Posts tagged ‘Morningstar’

Performance Beauty in Eye of Beholder

The average person may be a good judge in picking the winner of a beauty contest, but unfortunately your average investor is ill-equipped to sift through the thousands of mutual funds and hedge funds and thoughtfully discern the relevant performance metrics for investment purposes.

Investment firms however, are well-equipped with smoke, mirrors, and a tool-chest filled with numerous tricks. Here are a few of the investment firms’ gimmicks:

  • Cherry Picking: Fund firms are notorious with cutting out the bad performance numbers and cherry picking the good periods. As investment guru Charles Ellis reminds us, the wow factor results of “investment performance become quite ordinary by simply adding or subtracting one or two years at the start or the end of the period shown. Investors should always get the whole record – not just selected excerpts.”
  • Limited Time Period: Often the period highlighted by investment firms is insufficient to make a proper conclusion regarding a manager’s outperformance capabilities. Ellis acknowledges that  gathering enough yearly performance information can be practically challenging:
“By the time you had gathered enough data to determine whether your fund manager really was skillful or just lucky, at least one of you would probably have died of old age.”
  • Fee Disclosure: Some managers’ performance figures look stupendous until one realizes once hefty fees are subtracted from the reported figures, what previously looked top-notch is now average or below-average. It is important to read the small print or ask tough questions of the broker peddling a fund.
  • Audited Figures: Legitimacy of performance is key, and there are different levels of audited figures. Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS) compliance is an industry accepted standard. For pooled investment vehicles, audited results from regional or national accounting firms can be important too. 
  • Misused Rating Systems: Morningstar is the 800 pound gorilla in the mutual fund world and provides some useful data. Unfortunately, most Morningstar investors use the data incorrectly. A 2000 study by the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis discovered, “There is little statistical evidence that Morningstar’s highest-rated funds outperform the medium-rated funds.” On this subject, Charles Ellis points out the following:
“While Morningstar candidly admits that its star ratings have little or no predictive power, 100 percent of net new investment money going into mutual funds goes to funds that were recently awarded five stars and four stars…Indeed, in the months after the ratings are handed out each year, the five-star funds generally earn less than half as much as the broad market index!…Morningstar ratings are misleading investors into buying high and selling low.”


Investors need to be careful in how they use the ratings – simply buying 4-5 star funds and selling star-losing funds can be a heartburning recipe for bad results. Buying high and selling low usually doesn’t turn out very well.

Find Winners…Then What?

Even if you are successful in identifying the winning funds, those same funds tend to underperform in subsequent periods. Ellis, a believer in passive index investing, noticed only 10% of active managers outperformed over 25 years, and the odds of sustaining outperformance in subsequent periods diminished even further.

Charles Ellis also noticed a fat-tail syndrome of losers versus winners. For example, Ellis found 2% of active managers outperformed over a set time period, but a whopping 16% underperformed the market over a similar timeframe. Consistent with these findings, Ellis stresses that past performance does not predict future results, with one exception: “The worst losers do tend to keep losing. If you do decide to select active investment managers, promise yourself you will stay with your chosen manager for many years…changing managers is not only expensive, but it usually doesn’t work.”

Professionals to the Rescue

Well, if individuals are not in a position to pick future winning fund managers, then thank heavens the professional consultants can help out…not exactly. Ellis was blunt about the capabilities of those professionals selecting active investment managers:

“Pension executives and investment consultants who specialize in selecting the best managers have, as a group, been unsuccessful at selecting managers who can beat the market.”


Ellis uses a respected firm as an example to prove his point:

“Cambridge Associates reports candidly, ‘There is no sound basis for hiring or firing managers solely on the basis of recent performance.’”


At the end of the day, finding current winners is not a problem, but sifting through the massive quantity of funds and selecting future winners is very challenging for individuals and professionals alike. The financial industry would like you to believe picking the future performance beauty winner is a simple task – the data seems to indicate otherwise. Rather than wasting your money attempting to pick the beauty winner, perhaps your money would be better spent on purchasing a tiara for yourself.

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 MORN, Cambridge Associates, 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 30, 2011 at 11:31 pm 4 comments

Fuss Making a Fuss About Bonds

Photo Source: Evan Kafka (BusinessWeek)

Dan Fuss has been managing bond investments since 1958, longer than many of his competing managers have lived on this planet. At 75 years old, he is as sharp, if not sharper, than ever as he manages the flagship $18.7 billion Loomis Sayles Bond Fund (LSBRX). Over his 33-year tenure at Loomis, Sayles & Company (he started in 1976), he has virtually seen it all. After a challenging 2008, which saw his bond fund fall -22%, the bond markets have been kinder to him this year – Fuss’s fund performance registers in the top quartile on a 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year basis, according to (through 12/3/09). With a track record like that, investors are listening. Unfortunately, based on his outlook, he now is making a loud fuss about the dreadful potential for bonds.

Rising Yields, Declining Prices

Fuss sees the bond market at the beginning stages of a rate-increase cycle. In his Barron’s interview earlier this year, Fuss made a forecast that the 10-Year Treasury Note yield will reach 6.25% in the next 4-5 years (the yield currently is at 3.38%). Not mincing words when describing the current dynamics of the federal and municipal bond markets, Fuss calls the fundamentals “absolutely awful.” Driving the lousy environment is a massive budget deficit that Fuss does not foresee declining below 4.5% of (GDP) Gross Domestic Product – approximately two times the historical average. Making matters worse, our massive debt loads will require an ever increasing supply of U.S. issuance, which is unsustainable in light of the aggressive domestic expansion plans in emerging markets. This issuance pace cannot be maintained because the emerging markets will eventually need to fund their development plans with excess reserves. Those foreign reserves are currently funding our deficits and Fuss believes our days of going to the foreign financing “well” are numbered.

Fuss also doesn’t see true economic expansion materializing from the 2007 peak for another four years due to lackluster employment trends and excess capacity in our economy. What does a bond guru do in a situation like this? Well, if you follow Fuss’ lead, then you need to shorten the duration of your bond portfolio and focus on individual bond selection. In July 2009, the average maturity of Fuss’ portfolio was 12.8 years (versus 13.8 years in the previous year) and he expects it to go lower as his thesis of higher future interest rates plays out. Under optimistic expectations of declining rates, Fuss would normally carry a portfolio with an average maturity of about 20 years. In Barron’s, he also discussed selling longer maturity, high-grade corporate bonds and buying shorter duration high-yield bonds because he expects spreads to narrow selectively in this area of the market.

Unwinding Carry Trade – Pricking the Bubble

How does Fuss envisage the bond bubble bursting? Quite simply, the carry trade ending. In trading stocks, the goal is to buy low and sell high. In executing a bond carry trade, you borrow at low rates (yields), and invest at high rates (yields). This playbook looks terrific on paper, especially when money is essentially free (short-term interest rates in the U.S. are near 0%). Unfortunately, just like a stock-based margin accounts, when investment prices start moving south, the vicious cycle of debt repayment (i.e., margin call) and cratering asset prices builds on itself.  Most investors think they can escape before the unwind occurs, but Fuss intelligently underscores, “Markets have a ferocious tendency to get there before you think they should.” This can happen in a so-called “crowded trade” when there are, what Fuss points out, “so many people doing this.”

The Pro Predictor

Mr. Fuss spoke to an audience at Marquette University within three days of the market bottom (March 12, 2009), and he had these prescient remarks to make:

“I’ve never seen markets so cheap…stocks and bonds…not Treasury bonds.”


He goes on to rhetorically ask the audience:

“Is there good value in my personal opinion? You darn bethcha!”


Bill Gross, the “Bond King” of Newport Beach (read more) receives most of the media accolades in major bond circles for his thoughtful and witty commentary on the markets, but investors should start making a larger fuss about the 75 year-old I like to call the “Leader of Loomis!”

Adviser Perspectives Article on Dan Fuss and Interest Rates

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including fixed-income) and is short TLT. At time of publishing, SCM had no positions in LSBRX. 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.

December 4, 2009 at 1:45 am 2 comments

Philosophical Friday: Investing is Like Religion

Candles Burning

Nothing like the subject of religion to make people feel uncomfortable, so why not dive in!

Investing Is Like Religion: Everyone believes their religion will lead them down the right path to spiritual prosperity. divides religions into 22 separate groupings. If you look at the loosely grouped big five (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism), these cover the vast majority of religious practitioners globally – an estimated 4 billion to 5.5 billion people.

In investing, most individuals stubbornly believe their philosophy is the right way to make money. With the hopes of creating order, the investment industry relies on tools like Morningstar’s nine style box categories, which places investors in tidy, clean groups. Unfortunately, not every strategy fits nicely into a style box, especially if you try to integrate investment vehicles like hedge funds and quantitative funds. 

Morningstar Style Box

Can’t We All Just Get Along?: I believe religions can co-exist just like different investing philosophies can co-exist. Certainly there are less worthy religions, for example you can think of cults that prey on vulnerable individuals. The same can be said for investing – as long as greed continues to exist (a certainty), there will be unscrupulous crooks and shady businesses looking to take advantage of people for a quick buck.

Regulation: I suppose our law enforcement agencies and courts serve as regulators over a small minority of churches who break the law, but given the recent collapse of parts of our financial system it makes sense we are retooling and recalibrating our oversight and regulations. There is no doubt that negative trends like the unfettered growth of toxic mortgages (including subprime), over leveraging of investment banks (ala Bear Stearns, and Lehman), and exponential growth of complex derivative products (such as CDS and CDOs) need to be controlled with more oversight. There needs to consequences to improper actions – some religions have been known to discipline their members too.

Investing Takes Faith: We have gone through an extremely trying year and a half and iconic experts like Warren Buffett have had the wherewithal to invest successfully through uncertain economic cycles because of faith in capitalism. Even at the other side of the investing spectrum, in areas like quantitative and technical trading, the practitioner still needs to have enough faith in their systems and models with the belief they have an edge that can help them outperform. Regardless of the approach, one must have faith in their investment philosophy to be successful over the long-term.

Although there countless versions of religions all over the world, I’m confident that the Church of Money Under the Mattress (CMUM) will not lead the majority of investors to the Promise Land. Even for those risk averse savers, there are ways to heighten your expected return without assuming undue risk. Irrespective of your religious beliefs, may your spiritual journey bring you hefty profits…

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®   (Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC)

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct positions in BRKA/B at the time the article was published. 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.

July 31, 2009 at 4:00 am 3 comments

Bill Miller: Revenge of the Dunce?

Dunce Trimmed

Bill Miller’s Legg Mason Value Trust Fund (LMVTX) was down more than -55% in 2008 and many people considered him the industry dunce – due in part to his heavily concentrated stock positions and stubborn belief of holding onto his sinking “Financial” picks. Unfortunately this stance cratered results to abysmal depths – earning his fund the infamous Morningstar 1-Star Rating. But let’s not forget Mr. Miller did not become stupid over night. From 1991 through 2005 he beat the S&P 500 every year before hitting a rough patch in 2006-2008. His previous 15 year streak was the equivalent of me hitting .400 off Randy Johnson – very few, if any, can replicate. So, is the dunce back? Thus far in 2009, his fund is up about 25% through July 26th, handily trouncing the S&P 500 by more than 14% (Morningstar). Miller remains bullish on his outlook for financial markets although he caveats his prediction with three endogenous risks:

“Rising interest rates, a sharp rise in commodity prices (especially oil), and policy errors.”


Miller also brings up a topic I have brought up on numerous occasions in my monthly newsletter, which is that investors are sitting on piles of low earning cash:

“Assets in money market funds recently exceeded those in general equity funds for the first time in over 15 years. In contrast, at the market peak in October 2007, assets in equity funds were more than 3x greater than the assets in money market funds. The return on this mountain of cash rounds to zero, which is good when stocks and bonds are falling, but far from optimal when they are rising. Although I expect credit spreads and risk aversion to remain well above the averages of the past decade, there is plenty of room for them to narrow and for equities to move higher as this cash gradually moves out the curve in search of better returns.”
Smart guy, but could use a little help in the hair style department.

Smart guy, but could use a little help in the hair style department.

The average investor is late to both coming and going from the game. Don Hays, Strategist at Hays Advisory Services, notes, “We believe all good news at the top, and we doubt and disbelieve any good news at the bottom.” I think Bill concurs when he states the following:

“The psychological cycle goes something like this: first it is said the fiscal and monetary stimuli are not sufficient and won’t work. When the markets start up and the economic forecasts begin to be revised up — where we are now — the refrain is that it is only an inventory restocking and once it is over the economy will stall or we may even have a double dip. Once the economy begins to improve, the worry is that profits will not recover enough to justify stock prices. When profits recover, it is said that the recovery will be jobless; and when the jobs start being created, the fear is that this will not be sustained.”


Miller also makes some thoughtful points on the attractiveness of the financial sector, pointing to the disappearance of many competitors, appealing valuations, and rising pre-provision earnings. On the topic of inflation, Miller remains unworried about prices spiking up. He argues, logically, that rising unemployment and excess capacity will keep a lid on prices. True, however, with exploding debt levels and deficits, coupled with the insatiable appetites of emerging markets for commodities, not to mention spiraling healthcare prices, I believe inflation concerns may be here sooner than anticipated. Let’s not forget the stagflation experienced in the 1970s.

Read the Whole Bill Miller Newsletter Here

Bill Miller is still in a deep hole that he dug for himself, but I would not count this dunce out. Mean reversion is one of the most powerful principles of finance and if you ride Bill Miller’s coat-tails on any continued rebound, it could be a prosperous, memorable ride.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

July 28, 2009 at 4:15 am 7 comments

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