The Investment Scientist

Archive for January 2009

This is based on an interview David Swensen done on Fox News Network.

david swensen

David Swensen

1. Have a strong decision-marking process

Investing success requires sticking with decisions made uncomfortable by the variance of opinions. In his own words:

Think carefully how it is that you are gonna allocate your assets and stick with it. Too many individuals were excited about the equity market 18 months ago and were despairing 3 months ago. It should have been the other way around. They should have been concerned about valuation 18 months ago and excited about the opportunity to put money to work at lower prices 3 months ago.

2. Sell mania-induced excess, buy despair-driven value

On his favorite area of despair-driven value, David Swensen has this to say:

I think the most interesting area is the credit market. Bank loans are trading at extraordinary low value. High-grade corporate debts, below investment grade corporate debts associated with companies that are gonna survive this are extraordinarily cheap. It’s not the only place to find value, but that would be the top of my list.

3. Make decision based on thorough analysis

Know where you belong …

There are two ends of the continuum in the investment market. You should be in one extreme or the other. There is no room for success in the middle. At one end of the spectrum, you get investors who committed resources to do high quality jobs in active management … At the other end of the continuum are purely passive investment vehicles – index funds. The vast majority of players are in the middle and the vast majority of players end up failing. Be at one end or the other and almost all investors belong to the passive end.

4. Watch out for the “fee-ing frenzy

This one should be obvious but ignored by many investors.

Get my white paper: The Informed Investor: 5 Key Concepts for Financial Success.

In January 2008, I wrote in my article “Recession and stock market performance” that:

Small cap value stocks are likely to outperform.

With one week left in 2008, the Russell 2000 Value Index, representing small-cap value stocks, has lost 34%. This is bad, but not as bad as the S&P 500 Index’s 41% loss and the Nasdaq 100’s 43% loss this year. The S&P 500 Index represents the largest 500 stocks in the U.S. and the Nasdaq 100 represents the largest 100 growth stocks.

Since January, I’ve heard pundits recommending large-cap stocks, tech stocks, pharmaceutical stocks, etc. Never once have I heard them recommend small-cap value stocks, which they claim are the most vulnerable in a recession.

Do I have a better crystal ball?

No, I don’t. I simply know the odds. As I wrote in “Small-cap value underperforming: a historical perspective,” the odds that small-cap stocks will outperform large-cap growth stocks on aggregate in any given year is 75%. So I can make the same “prediction” year after year and still be right about 75% of the time.

Why do most investors shun small-cap value?

According to Daniel Kahneman, father of behavioral economics, certain types of information are more accessible than others to the human mind. For instance, the concept of probability is not intuitively accessible, but descriptive words like “small,” “large,” “value” and “growth” leave instant impressions on our minds.

Another discovery of Kahneman is that humans take mental shortcuts in decision making. Confronted with the choice between large-cap growth and small-cap value, most investors eschew the hard route of calculating odds. Instead, they rely on their intuition that “large” is safer than “small” and “growth” has more potential than “value.” Thus, they “decide” to shun small-cap value stocks.

Small-cap value premium

An undesirable job has to pay more to attract job-seekers. Likewise, a shunned asset class commands a higher expected return in equilibrium. As long as small-cap value is not an intuitively attractive asset class, this return premium will continue.

Sign up for The Investment Fiduciary monthly newsletter and get 10% off investment planning services.

David Swensen discusses the current state of the market and derivative trading >>>

Yale’s Swensen sees “Extraordinary” opportunity to snap up debts >>>

David Swensen discusses the ups and downs of Yale Endowment >>>

Jack Bogle, father of index funds, likes David Swensen and Warren Buffet >>>


Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC. He is also a regular contributor to Morningstar Advisor and Physicians Practice. To explore a long-term wealth advisory relationship, schedule a discovery meeting (phone call) with him.



You may also get his monthly newsletter, or join his Facebook page for regular wealth management insights. Michael's email is info[at]mzcap.com.

Twitter: @mzhuang

Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.

%d bloggers like this: