Retirement Insights Series

By | June 19th, 2019|Markets, retirement|

THE RETIREMENT EQUATION

A sound retirement plan is to make the most of the things that you can control but be sure to evaluate factors that are somewhat or completely out of your control within your comprehensive retirement plan.

Investment efforts are best directed toward areas where we can make a difference and away from things we can’t control. We can’t control movements in the market. We can’t control news or financial headlines. No one can reliably forecast the market’s direction or predict which stock or investment manager will outperform.

But each of us can control how much risk we take. We can diversify! We do have a say in the fees we pay. We are in charge of our savings rate and spending, and we can exercise discipline when our emotional impulses threaten to blow us off-course.

This can be difficult for most people, because we are pushed toward fads that the financial marketing industry decides are sellable, which require us to constantly tinker with our portfolios.

That’s why we’ve created a Retirement Insights Series help you focus to the controllable things. Breaking down the road to retirement one step at a time! Stay tuned for a new topic each week in the series!

Trillion Dollar Club

By | June 10th, 2019|DFA, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Markets|

For 20 years, we have utilized Dimensional Fund Advisors to facilitate intelligent product selection, and our philosophy parallels their approach of information based, efficient investing.

The Financial Times recently sat down with Dimensional Co-CEO and Chief Investment Officer Gerard O’Reilly. The interview covers O’Reilly’s path to Dimensional, his leadership alongside Co-CEO Dave Butler, and the firm’s research-based culture and approach to investing.

An interesting piece about one of DFA’s own, and his path to Dimensional. Read below or click HERE to go directly to Dimensional’s Web site.

 

dimensional-eyes-the-fund-sectors-trillion-dollar-club

 

 

The Randomness of Global Equity Returns

By | June 4th, 2019|Markets|

Investment opportunities exist all around the globe.

Across more than 40 countries, there are over 15,000 publicly traded companies. If you listen to the news, however, some countries may seem like better places to invest than others based on how their economies and stock markets are doing at the time. Fluctuations in performance from year to year only add to the complexity, providing little useful information about future returns.

Daunted by the prospects of sorting it out, some investors look to the place they know best—their home market. There can be good reasons, such as tax benefits, for prioritizing an investment close to home, but too much home bias could mean underweighting or missing out on part of the investment universe.

Australia, for example, represents 2% of the global equity market. An Australian who aims to build a global equity portfolio may have cause for investing a greater amount at home. However, this would come with the tradeoff of reduced investment in other countries. The same is true for a Japanese investor, whose home country represents 8% of the global equity market. Even the US equity market—the world’s largest by far—is only about half of the global opportunity set.

Fortunately, no one needs to be an expert in every region to benefit from the opportunities those regions present. Equity markets process information continuously, leveraging knowledge from millions of buyers and sellers each day as they set security prices. Investors can trust market prices to provide an up-to-the-minute snapshot of global investment opportunities.

Because prices do such a good job incorporating information about securities in every market, they also offer the best prediction of future prospects. No sensible story or compelling empirical research suggests investors can consistently outguess those prices and pick winning countries. A well-diversified global portfolio can help capture the returns of markets around the world and deliver more reliable outcomes over time.

Reading the checkerboard

The tables in Exhibit 1 illustrate 20 years of annual equity returns for developed and emerging markets. Each color represents a different country. Each column is sorted top down, from the highest-performing country to the lowest.

Taken together, these tables powerfully demonstrate the randomness of global equity returns. In either table, pick a color in the first column and follow it through to the right. Does any country seem to follow a pattern that gives clues about its future performance?

Exhibit 1 – Annual Returns

1999–2018

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI country indices (net dividends) for each country presented. MSCI data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved.

Consider the performance of the US and Denmark, shown in Exhibit 2. Is it immediately clear which country had the higher return over the past two decades?

Denmark, in fact, was the best performer among all developed markets, with an annualized return of 9.1%. Surprisingly perhaps, Denmark had the best calendar year return only once, in 2015. The US, despite some strong returns in the last several years, placed ninth overall with an annualized return of 4.9%. Bear in mind, Denmark represents less than 1% of the global market cap available to investors.

Exhibit 2 – Who Performed Better over the 20-Year Period?

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI country indices (net dividends) for each country presented. MSCI data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved.

From first to worst

Denmark also provides an example of the unpredictability in short-term results. After posting the highest developed market return in 2015, Denmark had the lowest return in 2016. Countries have also moved in the opposite direction, from worst to first, in consecutive years. In 2000, New Zealand had the lowest return among developed markets followed by the highest return in both 2001 and 2002. In emerging markets, Hungary and Russia went from the bottom two performers in 2014 to the top two performers in 2015.

Going to extremes

In a single year, the difference between the return of the highest-performing country and the lowest can be dramatic, as shown in Exhibit 3. Among developed markets over the last 20 years, the difference between the best and worst performers has ranged from a low of 24% in 2018 to as much as 81% in 2009. The differences in emerging markets are even more pronounced, ranging from 39% in 2013 to 160% in 2005. In fact, the difference in emerging markets has exceeded 100% in several years.

These extreme differences in outcomes, combined with the examples of countries that experienced sharp reversals in their return rankings, highlight the risk of trying to predict future returns by looking at the past and emphasize the importance of diversification across countries.

Exhibit 3 – Return Differences

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. MSCI country indices (net dividends) for each country presented. MSCI data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved. Indices are not available for direct investment; therefore, their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio.

Now, the good news

This evidence of the randomness in global equity returns, though, is not bad news for investors. Rather than trying to guess which country is going to outperform when, investors committed to a well-structured, globally diversified portfolio are better positioned to capture the performance of the global markets, where and when it occurs.

Over the last 20 years, every dollar invested in a globally diversified strategy, shown by the Dimensional Global Market Index in Exhibit 4, nearly tripled.

A globally diversified approach can deliver more reliable outcomes over time with less volatility than investing in individual countries. This can help investors stay on track, through all kinds of markets, toward their long-term goals.

Exhibit 4 – Growth of $1
1999–2018

Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Indices are not available for direct investment; therefore, their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Data presented in the Growth of $1 chart is hypothetical and assumes reinvestment of income and no transaction costs or taxes. The charts are for illustrative purposes only and are not indicative of any investment. See disclosures for more information on the Dimensional Global Market Index.
Source: Dimensional Fund Advisors LP.

May Performance Dashboard

By | June 3rd, 2019|Markets|

In stark contrast to the strong performance during the first four months of 2019, U.S. equities suffered in May as a result of trade tensions between the U.S. and China along with slowing global growth concerns. The S&P 500® lost 6%, while the S&P MidCap 400® and S&P SmallCap 600® lost 8% and 9%, respectively. The VIX® ended the month at 18.7, still surprisingly low by historical standards.
The market struck a defensive tone, with Low Volatility taking the lead. Across sectors, Real Estate was the top performer and sole sector with positive performance, while Energy languished from the weakness in oil prices.
International markets also posted losses, with the S&P Developed Ex-U.S. BMI and the S&P Emerging BMI down 5% and 6%, respectively.
dashboard-us-2019-05

The Uncommon Average

By | May 14th, 2019|DFA, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Markets|

The US stock market has delivered an average annual return of around 10% since 1926.[1] But short-term results may vary, and in any given period stock returns can be positive, negative, or flat. When setting expectations, it’s helpful to see the range of outcomes experienced by investors historically. For example, how often have the stock market’s annual returns actually aligned with its long-term average?

Exhibit 1 shows calendar year returns for the S&P 500 Index since 1926. The shaded band marks the historical average of 10%, plus or minus 2 percentage points. The S&P 500 Index had a return within this range in only six of the past 93 calendar years. In most years, the index’s return was outside of the range—often above or below by a wide margin—with no obvious pattern. For investors, the data highlight the importance of looking beyond average returns and being aware of the range of potential outcomes.

Exhibit 1: S&P 500 Index Annual Returns

1926–2018

In US dollars. S&P data © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index returns are not representative of actual portfolios and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Actual returns may be lower.

TUNING IN TO DIFFERENT FREQUENCIES

Despite the year-to-year volatility, investors can potentially increase their chances of having a positive outcome by maintaining a long-term focus. Exhibit 2 documents the historical frequency of positive returns over rolling periods of one, five, and 10 years in the US market. The data show that, while positive performance is never assured, investors’ odds improve over longer time horizons.

Exhibit 2: Frequency of Positive Returns in the S&P 500 Index

Overlapping Periods: 1926–2018

In US dollars. From January 1926–December 2018, there are 997 overlapping 10-year periods, 1,057 overlapping 5-year periods, and 1,105 overlapping 1-year periods. The first period starts in January 1926, the second period starts in February 1926, the third in March 1926, and so on. S&P data © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index returns are not representative of actual portfolios and do not reflect costs and fees associated with an actual investment. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Actual returns may be lower. 

Conclusion

While some investors might find it easy to stay the course in years with above average returns, periods of disappointing results may test an investor’s faith in equity markets. Being aware of the range of potential outcomes can help investors remain disciplined, which in the long term can increase the odds of a successful investment experience. What can help investors endure the ups and downs? While there is no silver bullet, understanding how markets work and trusting market prices are good starting points. An asset allocation that aligns with personal risk tolerances and investment goals is also valuable. By thoughtfully considering these and other issues, investors may be better prepared to stay focused on their long-term goals during different market environments.

April Performance Dashboard

By | May 2nd, 2019|Markets|

U.S. equities gained steam in April, powered by positive earnings, potential progress in U.S./China trade talks, and recent dovish sentiment from the Fed. The S&P 500®, the S&P MidCap 400® and S&P SmallCap 600® all gained 4%, and the VIX® declined to 13.12.

All U.S. equity factors rose in April, with High Beta and Enhanced Value taking the lead.  Across sectors, Financials and Communication Services were the top performers, up 9% and 7%, respectively, while Health Care was the laggard.

International markets also posted gains, with the S&P Developed Ex-U.S. and the S&P Emerging BMI up 3% and 2%, respectively.

 

The Index Bogeyman

By | April 17th, 2019|Markets|

Over the last several years, index funds have received increased attention from investors and the financial media.

Some have even made claims that the increased usage of index funds may be distorting market prices. For many, this argument hinges on the premise that indexing reduces the efficacy of price discovery. If index funds are becoming increasingly popular and investors are “blindly” buying an index’s underlying holdings, sufficient price discovery may not be happening in the market. But should the rise of index funds be a cause of concern for investors? Using data and reasoning, we can examine this assertion and help investors understand that markets continue to work, and investors can still rely on market prices despite the increased prevalence of indexing.

Many buyers and sellers

While the popularity of indexing has been increasing over time, index fund investors still make up a relatively small percentage of overall investors. For example, data from the Investment Company Institute shows that as of December 2017, 35% of total net assets in US mutual funds and ETFs were held by index funds, compared to 15% in December of 2007. Nevertheless, the majority of total fund assets (65%) were still managed by active mutual funds in 2017. As a percentage of total market value, index-based mutual funds and ETFs also remain relatively small. As shown in Exhibit 1, domestic index mutual funds and ETFs comprised only 13% of total US stock market capitalization in 2017.

Exhibit 1.       Investor Breakdown in the US Stock Market as a Percentage of Total US Stock Market Capitalization

In this context, it should also be noted that many investors use nominally passive vehicles, such as ETFs, to engage in traditionally active trading. For example, while both a value index ETF and growth index ETF may be classified as index investments, investors may actively trade between these funds based on short-term expectations, needs, circumstances, or for other reasons. In fact, several index ETFs regularly rank among the most actively traded securities in the market.

Beyond mutual funds, there are many other participants in financial markets, including individual security buyers and sellers, such as actively managed pension funds, hedge funds, and insurance companies, just to name a few. Security prices reflect the viewpoints of all these investors, not just the population of mutual funds.

As Professors Eugene Fama and Kenneth French point out in their blog post titled “Q&A: What if Everybody Indexed?”, the impact of an increase in indexed assets also depends to some extent on which market participants switch to indexing:

“If misinformed and uninformed active investors (who make prices less efficient) turn passive, the efficiency of prices improves. If some informed active investors turn passive, prices tend to become less efficient. But the effect can be small if there is sufficient competition among remaining informed active investors. The answer also depends on the costs of uncovering and evaluating relevant knowable information. If the costs are low, then not much active investing is needed to get efficient prices.” 

What’s the volume?

Exhibit 2.       Annual Global Equity Market Trading Volume, 2007–2018

In US dollars. Source: Dimensional, using data from Bloomberg LP. Includes primary and secondary exchange trading volume globally for equities. ETFs and funds are excluded.

Besides secondary market trading, there are also other paths to price discovery through which new information can get incorporated into market prices. For example, companies themselves can impact prices by issuing stock and repurchasing shares. In 2018 alone, there were 1,633 initial public offerings, 3,492 seasoned equity offerings, and 4,148 buybacks around the world.3 The derivatives markets also help incorporate new information into market prices as the prices of those financial instruments are linked to the prices of underlying equities and bonds. On an average day in 2018, market participants traded over 1.5 million options contracts and $225 billion worth of equity futures.

Hypothesis in practice

Exhibit 3.       Active Manager Performance Has Not Improved
Percentage of Non-Index Equity Funds Outperforming for Three-Year Rolling Period, 2004–2018

Equity mutual fund outperformance percentages are shown for the three-year periods ending December 31 of each year, 2004–2018. Each sample includes equity funds available at the beginning of the three-year period. Outperformers are funds with return observations for every month of the three-year period whose cumulative net return over the period exceeded that of their respective Morningstar category index as of the start of the period. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. 

Exhibit 4.       Range of S&P 500 Index Constituent Returns

Upper chart includes 2008 total returns for constituent securities in the S&P 500 Index as of December 31, 2007. Lower chart includes 2017 total returns for constituent securities in the S&P 500 Index as of December 31, 2016. Excludes securities that delisted or were acquired during the year. Source: S&P data ©2019 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. For illustrative purposes only. Indices are not available for direct investment; therefore, their performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio.  

Conclusion

Despite the increased popularity of index-based approaches, the data continue to support the idea that markets are working. Annual trading volume continues to be in line with prior years, indicating that market participant transactions are still driving price discovery. The majority of active mutual fund managers continue to underperform, suggesting that the rise of indexing has not made it easier to outguess market prices. Prices and returns of individual holdings within indices are not moving in lockstep with asset flows into index funds. Lastly, while naysayers will likely continue to point to indexing as a hidden danger in the market, it is important that investors keep in mind that index funds are still a small percentage of the diverse array of investor types. Investors can take comfort in knowing that markets are still functioning; willing buyers and sellers continue to meet and agree upon prices at which they desire to transact. It is also important to remember that while indexing has been a great financial innovation for many, it is only one solution in a large universe of different investment options.

Mutual Funds vs. ETF’s

By | March 20th, 2019|Markets, retirement, Video|

Our partners at Charles Schwab produced this short video to help explain the difference between Exchange Traded Funds (ETF’s) and Mutual Funds.    It’s common amongst investors to have little understanding of the difference between the two. There are times when it makes sense to choose one over the other. Timing, taxes and expenses are all factors.

Schwab now has over 2000 ETF’s and Mutual Funds that can be purchased with no commission or transaction cost.   We help our clients navigate this broad universe of investment options, to build low cost portfolios designed to meet the client’s future goals. We can help you sift through the details when it comes time to invest your money.

Click on PLAY above to check out this SHORT, 3 minute clip, and call us if need help with your investment plan!

Getting to the Point of a Point

By | March 15th, 2019|DFA, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Markets|

A quick online search for “Dow rallies 500 points” yields a cascade of news stories with similar titles, as does a similar search for “Dow drops 500 points.”

These types of headlines may make little sense to some investors, given that a “point” for the Dow and what it means to an individual’s portfolio may be unclear. The potential for misunderstanding also exists among even experienced market participants, given that index levels have risen over time and potential emotional anchors, such as a 500-point move, do not have the same impact on performance as they used to. With this in mind, we examine what a point move in the Dow means and the impact it may have on an investment portfolio.

Impact of index construction

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was first calculated in 1896 and currently consists of 30 large cap US stocks. The Dow is a price-weighted index, which is different than more common market capitalization-weighted indices.

An example may help put this difference in weighting methodology in perspective. Consider two companies that have a total market capitalization of $1,000. Company A has 1,000 shares outstanding that trade at $1 each, and Company B has 100 shares outstanding that trade at $10 each. In a market capitalization-weighted index, both companies would have the same weight since their total market caps are the same. However, in a price-weighted index, Company B would have a larger weight due to its higher stock price. This means that changes in Company B’s stock would be more impactful to a price-weighted index than they would be to a market cap-weighted index.

The relative advantages and disadvantages of these methodologies are interesting topics themselves, but the main purpose of discussing the differences in this context is to point out that design choices can have an impact on index performance. Investors should be aware of this impact when comparing their own portfolios’ performance to that of an index.

Headlines vs. reality

Movements in the Dow are often communicated in units known as points, which signify the change in the index level. Investors should be cautious when interpreting headlines that reference point movements, as a move of, say, 500 points in either direction is less meaningful now than in the past largely because the overall index level is higher today than it was many years ago.

Exhibit 1 plots what a decline of this magnitude has meant in percentage terms over time. A 500-point drop in January 1985, when the Dow was near 1,300, equated to a nearly 39% loss. A 500-point drop in December 2003, when the Dow was near 10,000, meant a much smaller 5% decline in value. And a 500-point drop in early December 2018, when the Dow hovered near 25,000, resulted in a 2% loss.

Exhibit 1.       Hypothetical 500-Point Decline of the Dow Measured in Percentage Terms

How does the dow relate to your portfolio?

While the Dow and other indices are frequently interpreted as indicators of broader stock market performance, the stocks composing these indices may not be representative of an investor’s total portfolio.

For context, the MSCI All Country World Investable Market Index (MSCI ACWI IMI) covers just over 8,700 large, mid, and small cap stocks in 23 developed and 24 emerging markets countries with a combined market cap of more than $50 trillion. The S&P 500 includes 505 large cap US stocks with approximately $23.8 trillion in combined market cap. The Dow is a collection of 30 large cap US stocks with a combined market cap of approximately $6.8 trillion.

Exhibit 2.       Performance of MSCI ACWI IMI, S&P 500, and Dow by Calendar Year

Dow Jones and S&P 500 data © 2019 S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, a division of S&P Global. All rights reserved. MSCI data © MSCI 2019, all rights reserved. MSCI ACWI IMI is the MSCI All Country World Investable Market Index (net dividends). Their performance does not reflect fees and expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

It is also important to note that some investors may be concerned about other asset classes besides stocks. Depending on investor needs, a diversified portfolio may include a mix of global stocks, bonds, commodities, and any number of other assets not represented in a stock index. A portfolio’s performance should always be evaluated within the context of an investor’s specific goals. Understanding how a personal portfolio compares to broadly published indices like the Dow can give investors context about how headlines apply to their own situation.

Conclusion

News headlines are often written to grab attention. A headline publicizing a 500-point move in the Dow may trigger an emotional response and, depending on the direction, sound either exciting or ominous enough to warrant reading the article. However, after digging further, we can see that the insights such headlines offer may be limited, especially if investors hold portfolios designed and managed daily to meet their individual goals, needs, and preferences in a broadly diversified and cost-effective manner.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

By | February 20th, 2019|DFA, Dimensional Fund Advisors, Markets|

Investment fads are nothing new. When selecting strategies for their portfolios, investors are often tempted to seek out the latest and greatest investment opportunities. Over the years, these approaches have sought to capitalize on developments such as the perceived relative strength of particular geographic regions, technological changes in the economy, or the popularity of different natural resources. But long-term investors should be aware that letting short-term trends influence their investment approach may be counterproductive.

“There’s one robust new idea in finance that has

investment implications maybe every 10 or 15 years,

but there’s a marketing idea every week.” Nobel laureate Eugene Fama

What’s Hot Becomes What’s Not

Let’s look back at some investment fads over the decades:

1950’s – the “Nifty Fifty” (50 hot companies) were all the rage.

1960s – “go-go” stocks and funds piqued investor interest.

Late 20th century – emergence of a “new economy”

1990s – attention turned to the rising “Asian Tigers” of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.

2000’s – “BRIC” countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China and their new place in global markets.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis – “Black Swan” funds, “tail-risk-hedging” strategies, and “liquid alternatives” abounded.

Recently – peer-to-peer lending, cryptocurrencies, and even cannabis cultivation

The Fund Graveyard
Unsurprisingly, however, numerous funds across the investment landscape were launched over the years only to subsequently close and fade from investor memory. While economic, demographic, technological, and environmental trends shape the world we live in, public markets aggregate a vast amount of dispersed information and drive it into security prices. Any individual trying to outguess the market by constantly trading in and out of what’s hot is competing against the extraordinary collective wisdom of millions of buyers and sellers around the world.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to point out the fortune one could have amassed by making the right call on a specific industry, region, or individual security over a specific period. While these anecdotes can be entertaining, there is a wealth of compelling evidence that highlights the futility of attempting to identify mispricing in advance and profit from it.

It is important to remember that many investing fads, and indeed, most mutual funds, do not stand the test of time. A large proportion of funds fail to survive over the longer term. Of the 1,622 fixed income mutual funds in existence at the beginning of 2004, only 55% still existed at the end of 2018. Similarly, among equity mutual funds, only 51% of the 2,786 funds available to US-based investors at the beginning of 2004 endured.

What Am I Really Getting?
When confronted with choices about whether to add additional types of assets or strategies to a portfolio, it may be helpful to ask the following questions:

1. What is this strategy claiming to provide that is not already in my portfolio?

2. If it is not in my portfolio, can I reasonably expect that including it or focusing on it will increase expected returns, reduce expected volatility, or help me achieve my investment goal?

3. Am I comfortable with the range of potential outcomes? 

If investors are left with doubts after asking any of these questions, it may be wise to use caution before proceeding. In addition, there is no shortage of things investors can do to help contribute to a better investment experience. Working closely with a financial advisor can help individual investors create a plan that fits their needs and risk tolerance. Pursuing a globally diversified approach; managing expenses, turnover, and taxes; and staying disciplined through market volatility can help improve investors’ chances of achieving their long-term financial goals.

Conclusion
Fashionable investment approaches will come and go, but investors should remember that a long-term, disciplined investment approach based on robust research and implementation may be the most reliable path to success in the global capital markets.

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