Grand Illusion #2: Superior Investment Selection
Grand Illusion #2: Superior Investment Selection
The fallacy that the stock market can regularly and consistently be outperformed by superior investment selection is the ugly stepsister to the first ‘grand illusion’ of investments, market timing The notion that through an extensive search of the stock market or the mutual fund industry, investors can reliably uncover the next investment superstar is categorically false.
You might think, “If I could only find and buy the next Apple, Google, or Amazon stock in its infancy, I would be rich.” Well, you would be rich, but it is unlikely you will be that lucky. There are thousands of mutual fund managers and pension plan managers, and a wide variety of other highly educated, experienced professionals in the investment industry scouring the investment universe in search of the next investment superstar. The full-time professionals, with their vast resources, can rarely find a hidden investment gem or concoct a superior portfolio of investments, that can reliably beat their corresponding index (or the average).
We like to think that trying to get rich through individual investment selection, versus owning a diversified portfolio of equities, is like betting on a single football team that will win next year’s Super Bowl, versus having a partial ownership in the National Football League (NFL) itself. Owning a share of the entire NFL would entitle you to a proportional share of all the profits from the entire organization and from every team. Certainly, teams within the organization will experiences their ups and downs each year, but overall, the NFL as an entity makes a lot of money (and half of its teams are guaranteed to have losing seasons). A rational investor would not bet on a single team instead of owning a piece of the whole organization. Rational investors recognize that the odds are not in favor of those who try to beat the markets through superior investment selection.
Successful long-term stock and mutual-fund pickers are hard to find. There are no market timers or stock pickers listed among Fortune magazine’s richest people in the world. Wouldn’t you think that if market timers and stock pickers could really do what they claim to be able to do, they would be numbered among the world’s wealthiest individuals? So, where are they?
Some would argue that the oft quoted billionaire Warren Buffett would qualify as a successful stock picker. He is a unique and talented investment manager and has made excellent individual investment choices. But Warren Buffett’s successes can be attributed to his extreme discipline and patience rather than flipping stocks or timing markets. It is interesting to note the instructions he gives to the trustee of his own estate regarding how his wife’s money is to be managed upon his demise: “the trustee is to put 10% of the cash in short-term government bonds and 90% in a very low-cost S&P 500 index fund.” When the third wealthiest person on the planet, who made his wealth by managing investments, instructs his trustees to not even attempt to “beat the market” we should pay attention.
An additional illustration of Mr. Buffett’s belief in the passive investing process is demonstrated in an interesting wager that he made in 2007 with Ted Seides of Protégé Partners. Protégé Partners is a New York-based money-management company that prides itself in its ability to time the markets and outperform the stock market through superior investment selection. The bet was, that for a ten-year period, Protégé Partners would choose a combination of “timing and selecting” types of investments to beat Warren Buffett’s choice of a mutual fund that mimicked the S&P 500. At the end of the ten years, the winner’s favorite charity would receive one million dollars.
When the wager was completed in 2017, Buffett’s S&P 500 index fund returned 7.1% compounded annually. Protégé Partners competing hedge funds returned an average of 2.2%. Surely Buffett’s charity, Girls Inc. of Omaha, was excited to open their mail box after the wager was completed.
There is a lesson to be learned from this wager. Warren Buffett, one of the smartest investors on earth, believes in the value of passive investing. He believes very few investors “can beat the market” and he trusts that investing into the average through index mimicking equities will ultimately beat out those who seek above average investment results through superior stock and mutual fund selecting.
So, if market timing and superior investment selection has been proven to be unproductive, who benefits from these deficient strategies? Mutual fund companies, brokerage firms, and any entity or individual whose value proposition is their ability to tell you what tomorrow’s star investment will be. Especially egregious profiteers in this illusion are the magazines that provides lists of “the best mutual funds for the year” and the television programs instructing the public on what stocks to buy and sell as part of some inept day-trading strategy.
There is an inordinate amount of time, energy, and money that is wasted on the possibility that market timing and superior investment selection may contribute to investment performance. The academic world refutes the claims that market timing and superior investment selection have any significant impact on actual investment results. In practice, the additional costs (increased management costs and higher trading costs) incurred by those who willingly pay for these tactics far outweigh any possible benefit they might offer.
Many naïve investors believe that if they spend an hour or two every other month checking out stocks, or mutual funds, on the internet, that they will be able to create an investment mix that will outperform market averages. When long term, index beating, investment selection can’t be accomplished by the most experienced professionals, it is doubtful that the amateur on an occasional cruise through cyberspace will be successful.
Certainly, there is a lot of money being made by the deception of superior investment selection. Unfortunately, we once again see that everybody, but the investor is making that money.
So, when it comes to investing your own portfolio we would suggest that you follow the sage advice of Vanguard Mutual Funds founder Jack Bogle, “Don’t struggle to find the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack.”
Scott M. Peterson is the founder and principal investment advisor of Peterson Wealth Advisors. Scott has specialized in financial management for retirees for over 30 years. Scott is a regular presenter at BYU’s Education Week and speaks often at other seminars regarding financial decision making at retirement. He also literally wrote the book on retirement income, Plan on Living: The Retiree’s Guide to Lasting Income & Enduring Wealth.
If you are getting close to retirement and will have at least $500,000 saved at retirement, click here to request a complimentary copy of Scott’s new book!