Saturday, October 17, 2015

Conflicts of Interest: A Look at Advisors vs Clients Paying Ticket Charges

More and more Financial Advisors have moved from a commission based compensation arrangement to a Fee-Based arrangement based on a percentage of Assets Under Management (AUM). For example, in a very common setup the advisor will charge 1% per year on the assets of their client. This trend will only continue to grow as the Department of Labor finalizes their "fiduciary rule" and commission based products get pushed to the wayside.

AUM based pricing theoretically puts both the client and the advisor on the same side of the table. If the clients account goes down 10% then so will the advisors compensation. However, what is often overlooked in the discussion is that there is more then one way in which fee-based AUM pricing is done and what is included.

For example, Some advisors may charge 1% of AUM and the client will be responsible for the ticket charges incurred for buying or selling funds. Meanwhile, other advisors may absorb the ticket charges and pay for them out of the fee they are charging the client. On the face of things, as a client, you may like the simplicity of the ticket charges being included in the fee. However, what you may not have noticed is the massive conflict-of-interest which that arrangement has introduced into the relationship when it comes to making changes in the portfolio.

To illustrate, let's assume that each buy or sell of a mutual fund or ETF costs $10 (in reality some funds avoid transaction fees and some cost much more $25+ depending on where they are executed). Now, let's assume the advisor is contemplating replacing Fund A with Fund B. In a normal environment where the client is going to pay the transaction cost, this would be a sort of cost-benefit look at the transaction

Cost to Sell Fund A = $10
Cost to Buy Fund B = $10

Total Transaction Costs = $20

Amount currently in Fund A = $40,000

Amount Fund A would need to outperform Fund B to make up for transaction costs?
$20/$40,000 = 0.05%

However, what about a situation where the Advisor is going to pay for the transaction costs? Remember, the advisor gets paid a percentage of assets under management. To properly understand the situation you must also understand what it takes the advisor to MAKE that $20. For an advisor to make back that $20, they must get $2,000 more under management (1% of $2,000 = $20). Therefore, the cost benefit analysis from the advisors perspective can start to conflict with the clients. The client only needed Fund A to outperform Fund B by $20 (or 0.05%) for the transaction to pay for itself since the client essentially gets all the profit (less 1%). For the Advisor, he needs to manage $2,000 more to fund that $20 transaction.  Therefore his cost benefit is different.....

Cost to Sell Fund A = $10
Cost to Buy Fund B = $10

Total Transaction Costs = $20

Amount of additional AUM advisor needs to pay transaction cost = $2,000 (1% of $2,000 = $20)

Amount currently in Fund A = $40,000

Amount Fund A would need to outperform Fund B to make up for transaction costs?
$2,000/$40,000 = 5.0%

Yes, from a cost-benefit perspective of the advisor Fund A needs to outperform by 5%! Just imagine if the dollar amount in the Fund was less? If the position size was $20,000 instead of $40,000, then Fund A would need to outperform by 10% from the advisors perspective! Meanwhile, it would only need to outperform by 0.1% from the clients perspective in a normal situation which they pay the transaction cost.

Clearly the conflict of interest that is introduced is the fact that the Advisor has MUCH less incentive to make moves in the account if they are paying the transaction costs. This is because there is a MUCH higher hurdle to get over before the transaction benefits them.

To grasp this fact a little more let's look at this from a hypothetical firm perspective. If the Firm has 500 clients in Fund A, this is what a switch to Fund B would cost them....

Cost to Sell Fund A = $10 x 500 clients = $5,000
Cost to Buy Fund B = 
$10 x 500 clients = $5,000
Total Transaction Costs = $10,000

Additional AUM Firm needs to pay transaction costs = $1,000,000 (1% of $1,000,000 = $10,000)

Yes, for switching from Fund A to Fund B the firm must either have Fund A outperform Fund B by 5% (assuming average position size of $40,000) OR the firm must bring on a new account worth $1,000,000.

Now this is just 1 fund switch, this also applies on a larger scale to something like a complete rebalancing. Now Advisors may say that because they are absorbing the transaction costs they raised their fee slightly to compensate for this....however, if you think that solves the conflict of interest problem you are kidding yourself. The reality is they are charging that rate INDEPENDENT of the number of trades they ultimately make. Reducing those even slightly makes a quick addition to the bottom line.

This conflict of interest only gets nastier if the market were to tank. Lets say a firms portfolios are down 20%+, therefore their revenue is down 20%+. Do you honestly think that firm is not going to be tempted to make less trades then they otherwise would?

To stay on the same side of the table, I think firms should pass on ticket charges. Then they are more likely to look at the same cost-benefit analysis as the client when they consider transactions.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Unconstrained Bond Funds Stress Tested (Sorry Bill)

Considering the Unconstrained Bond Fund area or the "Non-Traditional" Bond fund area is a pretty recent development, many of the funds did not exist in 2008. I thought it would be interesting to see who made it through the recent 3 trading day manic selloff the best and the worst (8/20-8/24). This screen includes all funds in the Non-Traditional Bond Morningstar category.

First lets take a look at the worst. You may spot somebody from old Pimco fame....

Bill's fund is the only one on that list with decent assets, as the next biggest fund (Parametric Absolute Return) is barely 30mil. Might want to tone that risk down Bill. And for the best?


As for comparison, the Barclays Agg was up 0.41%, which would have given it the 5th spot. The Non-Traditional Bond category average was -0.78%.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Financial Blogger Personalities Analyzed By IBM's Watson

IBM has an interesting personality insights service. According to IBM "The Watson Personality Insights service uses linguistic analytics to extract a spectrum of cognitive and social characteristics from the text data that a person generates through blogs, tweets, forum posts, and more."

I thought it would be interesting to run this test on some well known financial bloggers......

I fed Josh's recent post "The Biggest Threat To You Portfolio" into the service and this is what IBM's Watson had to say.
"You are inner-directed and skeptical.
You are empathetic: you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them. You are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe. And you are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself.
Your choices are driven by a desire for belongingness.
You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you."

For Barry I fed in his recent post (Protect Your Assets: Common-sense CyberSecurity for Investors) and Watson says....
"You are shrewd and somewhat insensitive.
You are proud: you hold yourself in high regard, satisfied with who you are. You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. And you are assertive: you tend to speak up and take charge of situations, and you are comfortable leading groups.
Your choices are driven by a desire for prestige.
You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done. You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you."

Here I plugged in Bill's text from this post. This is Watson's feedback.....
"You are inner-directed, heartfelt and rational.
You are imaginative: you have a wild imagination. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. And you are deliberate: you carefully think through decisions before making them.
Your choices are driven by a desire for organization.
You are relatively unconcerned with helping others: you think people can handle their own business without interference. You consider tradition to guide a large part of what you do: you highly respect the groups you belong to and follow their guidance."

Side Note: Wow did that really just say 0% for extraversion? Can't get more introverted then that. While I have not met Bill, considering his blog, why do I not find that surprising?

I used his most recent most  and it appears Watson confirms his Philosophical nature....
"You are inner-directed, skeptical and can be perceived as insensitive.
You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are independent: you have a strong desire to have time to yourself. And you are unconcerned with art: you are less concerned with artistic or creative activities than most people who participated in our surveys.
Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.
You are relatively unconcerned with both taking pleasure in life and helping others. You prefer activities with a purpose greater than just personal enjoyment. And you think people can handle their own business without interference."

So what does Watson say about me? I used my last post to find out....
"You are inner-directed, heartfelt and rational.
You are self-assured: you tend to feel calm and self-assured. You are calm-seeking: you prefer activities that are quiet, calm, and safe. And you are dispassionate: you do not frequently think about or openly express your emotions.
Your choices are driven by a desire for discovery.
You are relatively unconcerned with helping others: you think people can handle their own business without interference. You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do: you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate that you are a capable person."

Interesting to see all the bloggers I put in (except for Barry) were said to be "Inner-Directed" first and foremost. Check out yourself or someone else here

Friday, January 16, 2015

Doubleline Data Fail, The Stock Market Has been up for 7 straight years...and More!

Recently Jeffrey Gundlach from Doubleline had a conference call and soon the below chart was being passed around Twitter (even I passed it around, before stopping to think about it for a second).

However, as people may recall, we had quite strong markets in both the 80s and 90s. Yet this chart shows that the streaks never got longer than 5 years in those decades. However, a quick check of the history books will remind everyone that the market was up 8 straight years from 1982-1989 and then was also up 9 straight years from 1991-1999. Below are the 2 separate streaks. You will also notice that there was only 1 down year of -3.06% in 1990 that actually stopped it from being 18 straight years.

So how did Doubleline mess this up? Well according to their chart their source data appears to be well known shiller data The excel file is here. Odd they would use this for annual returns however, because that is not the purpose of the data...and you can't get calandar year returns from the data! (or any 1 year period for that matter) You will notice they say the streak in the 1980s was only 5 years. This is because they say the 1982 run ended in 1987....only 1987 was positive 5.81%. Why did they mess up? Well Shiller doesn't quote annual S&P returns. He only gives monthly S&P levels and they are NOT the starting or ending level for the month. They are the AVERAGE S&P level for the month. So the fact of the matter is you can't get calendar year returns from this data . Here is what it looks like 
The market closed at 242.12 on 12/31/86 and closed at 247.08 on 12/31/87. That's 2% up plus the dividends got you to 5.81% for 1987. None of those numbers match the Shiller data because his data is the AVERAGE close for everyday of the month.

So now everyone can stop repeating this inaccurate information. Thanks! (yes I did it too!)

Additional Note: I have since come across an article where Roland Kaloyan of Societe Generale states in December "Since 1875, we have never seen the S&P rise for seven calendar years in a row, so an eighth year would seem highly unlikely,". Who was the originator of this myth?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How The Largest Actively Managed Mutual Funds From 15 years Ago Performed

You can't go long without reading an article about the death of active management. Somewhere in a discussion like that you will also hear that the larger a fund gets the more likely it is to under-perform. My purpose of this post is not to get into either of those issues but I thought it would be interesting to take a glimpse back in time to the largest funds of 1999 (15 years ago).

For this exercise I decided to screen for the largest actively managed funds 15 years ago (8/1999) which had the S&P 500 as their prospectus benchmark. The top 10 results looked like this

So how did they do? Were they too big to outperform?

Indeed, the largest fund did manage to under-perform. However, as a whole, these large funds did quite well. Over the last 15 years the largest 10 funds which were benchmarked to the S&P 500 managed to return an average of 5.47% compared to 4.47% for the S&P 500.

What's also interesting is that despite the fact that I compared them all to their prospectus benchmark of the S&P 500, a few of them tend to have a known growth tilt (Vanguard Primecap, Growth Fund of America, Fidelty Contrafund) but they all managed to significantly beat the S&P 500 despite the fact that growth significantly underperformed the S&P during this time (Russell 1000 Growth returned only 3.18% compared to 4.47% on the S&P 500).

Monday, July 14, 2014

Test Makers Fail Financial Literacy Test

So news was recently going around about a Financial Literacy Test made by the OECD. The Wall Street Journal provided 5 sample questions from the test and I must say that the OECD fails it's own question.

First of all I'm switching the "zeds" to $ for typing purposes. So Mrs Jones current loan balance is $7400, it has a 15% interest rate with monthly payments of $150. This means that the loan will take 78 payments (months) to payoff and TOTAL INTEREST paid over the life of the loan will be $4,178 (yes below it equals $4,180 due to rounding).

However, if she decides to take out a new larger loan of $10,000 at an interest rate of 13% while repaying at the same $150 rate then it will take 119 payments (months) to payoff and TOTAL INTEREST paid over the life of the loan will be $7,832. In other words she will be paying $3,654 MORE INTEREST.

Despite these facts OECD says the answer is as follows
Clearly A, as I showed earlier, is not correct. Therefore C is also wrong. While she is paying a lower interest RATE, she is clearly paying HIGHER INTEREST in total ($7,832 vs $4,178). B is in fact correct, she will have more money available but she will be paying interest on that money and unless she has an investment that is going to earn her more then the cost of funds (13%) she would be better off taking a smaller loan.

Why am I not surprised that the OECD would come up with this clearly incorrect answer regarding interest paid? Because they seem to encourage over-leveraged economies at every opportunity, so here they are teaching incorrect information, helping everyone become slaves to debt through bad information.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Many Government Bonds Yielding Less Than United States

I can't listen to a talking head, bond manager, strategist or seemingly anyone without hearing about how "Rates can only go higher from here". When in reality THEY CAN go lower! In fact, when you look around the world, on a relative basis, THEY SHOULD!

Look at that list and tell me the United States should pay more on their debt then all those countries. France is borrowing at 1.77% people, FRANCE! You have Japan borrowing at a rate 76% lower than the US with more than twice the debt. Now all this doesn't mean the united states SHOULD trade lower, but it's either that or others SHOULD trade higher because on a relative basis, much is out-of-whack. And those calling for much higher rates in the U.S should realize that basket cases like Italy and Spain are trading at 3.1%!

Interestingly enough, despite the relative attractiveness of US rates you have nearly EVERY "unconstrained" bond fund avoiding US duration risk at all costs, meanwhile loading up on risky credit. How often is the herd correct?

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Look At Sloppy Nonsensical Mutual Fund / ETF Analysis

I read a lot of stuff online so I should be used to sloppy-stupid nonsensical things written online. However, this one titled "Why ETFs Are Better than Mutual Funds, in Two Charts" hits it on every base of stupidity. Now usually ETF Database is a decent source of some good information but clearly the editors were asleep at the wheel on this one. Let the article speak for itself.

It starts off fine enough
"Though some may disagree, exchange-traded funds have certainly proved their worth over the years. With more than 1,500 products to choose from, more and more investors have turned to the ETF wrapper, embracing the vehicles’ low-costs, efficiency, and many other advantages."
All is good there. And so she continues
"Some investors and industry professionals, however, have not yet come to embrace these products, preferring mutual funds instead. For those who need some convincing, we’ll try to show you why ETFs are better than mutual funds, in two charts."
Great, let's see it.
"For this exercise, we take a look at the popular Emerging Markets ETF (VWO, A), comparing it to the GS Emerging Markets Equity Fund (GEMCX). First, a comparison of expenses:"

Whoa Whoa, wait a second, WHAT? First of all what made her decide to use Goldman Sachs Emerging Markets Fund? Furthermore, why would she use a C share? The fund also comes in other share classes including IR share class which comes in at 1.48% (we will also overlook the small fact that net expense ratios for those funds are 0.15% and 2.47% not what she has listed). The only people who might be using a C share are people working with an adviser and the advisers fee is being included into the expense ratio (but that is a discussion for another day). This is nowhere NEAR an apples to apples comparison showing why ETFs are better than Mutual Funds.

She goes on to point out the performance gap that this inevitably leads to 

And she concludes:
The Bottom Line
This is just one of many examples of how ETFs are often better than mutual funds. Not only are exchange-traded funds usually cheaper, but they are often more efficient than mutual funds. If we’ve managed to convince you, use our free Mutual Fund to ETF Converter Tool to find an alternative to your current mutual fund.
Sorry, you have not managed to convince me and hopefully you didn't convince anybody with your ridiculous comparison. I hope your "converter tool" has a little more logic then is displayed here. So what is a PROPER comparison of the ETF VWO if you are trying to see the difference between mutual fund and ETF structures? Well the very simple and logical comparison would be Vanguard's Emerging Markets ETF (VWO) to Vanguard's Emerging Market Index Mutual Fund (VEMAX).

Only problem is that when you show a REAL comparison, your point is pretty much lost . As you can see, looking at the complete common period between the two funds, there return is essentially identical.

Not only does a proper comparison make her performance point invalid, her point about cost is as well, as both carry an expense ratio of 0.15%. But just for giggles lets throw in Vanguard's Active version of emerging markets which is a little more expensive with an expense ratio of 0.94%. Unfortunately, their active emerging markets strategy hasn't been around as long (A little shy of 3 years) but as you can see it has managed to handily outperform. You may also notice that over this timeframe the index MUTUAL FUND slightly outperformed the supposedly superior ETF.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Are Index Investors Unknowingly Increasing Interest Rate Risk?

Here in an interestingly look at the Barclay's US Aggregate Bond Index from Lord Abbett  The below Chart shows how the duration of the Index has changed over the last ten years.

As you can see, up until late 2010 the duration of the Aggregate Bond Index tended to hover around 4.5 years. That has increased to approximately 5.5 years today. I think it is important that "passive" index investors be aware that they are currently making an "active" decision to increase their interest rate risk.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Emerging Markets Price-to-Book Ratio & Forward Returns

Here is an interesting look from J.P Morgan regarding the Price-to-Book ratio on Emerging Markets.

They then look at how those various Price-to-Book ratios relate to forward 1-year returns....In short, it looks good.

Although I don't like that the 1-year forward returns only use 1999 to today. Why not use the same data as the first graph back to 1993? Also, I don't tend to think any valuation metric is a reliable short-term (1 year) timing indicator. However, Rob Arnott has also been pointing out that longer-term forward returns (10 years) are also looking pretty tempting using a Shiller PE ratio. All I know is, anything looks good 'relative' to the US right now.