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Diversification: Andre Perold’s take on its value

“Diversification shouldn’t be viewed as protecting you from losses in wealth but rather from being concentrated in the worst-performing asset classes.”

In other words, diversification puts a floor under how badly you can do when all asset classes fall.

This struck me as a valuable insight from “Harvard Business School Professor Andre Perold Looks At The Forces Reshaping the Business of Asset Management,” on the blog for the CFA Institute’s Second Annual Middle East Investment Conference.

Other points I took from the CFa Institute’s summary of Perold’s talk include the following:

  • The value of classic endowment-style management has run its course because “the low-hanging fruit has been picked.”
  • New instruments that separate alpha and beta are useful; Now asset managers don’t have to “leave significant money on the table.”
  • Stable-weight portfolios should be replaced by portfolios with stable risk budgets. (I’ve written about Perold’s views in “Stable Risk Portfolios: A Timely Alternative to Static Asset Allocations?“)

Japanese crisis good for European economies, strategists say

Will the Japanese crisis help or hurt European economies?

The answer hinges on how it affects nominal growth in European countries’ gross domestic product, said David Bowers, managing director of global strategy for Absolute Strategy Research (ASR), a London-based macroeconomic research firm. He spoke during the Q&A session following “Europe: ‘This could be Heaven or this could be Hell,’ ” a March 17 presentation to the Boston Security Analysts Society.

Higher capital expenditures

In Europe, as in the U.S., companies have been hoarding cash. It’s likely these firms will open their capital expenditure spigots wider, according to Bowers. Why? Because the crisis presents an opportunity to gain market share at Japanese companies’ expense, Bowers said.

Ian Harnett, ASR’s managing director for European strategy, said this opening should appeal to Germany, which competes directly with Japan in areas such as heavy machinery.

Another plus for European economies is that Japan’s plight makes central banks less likely to raise interest rates for fear of sparking a return to recession.

Guest post on emerging markets: What about China?

Emerging Markets for Dummies author Annie Logue discusses China in her guest post. I’m happy to welcome Annie’s second guest post for this blog. Her first was “Talking to clients about social investing.”

She’s also giving away one copy of her book to one reader with an address in the U.S. who comments on her guest post. Be sure to input your email address, so she can contact you.

How can you say that China is an emerging market?

When I was working on Emerging Markets for Dummies (Wiley 2011), I had a question from my editor that probably nags at a lot of folks who are looking at international investing: How can you say that China is an emerging market when its economy is so big?

Well, yes, China is big. China has the third-largest economy in the world, behind the European Union and the United States, but it is nevertheless considered to be an emerging market. That’s for two reasons. First, China has the largest population in the world, so its economy per person is quite small. Divide China’s $8.2 trillion GDP by its 1.3 billion people, the result is a GDP of $6,700, ranked 130th in the world, right between El Salvador and Turkmenistan. Compare that to the United States, with a per-capita income of $47,400. (The US is ranked 11th internationally in GDP; Qatar is first at $145,300 – and it is also considered to be an emerging market because its leaders are working furiously to diversify the economy away from oil.)

To the average Chinese person, the country has a long way to go to be developed. Although the growth has been phenomenal, the nation has nowhere near the prosperity of the United States, Canada, or Japan.

Second, China’s infrastructure is still developing. For much of the 20th century, there was little spending on public works. In fact, some misguided political efforts such as the Cultural Revolution led to the destruction of perfectly fine schools and roads. Modern China needs roads, schools, electric power lines, airports, and all of the other niceties of a modern nation. The major cities are mostly set right now, but the nation’s vast rural areas are playing catch up. Beijing reaped the architectural rewards of the 2008 Olympics, but it has only 22 million people. More than a billion other Chinese are living in places without spectacular public parks and swimming pools.

When looking at China and India in particular, their national accomplishments have to be considered in the context of their massive populations. The CIA World Factbook, which is a great reference for anyone discussing emerging markets, says that only 61 percent of the population over age 15 is literate. To put it another way, India has more illiterate people than the United States has people.

It’s not easy to for an economy to be large enough to meet the needs of all of its people. China and India have a great deal of risk, despite their enormous progress. However, the creativity and hard work that goes into the attempt make for some great investment opportunities, even now.

I’ll give away a copy of the book to a random commenter with a US mailing address who responds to this post by March 1, 2011. Enjoy!

Financial writing tip: Don’t ignore the elephant in the room

Don’t write about something controversial as if it is an accepted fact.

“Research has shown that the most active managers can beat their benchmarks handily,” wrote Eleanor Laise in The Return of The Market-Beating Fund Manager” in The Wall Street Journal.

Oh, really? Many financial advisors and investment professionals disagree.

Laise should have acknowledged that her statement was controversial. Her failure to do so undercuts the credibility of her article. Keep this in mind the next time you say something that isn’t widely accepted.

Laise could have rephrased her sentence along the following lines: “New research suggests that most active managers can beat their benchmarks handily.”

Research on active managers’ outperformance

Laise’s article alerted me to an interesting research paper, “Active Share and Mutual Fund Performance,” by Antti Petajisto of NYU University’s business school.

Here’s a provocative quote from Petajisto’s abstract:

I find that over my sample period until the end of 2009, the most active stock pickers have outperformed their benchmark indices even after fees and transaction costs. In contrast, closet indexers or funds focusing on factor bets have lost to their benchmarks after fees. The same long-term performance patterns held up over the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

My LinkedIn contacts responded with scepticism when I quoted Laise’s sentence. What do YOU think about the performance record of actively managed funds?


Bubble? — Emerging markets scrutinized by CFA Institute conference

Is now a good time to invest in emerging markets?

The answer depended on which speakers or attendees I listened to at the CFA Institute’s “Investing in Emerging Markets” conference held in Boston on October 19.

The overall mood was cautiously optimistic for the long-term. “We’re not in a bubble yet,” said George Hoguet of State Street Global Advisors, who also mentioned some concerns about emerging markets.

At least one speaker said some emerging markets are already in a bubble and several attendees told me they’re waiting for a pullback before they put money into emerging markets.

It’s not only emerging market stocks that worry investment professionals. While some investors are eager to pick up an extra six percent (600 basis points) or so by investing in emerging market debt, Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Company’s Tina Vandersteel suggested that emerging market bonds may not be as safe as you think. This is especially true of external debt, which has a 32% probability of default vs. only 2% for local debt, although spreads of about 3% (300 basis points) provide a cushion for defaults, she said.

What about you? Are you ready to invest in emerging markets today?

Guest post: “Would you like to know how financial advisors are choosing products?”

Investment marketers want to know what’s driving financial advisor behavior, so I asked  Lisa Cohen, CEO of Momentum Partners, for a guest post.

Financial advisors, what do you think of the RepThinkTank findings that Lisa discusses? Are you–like the advisors whom she mentions–planning to increase allocations to emerging markets and international stocks?


Would you like to know how financial advisors are choosing

products and making investment decisions in this market?

By Lisa Cohen

We thought you might. We did too. The recently-released first report in the RepThinkTank Distribution Dynamics series provides comprehensive information on investment selection and asset allocation trends. The study includes data from more than 1,000 financial advisors across all channels.

Key findings include:

  • Continued commitment to a short list of top managers and families (American Funds, Franklin Templeton, PIMCO), and
  • High regard for growing managers including Davis Investment Advisors, Ivy Investment Management, First Eagle Investment Management, and Thornburg Investment Management
  • Plans to increase allocations to Emerging Market Equities and International Core, among other asset classes, and to slightly decrease exposure to fixed income
  • Changing risk/return expectations and the financial crisis are a top driver of recent changes in the asset allocation of client portfolios
  • Advisors’ median allocation across all channels to passive investments is 20%. Data suggests a growing appreciation for using passive investing as both a core allocation and as a way to adjust investor exposure to specific asset classes.
  • Use of third party portfolio construction tools by nearly a third of advisors in all channels. In light of advisors’ anticipated increase in use of mutual fund wraps, this data suggests the continued outsourcing of asset allocation.

The complete report is available from any of the RepThinkTank partners and is priced at $7,500. RepThinkTank is an experienced, integrated team of leading financial services research, advisor practice management, and advisory firms. Learn more at www.repthinktank.com. You can contact Lisa at 866-995-7555.

My May blog posts by category: Blogging, economy/investments/wealth management, marketing, social media, writing

Did you notice that I went wild in May, posting every day as part of the Word Count Blogathon? For your convenience, I’m listing my May posts by category.

Blogging

Economy, investments, and wealth management

Marketing

Social media

Writing

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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Dan Ariely says disclosure may hurt investors: Report from his #CFA2010 talk — #CFA2010

Most investment professionals, including CFA charterholders, figure that more disclosure about financial advisors’ conflicts of interest will help investors.

Not so, said Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, to the CFA Institute’s annual conference on May 16. In fact, disclosure may not improve investors’ decisions.


Two countervailing forces apply when a financial advisor reveals conflicts of interest, said Ariely.

Let’s assume the financial advisor tells a client that he’ll receive a higher payment if the client chooses Fund A over Fund B.

On the one hand, the client will tend to discount the advisor’s opinion because of the potential bias, said Ariely. On the other hand, the advisor will feel freer to push Fund A because he has revealed his conflict. Ariely believes that this second force will overwhelm the client’s discounting of the advisor’s opinion. As a result, investors end up no better off despite disclosures. 


You can watch Ariely present
Some of Ariely’s past presentations have been captured on video. You can view Ariely on YouTube. 


Follow the CFA Institute’s annual conference
You can learn about presentations at the CFA Institute’s annual conference as they occur. Read the CFA Institute’s conference blog or follow the conference using the #CFA 2010 hashtag on Twitter.
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Small-cap investing opportunities according to Artio’s Dedio

“Opportunities in Smallcap Investing” was the title of the presentation that Samuel Dedio, head of US equities for Artio Global Management, delivered to the 2010 annual conference of the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts. The growth of options trading was his most interesting theme, in my opinion. By the way, if you don’t recognize the name Artio Global Management, it was formerly Julius Baer. 

Where the opportunities lie 
Dedio identified opportunities in financials sector, including regional banks, online brokerage companies, and insurance. He figures that “industry consolidation and stimulus spending may potentially benefit this area.” 

Industrials and materials stocks will benefit from emerging markets’ demand. For example, Dedio likes silver, where supply is not keeping up with demand. Compared with gold, silver has many more industrial applications, yet it trades at a discount to gold.

In healthcare, Dedio likes companies that can help implement cost savings. This means companies in diagnostics, medical technology, pharmaceuticals, and home healthcare providers.

The survivors of the 2009 shakeout in retailers will benefit in 2010. “We expect margins (and earnings) to recover more rapidly than in prior cycles,” wrote Dedio in the consumer discretionary section of his handout.

Finally, in technology, Dedio focused on the undervalued importance of semiconductors. 

Options: Why online brokerage may thrive 
Dedio particularly likes online brokerage companies with exposure to options trading as a play on demographics and rising interest in making money through options. 

“The younger generation eats it up,” said Dedio, referring to options trading. This is apparently tied to younger investors growing up with computers and to educational efforts by companies such as Think or Swim.

“Don’t 85% of options expire worthless?” asked an audience member. That’s exactly what makes options a great business, according to Dedio. Investors have to buy more options on an ongoing basis. 

Dedio displayed a graph showing that total monthly equity option trading volume has more than doubled since the year 2000. Monthly trading volume, which was under 100 million until January 2004, has been  200 million–and sometimes exceeded 350 million–during the period January 2008 to September 2009.

Dedio’s one concern about options trading is pricing pressure. However, cost cutters are at a disadvantage in the options arena, where education remains critical. Education requires more robust margins than cost cutters manage.
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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved

Morgan Creek Capital’s Yusko on investing

“Alternative Thinking About Investments” was the topic addressed by Mark Yusko, CEO and chief investment officer, Morgan Creek Capital Management, when he spoke at the annual conference of the Financial Planning Association of Massachusetts on May 7. Yusko’s wide-ranging talk was provocative and entertaining, with some great one-liners that became tweets that I quote below.


Alternatives deserve more attention

Yusko thinks investors should put more into alternative strategies. A small allocation simply cannot have a big enough impact.

This is a lesson that target date fund (TDF) managers should consider, suggested Ryan Alfred, co-founder and president of BrightScope, in response to my tweet. As he explained,

Going back to Yusko, he also suggested that your clients should have at least one-third of their assets in illiquid investments because such investments “win” after recessions. He’s assuming that your clients have plenty of money that they plan to pass on to others in their wills. Yusko didn’t specify which illiquid assets he was talking about.


Provocative 
Yusko isn’t fond of mainstream media. “Cancel your subscriptions to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. It’s all wrong, it’s all biased.” He used the example of the war between Russia and Georgia to make his case, mentioning that Morgan Creek pays someone to read Russian newspapers for them. 

Yusko also spoke in favor of high fees. He seemed to suggest that fees rise along with the investment manager’s ability to deliver performance.

Humorous Yusko 
In closing, here is some Yusko humor.


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Copyright 2010 by Susan B. Weiner All rights reserved