The Investment Scientist

Archive for the ‘Asset Classes & Allocation’ Category

Ken French

Professor Kenneth French

Last month I did a study to understand why equally weighted the S&P 500 index RSP has outperformed value weighted S&P 500 index SPY by almost 3% a year since its inception. My conclusion is that it’s mostly due to Fama French risk factor loading.

However, my research also found after removing the effect of risk factors, RSP has a slight alpha advantage over SPY. I conjecture this alpha advantage is due to the fact that RSP requires annual rebalancing and SPY does not. In other word, this could be the so-called “rebalance bonus.”

To test its robustness, I extended my study to six pair of Fama French “indices.”

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teenreader1. ThinkAdvisor highlighted a Maryland study which showed that states which pay the highest fees to Wall Street (for managing pensions) have the lowest returns. That says it all about Wall Street. No wonder Rick Ferri wants you to steer clear of actively managed funds.

2. Reuters Money reported how Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) can be used as retirement savings accounts. This information is especially useful for small business owners and self-employed individuals who tend to neglect their retirement savings and face high deductibility in their health insurance. Here is the garden variety of ways they can save for retirement.

3. DIY Investor Robert Wasilewski encountered a bear while hiking. He survived to write about it, but he mused that the same reactions that kept him in the gene pool will surely “eliminate you from the investment pool.”

Firm | Youtube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Newsletter

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P2P Lending

P2P Lending

Last night I was “wasting” time on Google+, when I stumbled upon Joe Udo’s blog where he had written about how he made an 11.3% annualized return with P2P lending. The next thing I knew, it was past midnight and I just had spent three hours eyeballs deep in the subject.

Let me first tell you what P2P lending is. P2P stands for person-to-person or peer-to-peer. P2P lending is the practice of lending to strangers, enabled by technology and the web.

The two leading companies in this arena are LendingClub and Prosper. Between the two of them, they’ve enabled nearly $2 billion of lending between investors and borrowers. However, that still pales to the total US consumer credit of $1 trillion.

I am super excited about P2P lending! Let me tell you why.

Firm | Youtube | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Newsletter

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Rebalancing your portfolio

Rebalancing your portfolio

Recently, I visited a prospective client in New Jersey. He is currently a client with Fisher Investments, and his advisor told him never to rebalance since that involves market timing.

I have to hand it to this financial advisor for recognizing that market timing is an unproductive endeavor, but he is so wrong about rebalancing that I am compelled to write this article.

Rebalancing is not a market timing activity, it is calendar-driven or condition-driven. For instance, you may decide that you will rebalance your portfolio on January 1st of each year or whenever an asset class allocation is off by 20%.

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Is this your fund manager?

Is this your fund manager?

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Mary Jo White supports a new rule that would allow hedge funds to market directly to the public. I think that’s a fantastic idea. Let me explain why.

Between 1998 and 2010, hedge fund managers earned “only” $379 billion in fees. Do you know how much they made for investors?

Before you answer that question, you should be aware that one-third of hedge fund money is channeled through funds of funds. Their managers need their cut too. Between 1998 and 2010, their take was about $61 billion.

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New York Stock Exchange

New York Stock Exchange

The S&P 500 closed the first quarter at a record high. Should that worry investors? The short answer is, No.

When the market was 30% below the high three years ago, I did some research. I categorized all market conditions into:

1. Breaking a new high.

2. Less than 10% below historical high.

3. Between 10% and 20% below historical high.

4. Between 20% and 30% below historical high.

5. Between 30% and 40% below historical high.

6. More than 40% below historical high.

Then I calculated the one year forward returns of the six conditions.

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pump-jack group

Oil and Gas Investment Scam

In the last month alone, I’ve gotten calls from two clients asking me if they should invest in tax advantaged oil and gas investments being pitched to them?  Both of these clients are physicians.

The pitch is that oil and gas investments are like IRA accounts, but without the contribution limit. Whatever amount you invest can be written off right away.

The pitch is quite alluring to high-income professionals like physicians who are facing higher taxation. But it sounds too good to be true, so I did a study.

It turns out what is being pitched as “tax advantaged” is in fact the riskiest part of an oil and gas investment.

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Like Odysseus, automatic investments help investors avoid the Siren call of market timing

We call it stupid if someone takes a $55k job, even if he is offered the same job at $100k.

We call it market-timing when the same thing happens in the stock market. The long-term average annual market return is 10%, but the long-term average annual investor return is only about 5.5%. This is documented both by Dalbar’s study titled “Quantitative Analysis of Investor Behavior” and Morningstar’s research on fund returns and investor returns.

How could this possibly happen?

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Hedge fund managers take their cut

There is a new book about the hedge fund “industry” by former insider Simon Lack. Its title says it all – The Hedge Fund Mirage – The Lesson of Big Money and Why It’s Too Good To Be True.

Not everybody has time to read books like this, but if you are ever approached by a hedge fund peddler – I get calls every week about an amazing alternative investment opportunity – at least look at the table below before you part with your money.

Between 1998 and 2010, hedge fund fees totaled $440 billion versus $9 billion total profits for investors.

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New York Stock Exchange

Value investing as an investment discipline was pioneered by Ben Graham and is practiced by Warren Buffett.  It has a long history of data collection and many rigorous studies done in the most prestigious research universities.

The idea of value investing is that undervalued stocks will ultimately outperform overvalued stocks in aggregate.

There are four simple measures one can use to determine if a stock is relatively undervalued or overvalued….

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Asset Class Rebalance

Asset Class Rebalance

In one of my previous posts, I showed how diversification across asset classes is superior to momentum and contrarian strategies. Today, I am going to show how disciplined rebalancing adds to returns. I will first demonstrate this using a stylized example and then through historical returns.

An example of two asset classes

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MZ Capital 40/60 Portfolio Model

This report shows the construct and performance of a 40/60 model portfolio.

Asset Classes and Fund Selection

There are six asset classes in this portfolio model. The asset allocation is implemented using DFA funds, as shown in the table 1. I explained why DFA funds are better than Vanguard funds here. 

Table 1: Asset Class Funds
Asset Class Percentage Funds
US Equity 10% DFFVX – US Targeted Value Fund
International Equity 10% DISVX – International Small Cap Value Fund
Emerging Markets 10% DFEVX – Emerging Market Value Fund
REIT 10% DFREX – Real Estate Securities Fund
TIPS 20% DIPSX – Inflation-Protected Securities Fund
Treasuries 20% DFIHX – Short-Term Treasuries Fund
Muni Bonds 20% DFSMX – Short-Term Muni-Bond Fund

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Recently, I came across a 20 Year Periodic Return Table prepared by Black Rock. I want to share this with you since this table illustrates the investment principles I have been emphasizing: 1) asset class diversification; 2) disciplined rebalancing; and 3) small value tilt. Today’s focus is on 1); the other two points will be discussed in future articles.

20 Year Asset Class Returns

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MZ Capital 60/40 Portfolio Model

This report shows the construct and performance of a 60/40 model portfolio.

Asset Classes and Fund Selection

There are six asset classes in this portfolio model. The asset allocation is implemented using DFA funds, as shown in the table 1. I explained why DFA funds are superior here.  Read the rest of this entry »


Author

Michael Zhuang is principal of MZ Capital, a fee-only independent advisory firm based in Washington, DC.

Twitter: @mzhuang

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