Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Conundrum solved

The other day, I was challenging some conventional wisdom, and it seems that a more elaborate answer was recently discussed by a Legg Mason manager, Michael Mauboussin, who the Legg Mason site advises is the ... "Chief Investment Strategist of Legg Mason Capital Management (LMCM), Legg Mason's cornerstone equity fund management subsidiary."

Here are his comments, directly:

"Jack Bogle provides what may be the most sobering statistic in the investment industry: from 1983-2003, index funds tracking the S&P 500 returned 12.8 percent and the average mutualfund gainedd 10.0 percent annually. Meanwhile, the average investor only earned 6.3 percent annual returns. This seemingly impossible result is attributable to one crucial variable: market timing.

The Bogle data refer to average percentage changes, not dollar-weighted changes. When you consider the extraordinary proclivity for investors to invest in the wrong place at the wrong time, the data start to make sense.

For example, at the height of the technology and telecom bubble in the first quarter of 2000, investors poured a record $140 billion into growth funds while pulling $40 billion out of value funds. In the subsequent five years, value funds substantially outperformed growth funds. Using over twenty years of market data, Evergreen Capital Management paired mutual fund flows with a valuation measure to generate buy and sell signals.

High inflows and high valuation triggers a sell signal, while large outflows and cheap valuations mean buy. Following a sell signal across various investment styles, the return of the investment strategy underperformed the S&P 500 by an average of 490 basis points over the subsequent two-year period. Buy signals generated an even more impressive 870 basis points of excess returns in two years. As noteworthy, the sell signal was reliable nearly 80 percent of the time, while the buy
signal was accurate over 90 percent of the time.

Why do investors make this mistake? The most likely explanation is the recency bias, which says individuals tend to extrapolate recent outcomes without giving full weight to the full time series or prevailing circumstances. This bias defines one of the most reliable sources of inefficiency in the market.

Recent academic research, spanning twenty years of data, shows the buying and selling patterns of individual investors provide a hard-to-beat contrary indicator. More specifically, researchers found heavy buying leads to above-average short-term results and below-market returns in the subsequent year. The mirror image holds true for stocks individuals sell. "

Thinking about buying or selling one of your investments? Sobers one, doesn't it?


The Confused Capitalist

No comments: