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What You Should Do in Volatile and Uncertain Markets

World stock markets have been extremely volatile in 2015. Returns since the start of the year have been negative and the markets have recently experienced a major correction. Returns from fixed income investments have also been unusually low. The reaction of many investors to these market conditions has been to run to the sidelines and stop investing—or even worse to liquidate their investments. Indeed, many individual investors have panicked and liquidated their stock holdings. Years of investing experience suggests that such reactions are extremely harmful for anyone who desires to accumulate a nest egg for future expenditures such as buying a home or ultimately establishing a retirement portfolio. A policy of staying the course and steadily putting new savings into […]

How Much Should We Invest in Emerging Markets?

One of the most enduring and best-documented behavioral biases in investing is called “The Home Country Bias.” Despite the availability of well-regarded and highly profitable corporations located throughout the world, investors tend to limit their investments to those companies domiciled in their own country. At one time, a survey of institutional investors in France found that 97% of their equity investments consisted of French companies despite the fact that France represented only 3% of the world’s total equity capitalization. Such a bias is found all over the world. British investors prefer British companies, Japanese investors prefer Japanese companies, and U.S. investors prefer companies domiciled in the United States. Despite the substantial risk-reducing benefits of international diversification, investors all over the […]

The Stock-Pickers’ Market Myth

Earlier this month, Barron’s ran a cover story that made the case that 2015 was likely to be a “stock pickers’ market.” Active portfolio managers were expected to “recapture their lost glory” as interest rates were predicted to rise. Unfortunately, we have heard similar claims at the start of every year. In early 2014 The Wall Street Journal ran an article predicting that 2014 would be a stock pickers’ market as the correlation between the S&P 500® index and its component stocks was declining. Indeed, in every year one can find similar predictions for the year ahead. Money managers have a number of clichés they use to promote their high-priced services, and “stock pickers’ market” is one of their favorites. […]

Has Indexing Become Too Popular?

Indexed investment strategies (passively holding portfolios that simply buy and hold all the securities in a particular market) continue to increase in popularity. Currently more than 35% of investment portfolios use index funds to gain exposure to the U.S. stock market.1 And according to Morningstar Investment Research, more than 55% of the moneys invested in equity mutual funds during 2014 went into index funds — rather than actively-managed funds. Given this success, people often ask whether index funds have become too popular. Could we be entering a period when active portfolio management will become more advantageous? And could the very size of index funds interfere with their ability to produce exceptional results? My answer to both questions is a clear […]

Indexing and the Curious Case of Alibaba ($BABA)

It has now been 40 years since I published the first edition of A Random Walk Down Wall Street. The book, about to come out in its 11th edition, had a very simple message: Investors would be better off buying a broad-based index fund that simply held all the stocks in the market. As a result, it might surprise some to hear that not all index funds will serve investors well. Not all index funds are the same, and it is important to understand how indexes are constructed and what stocks they contain. The recent Initial Public Offering of Alibaba stock, the biggest IPO in history, and the failure of many indexes to consider including it, underscores how important it […]

Indexing and the 2014 “Stock-Picker’s” Market

In January of this year it was widely believed 2014 would be a “stock-picker’s” market. While the S&P 500® index of large U.S. stocks produced an extremely generous return of more than 30% in 2013, an indexing strategy was deemed unlikely to be effective in 2014 — or so active managers argued in an attempt to justify their high fees. While several months remain we can still take a preliminary look at the results. The stock market was not quite as favorable this year as it was last year. The S&P 500 produced a rate of return of only  about 7% during the first six months of 2014. But did active managers finally demonstrate their superior skills? The answer is […]

Inflation: How Should Investors Prepare for the Future?

Recent data on inflation reminds us of the famous Sherlock Holmes “dog that didn’t bark.” Despite numerous warnings from financial-market pundits that inflation is just around the corner, inflation statistics remain benign and surveys of inflation expectations suggest that price-level expectations are well contained.  So what is the outlook for inflation? Are there reasons for complacency or are there reasons for concern? And if inflation is a threat over the longer term, how should investment portfolios be allocated so as to mitigate the risk? A New Era of Price Stability? Those who are sanguine about our ability to maintain price stability argue that the world economy is beset by a condition that might be described as one of “secular stagnation.” […]

Smart Beta

Fads and fashions have always been part of the financial markets. Around the turn of the century Internet-related stocks were regarded as reliable instruments for growing and preserving wealth. During the early 2000s, real estate was the instrument of choice for savvy investors. Today “Smart Beta” is the mantra of legions of securities salesmen who claim that broad-based low-cost index funds are sub-optimal and that better results can be obtained by biasing portfolios toward a number of characteristics that promise higher returns. There is no universally accepted definition of “Smart Beta.” What most people using the term have in mind is that it may be possible to gain excess (greater than market) returns using a variety of relatively passive investment […]

Why Should I have Bonds in My Portfolio?

We have received quite a few inquiries of late related to bonds being a part of our client portfolios. Some clients note that bonds currently have a low rate of return and question their use. This post attempts to present the logic behind their continued inclusion. Historically, bonds have been an excellent diversifier, providing considerable portfolio stability. Even in recent years their returns have been negatively correlated with equity returns. Investors who had some bonds in their portfolios during the 2007-2008 financial crisis were at least partially protected by rising bond prices as governments tried to counteract recessionary balances by aggressively lowering interest rates. “History is unlikely to record a change in the important role that fixed income plays over […]

Sacrifice of the Bondholders

Investors throughout the world have been flocking to so-called “safe havens.“ The 10-year U.S. Treasury Bond has recently been trading at a yield between 1.5% and 2%. Short-term U.S. Treasury interest rates are near zero. Even if inflation stays at a 2% rate over the next decade[1], U.S. bonds will be a sure loser, providing negative real (after inflation) rates of return. If interest rates rise to more normal levels, investors will suffer substantial capital losses. Interest rates are also low in the center of Europe as well as in Japan. There are no “safe” economies where savers are able to earn positive real returns on government bonds. Most of the developed countries of the world are burdened with excessive […]