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Investing Expertise

Can analysts, experts and gurus really give you an investing/trading edge? Should you track the advice of as many as possible? Are there ways to tell good ones from bad ones? Recent research indicates that the average “expert” has little to offer individual investors/traders. Finding exceptional advisers is no easier than identifying outperforming stocks. Indiscriminately seeking the output of as many experts as possible is a waste of time. Learning what makes a good expert accurate is worthwhile.

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Active Mutual Fund Management Still Worthless?

Does recent research on active mutual fund performance challenge conventional wisdom that: (1) the average fund underperforms passive benchmarks on a net basis; and, (2) individual fund outperformance does not persist. In their September 2018 paper entitled “Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Active Management: A Review of the Past 20 Years of Academic Literature on Actively Managed Mutual Funds”, Martijn Cremers, Jon Fulkerson and Timothy Riley review academic research on active mutual funds from the last 20 years to assess the degree to which it supports this conventional wisdom. They focus on U.S. equity mutual funds but also consider bond funds, hybrid stock-bond funds, socially responsible funds, target date funds, real estate investment trust (REIT) funds, sector funds and international funds. Based on this research, they conclude that: Keep Reading

Active vs. Passive U.S. Equity Mutual Funds in Recent Years

Do active U.S. equity mutual funds beat their passive counterparts in recent years? In the September 2018 version of his paper entitled “The Historical Record on Active vs. Passive Mutual Fund Performance”, David Nanigian compares risk-adjusted annual performance of active versus passive U.S. equity mutual funds as categorized and monitored in the Morningstar Direct survivorship bias-free database. He measures rise-adjusted performance based on the Carhart 4-factor model (accounting for market, size, book-to-market and momentum factors) alpha. He considers both value-weighted (VW), based on fund assets under management at the end of the prior month, and equal-weighted (EW) combinations of funds. In addition to the full sample, he considers separately funds in the bottom fifth (quintile) of expense ratios. He also compares active and passive funds paired based on similar expense ratios. Using monthly fund data as specified during 2003 through 2017, he finds that: Keep Reading

A Few Notes on The Wealth Elite

Rainer Zitelmann prefaces his 2018 book, The Wealth Elite: A Groundbreaking Study of the Psychology of the Super Rich, as follows: “For this book, I succeeded in convincing 45 wealthy people to talk to me. …Without exception, the interviewees were entrepreneurs or investors… The interviews were conducted in person between September 2015 and March 2016, and each lasted between one and two hours. …every interviewee (with one exception) took a personality test consisting of 50 questions. …This work explores the personalities and patterns of behaviour exhibited by wealthy individuals. …their answers to my questions clearly demonstrate that the personality traits and patterns of behaviour described in this book have played a significant role in their extraordinary economic success. However, this is a study based on methods of qualitative social research and, as such, the interview subjects do not constitute a representative sample. Above all, their answers were not tested against a control group consisting of non-wealthy individuals.” Based on the body of wealth creation research and the set of in-depth interviews/personality tests, he concludes that: Keep Reading

Exploiting Informed Long and Short Trades

In the June 2018 draft of their paper entitled “An Information Factor: Can Informed Traders Make Abnormal Profits?”, Matthew Ma, Xiumin Martin, Matthew Ringgenberg and Guofu Zhou construct and test a long-short information factor (INFO) based on observed trading of firm insiders, short sellers and option traders. Specifically, the INFO portfolio:

  • Is each month long the 10% (decile) of stocks with the highest levels of net buying (purchases minus sales) by top managers scaled by the average number of shares held by all top managers over the calendar year.
  • Is each month short stocks based on both short interest (number of shares short divided by shares outstanding) and associated option trading activity (volume of liquid put and call options divided by volume of associated stock). They sort stocks independently on short interest and option trading activity, add the two ranks for each stock and short the decile of stocks with the highest combined ranks.

They further examine whether INFO is a key driver of hedge fund returns. Using monthly data for specified variables, monthly returns for a broad sample of U.S. stocks priced over $5 and monthly returns for 13 hedge fund indexes and 5,565 individual U.S. equity hedge funds during February 1996 (limited by options data) through December 2015, they find that: Keep Reading

Active Investment Managers and Market Timing

Do active investment managers as a group successfully time the stock market? The National Association of Active Investment Managers (NAAIM) is an association of registered investment advisors. “NAAIM member firms who are active money managers are asked each week to provide a number which represents their overall equity exposure at the market close on a specific day of the week, currently Wednesdays. Responses can vary widely [200% Leveraged Short; 100% Fully Short; 0% (100% Cash or Hedged to Market Neutral); 100% Fully Invested; 200% Leveraged Long]. Responses are tallied and averaged to provide the average long (or short) position or all NAAIM managers, as a group [NAAIM Exposure Index].” Using historical weekly survey data and weekly Wednesday-to-Wednesday dividend-adjusted returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) over the period July 2006 through late June 2018 (622 surveys), we find that: Keep Reading

Explaining Warren Buffett’s Performance

Is Warren Buffett’s track record explicable and replicable? In the June 2018 update of their paper entitled “Buffett’s Alpha”, Andrea Frazzini, David Kabiller and Lasse Pedersen model Warren Buffett’s exceptional investing performance based on replicating exposures of Berkshire Hathaway overall and of its publicly traded holdings to six factors. Four of the factors are those conventionally used to explain stock returns: market return, size, book-to-market ratio and momentum. The other two factors are betting-against-beta (buy low beta and avoid high beta) and quality (profitable, growing, dividend-paying). They further create portfolios that track Berkshire Hathaway’s factor exposures, leveraged to the same active risk as Berkshire Hathaway. Using monthly stock returns and accounting data for a broad sample of U.S. stocks, quarterly Berkshire Hathaway SEC Form 13F holdings and monthly returns for six factors specified above during October 1976 through March 2017, along with contemporaneous open-end active mutual fund performance data, they find that:

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Claims of Hard Work/Expertise Sustain Active Funds?

How do so many active managers who underperform passive investment alternatives continue to attract and retain investors? In their June 2018 paper entitled “How Active Management Survives”, J.B. Heaton and Ginger Pennington test the hypothesis that investors fall prey to the  conjunction fallacy, believing that hard work should generate outperformance. Specifically, they conduct two online surveys:

  • Sample 1: 1,004 respondents over 30 with household income over $100,000 choosing which of two propositions is mostly likely true: “(1) ABC Fund will earn a good return this year for its investors. (2) ABC Fund will earn a good return this year for its investors and ABC Fund employs investment analysts who work hard to identify the best stocks for ABC Fund to invest in.”
  • Sample 2: 1,001 respondents over 30 with household income over $100,000 choosing which of two propositions is mostly likely true: “(1) ABC Fund will earn a good return this year for its investors. (2) ABC Fund will earn a good return this year for its investors and ABC Fund was founded by a successful former Goldman Sachs trader and employs Harvard-trained physicists and Ph.D. economists and statisticians.”

Second choices are inherently less likely because they include the first choices and add conditions to them. The authors further ask in both surveys the degree to which respondents agree that a “person or business can achieve better results on any task by working harder than its competitors.” Using responses to these surveys, they find that: Keep Reading

AAII Stock Screens

A reader asked: “The American Association of Individual Investors (AAII) has a lot of strategies they have been paper-trading over many years at Stock Screens. It seems like every strategy builds upon a well-known investing book or otherwise publicized strategy from the last 40 years. Have you ever done an evaluation of those performance results?” According to AAII: “These approaches run the full spectrum, from those that are value-based to those that focus primarily on growth. Some approaches are geared toward large-company stocks, while others uncover micro-sized firms. Most fall somewhere in the middle.” AAII provides performance histories, risk-return statistics and characteristics for all screens. AAII cautions that: “The impact of factors such as commissions, bid-ask spreads, cash dividends, time-slippage (time between the initial decision to buy a stock and the actual purchase) and taxes is not considered. This overstates the reported performance…” Using monthly returns and turnovers for the equally weighted portfolios generated by the 60 screens presented during January 1998 through March 2018 (243 months), along with contemporaneous returns for SPDR S&P 500 (SPY), Vanguard Small Cap Index Fund (NAESX) and Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund (VTSMX), we find that: Keep Reading

Ask for Advisor’s Personal Investing Performance?

Are financial advisors expert guides for their client investors? In their December 2017 paper entitled “The Misguided Beliefs of Financial Advisors”, Juhani Linnainmaa, Brian Melzer and Alessandro Previtero compare investing practices/results of Canadian financial advisors to those of their clients, including trading patterns, fees and returns. They estimate account alphas via multi-factor models. Using detailed data from two large Canadian mutual fund dealers (accounting for about 5% of their sector) for 3,276 Canadian financial advisors and their 488,263 clients, and returns and fees for 3,023 associated mutual funds, during January 1999 through December 2013, they find that:

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Should the “Anxious Index” Make Investors Anxious?

Since 1990, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has conducted a quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters. The American Statistical Association and the National Bureau of Economic Research conducted the survey from 1968-1989. Among other things, the survey solicits from economic experts the probabilities of U.S. economic recession (negative GDP growth) during each of the next four quarters. The survey report release schedule is mid-quarter. For example, the release date of the survey report for the fourth quarter of 2017 is November 13, 2017, with forecasts for the first quarter of 2018 through the fourth quarter of 2018. The “Anxious Index” is the probability of recession during the next quarter. When professional forecasters are relatively optimistic (pessimistic) about the economy, does the stock market go up (down) over the coming quarters? Rather than relate the probability of recession to stock market returns, we instead relate one minus the probability of recession (the probability of good times). If the forecasts are accurate, a relatively high (low) forecasted probability of good times should arguably indicate a relatively strong (weak) stock market. Using survey results and quarterly S&P 500 Index levels ( measured from survey release date to survey release date as available, and from mid-quarter to mid-quarter before availability of release dates) from the fourth quarter of 1968 through the fourth quarter of 2017 (197 surveys), we find that:

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