Posts tagged ‘David Swensen’

Winning the Loser’s Game

During periods of heightened volatility like those recently experienced, it’s easy to get caught up in the emotional heat of the moment. I find time is better spent returning to essential investing fundamentals, like the ones I read in the investment classic by Charles Ellis, Winning the Loser’s Game“WTLG”.  To put my enthusiasm in perspective, WTLG has even achieved the elite and privileged distinction of making the distinguished “Recommended Reading” list of Investing Caffeine (located along the right-side of the page). Wow…now I know you are really impressed.

The Man, The Myth, the Ellis

For those not familiar with Charley Ellis, he has a long, storied investment career. Not only has he authored 12 books, including compilations on Goldman Sachs (GS) and Capital Group, but his professional career dates back prior to 1972, when he founded institutional consulting firm Greenwich Associates. Besides earning a college degree from Yale University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he also garnered a PhD from New York University. Ellis also is a director at the Vanguard Group and served as Investment Committee chair at Yale University along investment great David Swensen (read also Super Swensen) from 1992 – 2008.

With this tremendous investment experience come tremendous insights. The original book, which was published in 1998, is already worth its weight in gold (even at $1,384 per ounce), but the fifth edition of WTLG is even more valuable because it has been updated with Ellis’s perspectives on the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Because the breadth of topics covered is so vast and indispensable, I will break the WTLG review into a few parts for digestibility. I will start off with the these hand-picked nuggets:

Defining the “Loser’s Game”

Here is how Charles Ellis describes the investment “loser’s game”:

“For professional investors,  “the ‘money game’ we call investment management evolved in recent decades from a winner’s game to a loser’s game because a basic change has occurred in the investment environment: The market came to be dominated in the 1970s and 1980s by the very institutions that were striving to win by outperforming the market. No longer is the active investment manager competing with cautious custodians or amateurs who are out of touch with the market. Now he or she competes with other hardworking investment experts in a loser’s game where the secret to winning is to lose less than others lose.”

 

Underperformance by Active Managers

Readers that have followed Investing Caffeine for a while understand how I feel about passive (low-cost do-nothing strategy) and active management (portfolio managers constantly buying and selling) – read Darts, Monkeys & Pros.  Ellis’s views are not a whole lot different than mine – here is what he has to say while not holding back any punches:

“The basic assumption that most institutional investors can outperform the market is false. The institutions are the market. They cannot, as a group, outperform themselves. In fact, given the cost of active management – fees, commissions, market impact of big transactions, and so forth-85 percent of investment managers have and will continue over the long term to underperform the overall market.”

He goes on to say individuals do even worse, especially those that day trade, which he calls a “sucker’s game.”

Exceptions to the Rule

Ellis’s bias towards passive management is clear because “over the long term 85 percent of active managers fall short of the market. And it’s nearly impossible to figure out ahead of time which managers will make it into the top 15 percent.” He does, however, acknowledge there is a minority of professionals that can beat the market by making fewer mistakes or taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Ellis advocates a slow approach to investing, which bases “decisions on research with a long-term focus that will catch other investors obsessing about the short term and cavitating – producing bubbles.” This is the strategy and approach I aim to achieve.

Gaining an Unfair Competitive Advantage

According to Ellis, there are four ways to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the investment world:

1)      Physical Approach: Beat others by carrying heavier brief cases and working longer hours.

2)      Intellectual Approach: Outperform by thinking more deeply and further out in the future.

3)      Calm-Rational Approach: Ellis describes this path to success as “benign neglect” – a method that beats the others by ignoring both favorable and adverse market conditions, which may lead to suboptimal decisions.

4)      Join ‘em Approach: The easiest way to beat active managers is to invest through index funds. If you can’t beat index funds, then join ‘em.

The Case for Stocks

Investor time horizon plays a large role on asset allocation, but time is on investors’ side for long-term equity investors:

“That’s why in the long term, the risks are clearly lowest for stocks, but in the short term, the risks are just as clearly highest for stocks.”

Expanding on that point, Ellis points out the following:

“Any funds that will stay invested for 10 years or longer should be in stocks. Any funds that will be invested for less than two to three years should be in “cash” or money market instruments.”

While many people may feel stock investing is dead, but Ellis points out that equities should return more in the long-run:

“There must be a higher rate of return on stocks to persuade investors to accept risks of equity investing.”

 

The Power of Regression to the Mean

Investors do more damage to performance by chasing winners and punishing losers because they lose the powerful benefits of “regression to the mean.” Ellis describes this tendency for behavior to move toward an average as “a persistently powerful phenomenon in physics and sociology – and in investing.” He goes on to add, good investors know “that the farther current events are away from the mean at the center of the bell curve, the stronger the forces of reversion, or regression, to the mean, are pulling the current data toward the center.”

The Power of Compounding

For a 75 year period (roughly 1925 – 2000) analyzed by Ellis, he determines $1 invested in stocks would have grown to $105.96, if dividends were not reinvested. If, however, dividends are reinvested, the power of compounding kicks in significantly. For the same 75 year period, the equivalent $1 would have grown to $2,591.79 – almost 25x’s more than the other method (see also Penny Saved is Billion Earned).

Ellis throws in another compounding example:

“Remember that if investments increase by 7 percent per annum after income tax, they will double every 10 years, so $1 million can become $1 billion in 100 years (before adjusting for inflation).”

 

The Lessons of History

As philosopher George Santayana stated – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Details of every market are different, but as Ellis notes, “The major characteristics of markets are remarkably similar over time.”

Ellis appreciates the importance of history plays in analyzing the markets:

“The more you study market history, the better; the more you know about how securities markets have behaved in the past, the more you’ll understand their true nature and how they probably will behave in the future. Such an understanding enables us to live rationally with markets that would otherwise seem wholly irrational.”

 

Home Sweet International Home

Although Ellis’s recommendation to diversify internationally is not controversial, his allocation recommendation regarding “full diversification” is a bit more provocative:

“For Americans, this would mean about half our portfolios would be invested outside the United States.”

This seems high by traditional standards, but considering our country’s shrinking share of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product), along with our relatively small share of the globe’s population (about 5% of the world’s total), the 50% percentage doesn’t seem as high at first blush.

Beware the Broker

This is not new territory for me (see Financial Sharks, Fees/Exploitation, and Credential Shell Game), and Ellis warns investors on industry sales practices:

“Those oh so caring and helpful salespeople make their money by convincing you to change funds. Friendly as they may be, they may be no friend to your long-term investment success.”

Unlike a lot of other investing books, which cover a few aspects to investing, Winning the Loser’s Game covers a gamut of crucial investment lessons in a straightforward, understandable fashion. A lot of people play the investing game, but as Charles Ellis details, many more investors and speculators lose than win. For any investor, from amateur to professional, reading Ellis’s Winning the Loser’s Game and following his philosophy will not only help increase the odds of your portfolio winning, but will also limit your losses in sleep hours.

investment-questions-border

http://www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GS, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

January 16, 2016 at 3:15 am 1 comment

Winning the Loser’s Game

Besides hanging out with family and friends, and stuffing my face with endless amounts of food, the other benefit of the holidays is the quality time I’m afforded to dive into a few books. While sinking into the couch in my bloated state, I had the pleasure of reading an incredible, investment classic by Charles Ellis, Winning the Loser’s Game“WTLG”  (click here to view other remarkable book I read [non-investment related]).  To put my enthusiasm in perspective, WTLG has even achieved the elite and privileged distinction of making the distinguished “Recommended Reading” list of Investing Caffeine (located along the right-side of the page). Wow…now I know you must be really impressed.

The Man, The Myth, the Ellis

For those not familiar with Charley Ellis, he has a long, storied investment career. Not only has he authored 12 books, including compilations on Goldman Sachs (GS) and Capital Group, but his professional career dates back prior to 1972, when he founded institutional consulting firm Greenwich Associates. Besides earning a college degree from Yale University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School, he also garnered a PhD from New York University. Ellis also is a director at the Vanguard Group and served as Investment Committee chair at Yale University along investment great David Swensen (read also Super Swensen) from 1992 – 2008.

With this tremendous investment experience come tremendous insights. The original book, which was published in 1998, is already worth its weight in gold (even at $1,384 per ounce), but the fifth edition of WTLG is even more valuable because it has been updated with Ellis’s perspectives on the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

Because the breadth of topics covered is so vast and indispensable, I will break the WTLG review into a few parts for digestibility. I will start off with the these hand-picked nuggets: 

Defining the “Loser’s Game”

Here is how Charles Ellis describes the investment “loser’s game”:

“For professional investors,  “the ‘money game’ we call investment management evolved in recent decades from a winner’s game to a loser’s game because a basic change has occurred in the investment environment: The market came to be dominated in the 1970s and 1980s by the very institutions that were striving to win by outperforming the market. No longer is the active investment manager competing with cautious custodians or amateurs who are out of touch with the market. Now he or she competes with other hardworking investment experts in a loser’s game where the secret to winning is to lose less than others lose.”

 

Underperformance by Active Managers

Readers that have followed Investing Caffeine for a while understand how I feel about passive (low-cost do-nothing strategy) and active management (portfolio managers constantly buying and selling) – read Darts, Monkeys & Pros.  Ellis’s views are not a whole lot different than mine – here is what he has to say while not holding back any punches:

“The basic assumption that most institutional investors can outperform the market is false. The institutions are the market. They cannot, as a group, outperform themselves. In fact, given the cost of active management – fees, commissions, market impact of big transactions, and so forth-85 percent of investment managers have and will continue over the long term to underperform the overall market.”

 

He goes on to say individuals do even worse, especially those that day trade, which he calls a “sucker’s game.”

Exceptions to the Rule

Ellis’s bias towards passive management is clear because “over the long term 85 percent of active managers fall short of the market. And it’s nearly impossible to figure out ahead of time which managers will make it into the top 15 percent.” He does, however, acknowledge there is a minority of professionals that can beat the market by making fewer mistakes or taking advantage of others’ mistakes. Ellis advocates a slow approach to investing, which bases “decisions on research with a long-term focus that will catch other investors obsessing about the short term and cavitating – producing bubbles.” This is the strategy and approach I aim to achieve.

Gaining an Unfair Competitive Advantage

According to Ellis, there are four ways to gain an unfair competitive advantage in the investment world:

1)      Physical Approach: Beat others by carrying heavier brief cases and working longer hours.

2)      Intellectual Approach: Outperform by thinking more deeply and further out in the future.

3)      Calm-Rational Approach: Ellis describes this path to success as “benign neglect” – a method that beats the others by ignoring both favorable and adverse market conditions, which may lead to suboptimal decisions.

4)      Join ‘em Approach: The easiest way to beat active managers is to invest through index funds. If you can’t beat index funds, then join ‘em.

The Case for Stocks

Investor time horizon plays a large role on asset allocation, but time is on investors’ side for long-term equity investors:

“That’s why in the long term, the risks are clearly lowest for stocks, but in the short term, the risks are just as clearly highest for stocks.”

 

Expanding on that point, Ellis points out the following:

“Any funds that will stay invested for 10 years or longer should be in stocks. Any funds that will be invested for less than two to three years should be in “cash” or money market instruments.”

 

While many people may feel stock investing is dead, but Ellis points out that equities should return more in the long-run:

“There must be a higher rate of return on stocks to persuade investors to accept risks of equity investing.”

 

The Power of Regression to the Mean

Investors do more damage to performance by chasing winners and punishing losers because they lose the powerful benefits of “regression to the mean.” Ellis describes this tendency for behavior to move toward an average as “a persistently powerful phenomenon in physics and sociology – and in investing.” He goes on to add, good investors know “that the farther current events are away from the mean at the center of the bell curve, the stronger the forces of reversion, or regression, to the mean, are pulling the current data toward the center.”

The Power of Compounding

For a 75 year period (roughly 1925 – 2000) analyzed by Ellis, he determines $1 invested in stocks would have grown to $105.96, if dividends were not reinvested. If, however, dividends are reinvested, the power of compounding kicks in significantly. For the same 75 year period, the equivalent $1 would have grown to $2,591.79 – almost 25x’s more than the other method (see also Penny Saved is Billion Earned).

Ellis throws in another compounding example:

“Remember that if investments increase by 7 percent per annum after income tax, they will double every 10 years, so $1 million can become $1 billion in 100 years (before adjusting for inflation).”

 

The Lessons of History

As philosopher George Santayana stated – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Details of every market are different, but as Ellis notes, “The major characteristics of markets are remarkably similar over time.”

Ellis appreciates the importance of history plays in analyzing the markets: 

“The more you study market history, the better; the more you know about how securities markets have behaved in the past, the more you’ll understand their true nature and how they probably will behave in the future. Such an understanding enables us to live rationally with markets that would otherwise seem wholly irrational.”

 

Home Sweet International Home

Although Ellis’s recommendation to diversify internationally is not controversial, his allocation recommendation regarding “full diversification” is a bit more provocative:

“For Americans, this would mean about half our portfolios would be invested outside the United States.”

 

This seems high by traditional standards, but considering our country’s shrinking share of global GDP (Gross Domestic Product), along with our relatively small share of the globe’s population (about 5% of the world’s total), the 50% percentage doesn’t seem as high at first blush.

Beware the Broker

This is not new territory for me (see Financial Sharks, Fees/Exploitation, and Credential Shell Game), and Ellis warns investors on industry sales practices:

“Those oh so caring and helpful salespeople make their money by convincing you to change funds. Friendly as they may be, they may be no friend to your long-term investment success.”

 

Unlike a lot of other investing books, which cover a few aspects to investing, Winning the Loser’s Game covers a gamut of crucial investment lessons in a straightforward, understandable fashion. A lot of people play the investing game, but as Charles Ellis details, many more investors and speculators lose than win. For any investor, from amateur to professional, reading Ellis’s Winning the Loser’s Game and following his philosophy will not only help increase the odds of your portfolio winning, but will also limit your losses in sleep hours.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GS, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

January 5, 2011 at 1:23 am 2 comments

Private Equity Sitting on Stuffed Wallet

The clock is ticking and private equity (PE) firms need to put some $445 billion in their wallets to work. Otherwise, the dreams of outsized returns and hefty fees will have to wait for another Golden Era of deal making. Why such a hurry to use the cash? According to Andrea Auerbach, a Managing Director at Cambridge Associates, “Most funds legally have five or six years to invest that capital…it’s use it or lose it.”

Shop ‘til Wallet Drops

As easy as it sounds, spending half a trillion dollars can be difficult. Here’s how IBD’s Norm Alster  characterizes the challenge:

“To realize the outsize profits investors expect, private equity firms would have to borrow two or three times that amount. But for the most part, credit spigots for such deals are still dry. At the same time, pinning down buyout targets is not that easy. Many potential sellers are balking at parting with corporate assets in the midst of a serious downturn.”

 

The 2010 private equity environment is quite a bit different than the LBO boom era from a handful of years ago, as you can see from the chart below. Thanks to cheap, free-flowing funding from the banks, $1.4 trillion worth of deals were consummated in 2006 and 2007, including large deals like First Data Corp. ($27 billion deal – KKR); Alltel ($28 billion – Goldman Sachs/ Texas Pacific Group);  and Harrah’s ($30 billion – Apollo Management/Texas Pacific Group).  Unfortunately, deals done during this period were done when valuations and leverage were at extremely high historical levels.

Chart source: Thomson Reuters via IBD

Deal Timeout

What’s causing the current dearth of deals? In many instances, business owners have not calibrated valuation expectations downward enough to account for the bruising financial crisis. Given the 77 leveraged buyout defaults in 2009, investors have become more reticent in committing capital as well.  Refinancing the mountains of debt associated with the troubled 2006-07 vintage of deals will require patience and creative financing skills from the banks.

Because of the logjam of deals created by the financial crisis, PE firms are actively looking for exit strategies relating to their portfolio companies. Since private equity inherently involves illiquid investments, typically the industry creates liquidity through initial public offerings (IPOs), merger & acquisitions, and/or recapitalization structures that partially or fully return investor capital.

If the economic malaise lingers and valuations remain depressed, I have no doubt owners will eventually return to the negotiating table while waving a white towel in hand. Until then, private equity firms will continue begging for capital from the banks (i.e., using “other peoples’ money”) and beating down sellers into submission with regards to price expectations. If PE firms are not successful in using that wad of cash by the end of the fund’s term, then investors will be free to walk away with their money without paying lucrative fees to the PE firms.

Don’t Forget Benefits

The PE field is facing its fair share of trials and tribulations, but PE’s diversification benefits should not be forgotten. The success of the “Yale Model,” implemented by David Swensen, has come under attack with the recent bursting of the credit bubble, but with the ever-swinging performance pendulum of various asset classes/styles moving in and out of favor, I am confident a consistent strategy integrating PE as a portion of a diversified portfolio will yield respectable risk-adjusted returns over the long-run. Like other areas in the financial services industry, fees are being scrutinized and transparency requests by investors (limited partners) have been on the rise. But first things first – before attractive PE profits can be made as part of a diversified portfolio, the wad of cash in the wallets of PE firms must find a home in portfolio companies.  

Read Norm Alster’s full IBD article originally referenced on TRB

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com 

*DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including S&P 500-like positions), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in GS, Harrah’s or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 16, 2010 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

Strong Advice from Super Swensen

Muscle Man

Playing the financial markets is a challenging game, and over the last decade we’ve witnessed events we will never see again in our lifetimes. Through these muscle aches and pains, listening and paying attention to powerful, seasoned industry veterans, like David Swensen, becomes paramount. Mr. Swensen has proven his durability – he has managed the Yale endowment for 24 years and has overseen the growth of the university’s portfolio from $1 billion to $17 billion. For the decade ending in June 2008, the Yale portfolio averaged an incredible 16.3% annual return.

So what commanding advice does Mr. Swensen have to share? Here are a few nuggets regarding equities as discussed in his May interview published in The Guru Investor (TGI):

“With a long time horizon you should have an equity orientation, because over longer periods of time, equities are going to deliver better results,” he says. “If they don’t, then capitalism isn’t working. And we could well be at a point where investments in equities are going to produce returns going forward that are higher than what we’ve seen in the past five or ten years.”

 

I find it difficult to argue with him. Perhaps we still have a ways to go, but the equity markets had an explosion after the 1966-1982 hiatus. Perhaps the 2000-2009 period isn’t long enough to mark bottom, but at a minimum, the spring is coiling based on history.

When it comes to diversification, TGI summarized Swensen’s asset allocation as follows:

“He recommends that investors have 30% of their funds in U.S. stocks, 15% in Treasury bonds, 15% in Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities, 15% in Real Estate Investment Trusts, 15% in foreign developed market equities, and 10% in emerging market equities. As investors get older, they should keep this type of allotment for a portion of their portfolio but begin to decrease the size of that portion, putting part of their portfolios into less risky assets like cash or Treasuries.”

 

Many investors were taking excessive risk in 2008 (within their asset allocations), and they were not even aware. Let’s hope valuable lessons have been learned and investors adjust the risk levels of their portfolios as they age.

David Swensen (Michael Marsland/Yale University)

David Swensen (Michael Marsland/Yale University)

Mr. Swensen has some choice words for the mutual fund management industry as well:

“The problem is that the quality of the management in the mutual fund industry is not particularly high, and you pay an extraordinarily high price for that not-very-good management,” he says. Swensen cites one study performed by Rob Arnott that measured mutual fund performance over a two-decade period. The study found that you’d have had a 15% chance of beating market after fees and taxes by investing in mutual funds — and that includes only funds that were around for the entire period; many other weaker funds didn’t last, meaning the results have a survivorship bias.

 

Tough to disagree, and as I’ve written in the past, I believe there are only so many .300 hitters in baseball (a study in 2007 showed only 12 active career .300 hitters in the Major Leagues – highlighted in my previous Ron Baron article). Outside of baseball, there are consistent alpha generators in the market too. However, I’d make the case that identifying the alpha generators in the financial markets is much more difficult because of the extreme fund performance volatility. Even the best managers can string some bad years together.

Swensen doesn’t stop there. He expands on the reasons behind mutual fund manager underperformance:

Taxes and fees are the big culprits, Swensen says: “Why are the tax bills so high? Because turnover’s too high. The mutual fund managers are trading the portfolios as if taxes don’t matter, and taxes do matter. And they’re trading the portfolios as if transactions cost and market impact don’t matter, and they do matter. And as they trade the portfolios, basically what’s happening is Wall Street is siphoning off its slice of the pie … and that’s at the expense of the investor.”

 

One thing we learned from the real estate and financial bubble that burst over the last few years is that incentive structures were misaligned. Manager compensation, whether you are talking hedge funds or mutual funds, is based on too short a time horizon, and therefore incentive structures encourage abnormal risk-taking. In baseball terms, you have those that take excessive risk and swing for the mega-bucks fences (loose cannons) and the bunters (benchmark huggers) who seek the comfort of “lower” mega-bucks. Swensen is a much bigger believer in passive strategies (as am I), using passive investment vehicles like ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds).

Mr. Swensen continues his critical perspective by targeting investors too:

Individuals and institutions who buy mutual funds “take this mutual fund industry which produces a bunch of products that are not great to start with, and then they screw it up by chasing hot performance and selling after things turn cold.”

 

The 1984-2002 John Bogle data (Vanguard) included in my “Action Dan” article hammers that point home.

Where should investors go now?

Asked what the one recommendation he has right now for investors is, Swensen cited TIPS. “We’ve had this massive fiscal stimulus, massive monetary stimulus, and it’s hard to see how that doesn’t translate into pretty substantial inflation, or at least pretty substantial risk of inflation … down the road at some point,” he said.

 

Ditto, once again – I’m a believer in having some inflation protection in your portfolio. Of course there is no free lunch in the investment world, and so there are certainly some risk factors in Swensen’s alternative investment strategy (e.g. hedge funds, private equity, and real estate). Certainly, due to significant illiquidity and other factors, many of these areas got absolutely hammered in 2008.

The best investors prepare their portfolios for these strenuous times. Do yourself a favor and work on your muscle tone too – and listen to the strong advice of David Swensen.

Read the Full TGI Article Here

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do have direct long positions in TIP at the time article was originally posted. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 2, 2009 at 12:59 am 2 comments


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