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Your financial plan is solid, you’ve even set aside a rainy day fund. Now what? How do you invest well? Get a better understanding of investing with ETFs, asset allocation, rebalancing, and tax-optimization strategies.



Debunking The Myth of Magical Options Strategies

Earlier this month, Duncan Gilchrist and I wrote a blog debunking the idea that you can achieve high returns with limited downside using hedge funds. Our research compared the risk adjusted returns of a standard, broadly diversified Wealthfront portfolio with the average returns of hedge funds over the past ten years. The data showed that, despite all the hype, money and excitement hedge funds elicit, you would have achieved a far better risk-adjusted return with a Wealthfront portfolio. Specifically, the Wealthfront portfolio posted a Sortino ratio of 0.62 vs. 0.43 for the HFRI hedge fund index during the time period studied. Importantly, we also showed how much quicker the Wealthfront portfolio bounced back from the financial crisis of 2008, with […]

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 […]

Don’t Believe the Hype: The Myth of High Returns and Low Downside

Common sense tells you that it’s not possible to earn a high return without taking on significant risks. And yet, the dream of a “free lunch” in investing persists. Google the phrase “high returns with low risks” and you get over 1 billion results, including articles from esteemed outlets like Forbes, TheStreet.com and MarketWatch. We hear similar promises about newfound smart-beta ETFs and other forms of financial engineering. Here’s some advice: The next time someone makes this kind of promise to you, look the other way. Because the data on how many of these promises come true is brutal. Data Don’t Lie Burt Malkiel, our chief investment officer, has pointed out for more than four decades that it is almost […]

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 […]

Stay the Course, Even While You’re Down

When it comes to investing, doing the right thing is usually counter-intuitive. A prime example we’ve written about before is how investing in down-markets can actually prove advantageous. This is because down markets give investors an opportunity to purchase more than they would be able to afford in an up market (See Invest Despite Volatility). We’ve also written about how individual investors find it difficult to invest rationally and tend to make mistakes by following their intuition, piling in while the market goes up and liquidating as the market goes down. This is otherwise known as timing the market. Burton Malkiel, our Chief Investment Officer views this as often being an investor’s Most Serious Mistake. But something we haven’t quantified […]

Why Index ETFs Are The Automated Investment of Choice

Vanguard Group introduced the first passive investment product, the index fund, in 1975. We’re very proud that our Chief Investment Officer, Burt Malkiel, inspired Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard to create the index fund when he published his groundbreaking book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street, in 1973. Eighteen years after Vanguard launched the first index fund, State Street introduced the first exchange-traded fund. ETFs have grown to more than $2 trillion in assets, having recently surpassed index funds. Practically speaking, it wasn’t until the ETF became popular, around 10 years ago, that passive investing could broadly appeal to the masses. An ETF is a basket of investments, which, like an index fund, mirrors an underlying sector or index. […]

The Illusion of Stock-Picking Skill

I first visited a Wall Street firm in 1984. I was there with my longtime collaborator Amos Tversky, who died in 1996, and our friend Richard Thaler, now a guru of behavioral economics. Our host, a senior investment manager, had invited us to discuss the role of judgment biases in investing. I knew so little about finance at the time that I had no idea what to ask him, but I remember one exchange. “When you sell a stock,” I asked him, “who buys it?” He answered with a wave in the vague direction of the window, indicating that he expected the buyer to be someone else very much like him. That was odd: because most buyers and sellers know […]

Even Warren Buffett Prefers Index Funds

In last year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual report and shareholder letter Warren Buffett caused quite a stir by suggesting that upon his demise the assets he was leaving his wife, in trust, should be invested in index funds (see “Warren Buffett: ‘Investing Advice For You–And My Wife,’” “Will Warren Buffett’s investment advice work for you?,” “Warren Buffett’s 90-10 Rule of Thumb for Retirement Investing,” or “The Warren Buffett Guide to Retirement Investing“). The primary reason for the hubbub was probably the contradiction it represented in coming from Mr. Buffett. An endorsement of index investing from the man who is thought of as one of the greatest stock pickers of all time seemed to fly in the face of all that Buffett […]

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 […]