With 4% inflation over 18 years, the purchasing power of $1 would decline by about 50%. If inflation were lower, say 3%, the purchasing power of $1 would decline by about 40%. If it were higher, say 5%, it would decline by around 60%.
While we do not know what inflation will be in the future, we should expect that the amount of goods and services $1 can purchase will decline over time. Going forward, we also do not know what the cost of attending college will be. But again, we should expect that education costs will likely be higher in the future than they are today. So, what can parents do to prepare for the costs of a college education? How can they plan for and make progress toward affording those costs?
DOING YOUR HOMEWORK ON INVESTING
To help reduce the expected costs of funding future college expenses, parents can invest in assets that are expected to grow their savings at a rate of return that outpaces inflation. By doing this, college expenses may ultimately be funded with fewer dollars saved. Because these higher rates of return come with the risk of capital loss, this approach should make use of a robust risk management framework. Additionally, by using a tax-deferred savings vehicle, such as a 529 plan, parents may not pay taxes on the growth of their savings, which can help lower the cost of funding future college expenses.
While inflation has averaged about 4% annually over the past 50 years, stocks (as measured by the S&P 500 Index) have returned around 10% annually during the same period. Therefore, the “real” (inflation-adjusted) growth rate for stocks has been around 6% per annum. Looked at another way, $10,000 of purchasing power invested at this rate over the course of 18 years would result in over $28,000 of purchasing power later on. We can expect the real rate of return on stocks to grow the purchasing power of an investor’s savings over time. We can also expect that the longer the horizon, the greater the expected growth. By investing in stocks, and by starting to save many years before children are college age, parents can expect to afford more college expenses with fewer savings.
It is important to recognize, however, that investing in stocks also comes with investment risks. Like teenage students, investing can be volatile, full of surprises, and, if one is not careful, expensive. While sometimes easy to forget during periods of increased uncertainty in capital markets, volatility is a normal part of investing. Tuning out short-term noise is often difficult to do, but historically, investors who have maintained a disciplined approach over time have been rewarded for doing so.
RISK MANAGEMENT AND DIVERSIFICATION: THE FRIENDS YOU SHOULD ALWAYS SIT WITH AT LUNCH
Working with a trusted advisor who has a transparent approach based on sound investment principles, consistency, and trust can help investors identify an appropriate risk management strategy. Such an approach can limit unpleasant (and often costly) surprises and ultimately may contribute to better investment outcomes.
A key part of maintaining this discipline throughout the investing process is starting with a well-defined investment goal. This allows for investment instruments to be selected that can reduce uncertainty with respect to that goal. When saving for college, risk management assets (e.g., bonds) can help reduce the uncertainty of the level of college expenses a portfolio can support by enrollment time. These types of investments can help one tune out short‑term noise and bring more clarity to the overall investment process. As kids get closer to college age, the right balance of assets is likely to shift from high expected return growth assets to risk management assets.
Diversification is also a key part of an overall risk management strategy for education planning. Nobel laureate Merton Miller used to say, “Diversification is your buddy.” Combined with a long-term approach, broad diversification is essential for risk management. By diversifying an investment portfolio, investors can help reduce the impact of any one company or market segment negatively impacting their wealth. Additionally, diversification helps take the guesswork out of investing. Trying to pick the best performing investment every year is a guessing game. We believe that by holding a broadly diversified portfolio, investors are better positioned to capture returns wherever those returns occur.
Higher education may come with a high and increasing price tag, so it makes sense to plan well in advance. There are many unknowns involved in education planning, and no “one-size-fits-all” approach can solve the problem. By having a disciplined approach toward saving and investing, however, parents can remove some of the uncertainty from the process. A trusted advisor can help parents craft a plan to address their family’s higher education goals.
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It’s not enough to diversify by security. Deeper diversification involves geographic and asset class diversity. Holding a global portfolio helps to lower concentration in individual securities and increase diversification.
Over long periods of time, investors can benefit from consistent exposure in their portfolios to both US and non-US equities. While both asset classes offer the potential to earn positive expected returns in the long term, they may perform quite differently over shorter cycles. The performance of different countries and asset classes will vary over time, and there is no reliable evidence that performance can be predicted in advance. An approach to equity investing that uses the global opportunity set available to investors can provide both diversification benefits as well as potentially higher expected returns.
The global equity market is large and represents a world of investment opportunities. Nearly half of the investment opportunities in global equity markets lie outside the United States. Non US stocks including developed and emerging markets, account for 47% of world market cap and represent more than 10,000 companies in over 40 countries. A portfolio investing solely within the US would not be exposed to the performance of those markets.
However, when Americans talk about the stock market, they’re generally referring to the Standard & Poor’s 500 index or the Dow Jones industrial average. But these indices represent only one part of the available investing universe. The total U.S. stock market makes up only about 53% of global market capitalization. Yet, on average, U.S. mutual fund investors possess a home bias, with a disproportionate amount of their portfolio invested in the United States. If their portfolios were balanced according to world market capitalization, about half of their assets would reside in non-U.S. stocks. This “home bias” leads to less diversification, and as a result, greater volatility with lower returns.
It’s well know that concentrating in one stock exposes you to unnecessary risks, and diversifying can reduce the impact of any one company’s performance on your wealth. From year to year, you never know which markets will outperform, and attempting to identify future winners is a guessing game. Diversification improves the odds of holding the best performers, and by holding a globally diversified portfolio, investors are positioned to capture returns wherever they occur.
Put very simply, DIVERSIFICATION:
· Helps you capture what global markets offer
· Reduces risks that have no expected return
· May prevent you from missing opportunity
· Smooths out some of the bumps
· Helps take the guesswork out of investing
There is no single perfect portfolio. There are an infinite number of possibilities for allocation based on the needs and risk profile of each individual. The most important question investors should ask… “IS MY PORTFOLIO GLOBALLY DIVERSIFIED?”
So many investors search for the answer to this question! This video discusses important factors that can help you meet your goals – like determining your savings rate, monitoring your progress, and making adjustments over time.
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Throughout history, many of the greatest advancements in finance have come from Academia. Our investment philosophy has been shaped by decades of research by leading academics. We structure portfolios on the principles that markets are efficient; that returns are determined by asset allocation decisions, and that portfolios can be structured around dimensions of expected returns identified through academic research. It is through our strategic partnership with Dimensional Fund Advisors, a leading global investment firm that has been translating academic research into practical investment solutions since 1981, that we can pursue dimensions of higher expected returns through advanced portfolio design, management, and trading.
Much of what we have learned about expected returns in the equity and fixed income markets can be summarized in these dimensions.
Since 1981, Dimensional has incorporated rigorous academic research on the capital markets into the design, management, and trading of clients’ portfolios. Some of the major milestones in academic research shown in the chart below have had a profound effect on our investment philosophy.
Our enduring philosophy and deep working relationships with Dimensional and the academic community underpin our approach to investing. Over a long period of time, Academics have been able to identify dimensions of higher expected returns, and with Dimensional, we can structure portfolios around these dimensions in a very cost-effective manner.
Have you ever heard the term “Financial Science”? A strong belief in markets can free people to think and act differently about investing. By evolving with advances in financial science, our partner, Dimensional Fund Advisors, has delivered long-term results for investors.
Check out today’s video on applying Science to your investing strategy!
Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about financial science and our partnership with DFA!
855.PARKELM or firstname.lastname@example.org.
From 1928–2017 the value premium in the US had a positive annualized return of approximately 3.5%. In seven of the last 10 calendar years, however, the value premium in the US has been negative.
This has prompted some investors to wonder if such an extended period of underperformance may be cause for concern. But are periods of underperformance in the value premium that unusual? We can look to history to help make sense of this question.
Exhibit 1 shows yearly observations of the US value premium going back to 1928. We can see the annual arithmetic average for the premium is close to 5%, but in any given year the premium has varied widely, sometimes experiencing extreme positive or negative performance. In fact, there are only a handful of years that were within a 2% range of the annual average—most other years were farther above or below the mean. In the last 10 years alone there have been premium observations that were negative, positive, and in line with the historical average. This data helps illustrate that there is a significant amount of variability around how long it may take a positive value premium to materialize.
Exhibit 1: Yearly Observations of Premiums, Value minus Growth: US Markets, 1928–2017
In US dollars. The one-year relative price premium is computed as the one-year compound return on the Fama/French US Value Research Index minus the one-year compound return on the Fama/French US Growth Research Index. Fama/French indices provided by Ken French.Indices are not available for direct investment. Their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
But what about longer-term underperformance? While the current stretch of extended underperformance for the value premium may be disappointing, it is not unprecedented. Exhibit 2 documents 10-year annualized performance periods for the value premium, sorted from lowest to highest by end date (calendar year).
Exhibit 2: Historical Observations of 10-Year Premiums, Value minus Growth:
US Markets 10-Year Periods ending 1937–2017
This chart shows us that the best 10-year period for the value premium was from 1941–1950 (at top), while the worst was from 1930–1939 (at bottom). In most cases, we can see that the value premium was positive over a given 10-year period. As the arrow indicates, however, the value premium for the most recent 10‑year period (ending in 2017) was negative. To put this in context, the most recent 10 years is one of 13 periods since 1937 that had a negative annualized value premium. Of these, the most recent period of underperformance has been fairly middle-of-the-road in magnitude.
In US dollars. The 10-year rolling relative price premium is computed as the 10-year annualized compound return on the Fama/French US Value Research Index minus the 10-year annualized compound return on the Fama/French US Growth Research Index. Fama/French indices provided by Ken French. Indices are not available for direct investment. Their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
While there is uncertainty around how long periods of underperformance may last, historically the frequency of a positive value premium has increased over longer time horizons. Exhibit 3 shows the percentage of time that the value premium was positive over different time periods going back to 1926. When the length of time measured increased, the chance of a positive value premium increased. For example, when the time period measured goes from five years to 10 years, the frequency of positive average premiums increased from 75% to 84%.
Exhibit 3: Historical Performance of Premiums over Rolling Periods, July 1926–December 2017
In US dollars. Based on rolling annualized returns using monthly data. Rolling multiyear periods overlap and are not independent. Fama/French indices provided by Ken French. Indices are not available for direct investment. Their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
What does all of this mean for investors? While a positive value premium is never guaranteed, the premium has historically had a greater chance of being positive the longer the time horizon observed. Even with long-term positive results though, periods of extended underperformance can happen from time to time. Because the value premium has not historically materialized in a steady or predictable fashion, a consistent investment approach that maintains emphasis on value stocks in all market environments may allow investors to more reliably capture the premium over the long run. Additionally, keeping implementation costs low and integrating multiple dimensions of expected stock returns (such as size and profitability) can improve the consistency of expected outperformance.