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Smart Beta and Factor Timing

A new research paper from Denys Glushkov, Research Director at Wharton Research Data Services of the University of Pennsylvania is raising some eyebrows in the smart beta world. The paper is one of the most comprehensive independent looks at the performance of smart-beta ETFs, and the results are not pretty. Despite looking at 11 years of real data, the paper finds no evidence that smart beta ETFs have outperformed the market on a risk-adjusted basis. To be specific, the study looks at the performance of 164 domestic equity smart beta ETFs and comes up snake eyes. The result must come as a shock to the smart beta industry. To date, most of the “studies” on smart beta have been from […]

Software Based Companies Should Be Judged On Their Rate Of Innovation

Software is eating the world and it’s pretty clear why. Unlike their people-intensive predecessors, software-based businesses have the ability to improve their offerings at a rapid rate. But software is not a commodity, and not all companies are able to innovate at the same rate. Understanding that matters, because committing to a software-based vendor that is not the innovator in its space will likely lead a customer to incur significant costs in the form of lost opportunity – and that opportunity cost is usually quite tangible. Not All Automated Investment Services Innovate At The Same Rate Allow me to illustrate this with automated investment services. To the uninformed observer, all the players appear to offer the same service – a […]

How Do You Recognize a Sinking Ship?

Kenny Rogers probably didn’t realize his now famous lyrics “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em. Know when to fold ‘em.” was also outstanding career advice. All too often people stay too long on a sinking ship, a company headed toward failure, which can have a huge opportunity cost. Few hiring managers you subsequently encounter will give you credit for staying until the end; rather you’ll likely be viewed as having bad judgment for having done so. You need to understand the early warning signs of failure so you can move on to a new company before it is too late. By the way, the high failure rate of startups is one of the reasons I recommend that people […]

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Tax-Loss Harvesting (and should)

For decades tax-loss harvesting was an obscure tool to minimize taxes that was only available to the ultra wealthy. That all changed when Wealthfront launched its tax-loss harvesting service in October 2012.  Many pundits and industry professionals who were unfamiliar with its benefits thought it couldn’t add much value. One of our competitors even referred to the concept as a “joke.”  Well times have changed and now every  automated investment service offers a version of tax-loss harvesting. However, there are still many misperceptions of how and when tax-loss harvesting creates value, even among very intelligent investors. Here’s our Top 10 list of things you probably didn’t know about tax-loss harvesting: Tax-loss harvesting derives its benefit from the combination of tax-rate arbitrage […]

Attempting to Maximize Your Return Isn’t Always a Good Thing

I am often asked “why shouldn’t I always choose the highest risk portfolio if it’s expected to generate the highest return?” That seems like a very reasonable question. In fact if everyone were rational they should choose the highest risk portfolio for exactly this reason. Unfortunately, very few people are rational. Chasing Returns Will Hurt You As our chief investment officer Burt Malkiel pointed out in Investors’ Most Serious Mistake, individual investors tend to chase returns. In other words they invest after markets have risen and sell when they decline. The chart below illustrates this behavior.                 As you can see cash flows into mutual funds when markets are up and are withdrawn […]

What Long-Term Return Should I Expect?

One of the most common questions posed to our client services team is “What is the expected long-term rate of return I can assume if I invest in a diversified portfolio?” Based on return estimates derived from the market (not Wealthfront’s opinion), an optimally diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds is expected to generate an annual long-term pre-tax  return of 4% – 6%, depending on how much risk you are willing to tolerate. It should be noted that the returns achieved over the past two years were much higher, but as you know past returns are not indicative of future returns. Returns Are Almost Impossible to Predict Some of you might be disappointed with this expected long-term return. I wish it […]

Minimize Your Investment Taxes

Our Chief Investment Officer, Burt Malkiel, famed author of “A Random Walk Down Wall Street,” has spent the past 40 years explaining that investors can’t control the market, so they should focus their efforts on the three investment tactics within their control: Diversify and rebalance your portfolio Minimize fees Minimize taxes Previously, we published posts on the value of diversification and minimizing fees. However, too often the industry avoids talking about one of the most important aspects of maximizing your long-term investment results: minimizing taxes. The Seven Ways to Minimize Taxes There are seven ways Wealthfront can significantly reduce your investment taxes: Using Index Funds Rebalancing your portfolio with dividends Applying different asset allocations for taxable & retirement accounts Tax–loss […]

You Can’t Get Access to the Best Alternative Assets

One of the services most frequently touted by private wealth managers is their ability to provide access to outstanding alternative assets like hedge funds. Unfortunately very few private wealth managers have access to the hedge funds that are worth the fees. Of course, that won’t stop them from promising you the best and delivering poor alternatives. That’s why David Swensen, Yale’s Chief Investment Officer and the man most identified with employing alternative assets, essentially says in the introduction to his groundbreaking book Pioneering Portfolio Management, that if you can access premier alternative assets like hedge funds, you should, but it’s highly unlikely that you can, so you shouldn’t. Understanding Risk and Reward As we have explained many times in this blog, […]

When Should You Exercise Your Stock Options?

Stock options have value precisely because they are an option. The fact that you have an extended amount of time to decide whether and when to buy your employer’s stock at a fixed price should have tremendous value. That’s why publicly-traded stock options are valued higher than the amount by which the price of the underlying stock exceeds the exercise price (please see Why Employee Stock Options are More Valuable than Exchange-Traded Stock Options for a more detailed explanation). Your stock option loses its option value the moment you exercise because you no longer have flexibility around when and if you should exercise. As a result many people wonder when does it make sense to exercise an option. Tax Rates […]