Mutual fund performance and survivorship bias

Mutual fund performance

As we have noted in previous Mathematical Investor blogs (see this blog for instance), surprisingly few mutual funds beat their respective benchmark (typically some market index). Even fewer consistently beat their benchmark year after year.

A new report from S&P Dow Jones sheds light on this phenomenon. It tabulates, for each year from 2001 through 2017, the percentage of mutual funds in various categories that are out-performed by their respective benchmarks. Here is a brief summary of this performance data.

Table 1: Percentages of U.S. mutual funds beaten by their benchmark

Category Benchmark 2011 2012 2013 2014

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Are target-date funds the answer?

Target-date funds

“Target-date funds” are currently the rage in the finance world. The term refers to a mutual fund that targets a given retirement date, and then steadily shifts the allocation of assets from, say, a 80%/20% mix of stocks and bonds at the start to, say, a 30%/70% mix as the target date approaches.

Vanguard Group, which manages over USD$5 trillion in assets, much of it in employer-offered defined contribution retirement plans, reports that participation in its target date offerings have grown explosively in the past few years. In 2005, when Vanguard started offering target-date funds, only a few

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Are economics and finance “lost in math”?

Is physics “lost in math”?

In a provocative new book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, quantum physicist Sabine Hossenfelder argues that the scientific world in general, and the field of physics in particular, has repeatedly clung to notions that have been rejected by experimental evidence, or has pursued theories far beyond what can be tested by experimentation, mainly because these theories and the mathematics behind them were judged “too beautiful not to be true.” Examples cited by Hossenfelder include:

Supersymmetry. Supersymmetry, the notion that each particle has a “superpartner,” was originally proposed in the 1970s, and

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Economics, finance and pseudoscience

Beware snake oil salesmen!

Economics

Bloomberg columnist Mohamed El-Erian recently lamented that the discipline of economics “is divorced from real-world relevance and has lost credibility.” Among the problems he mentions currently afflicting the field are the following:

The proliferation of simplifying assumptions that lead to an “overreliance on excessively abstract estimation techniques and approaches.” Insufficient consideration of the possibility that financial dislocations can disrupt the economy. Poor and grudging adoption of important insights from behavioral science and other disciplines. An oversimplification of uncertainty. An overemphasis of equilibrium conditions and mean reversion, and an underemphasis on structural changes and tipping

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The most important plot in finance

In this post we look at the one plot that proves that technical analysis is useless.

Technical analysis and horoscopes

As volatility has returned in recent months, investors have sought advice from asset managers and other investment professionals. In many instances, such advice includes technical analysis (TA). Even many highly respected investment firms and financial news sources promote TA:

Charles Schwab represents TA as an indispensable tool for active traders (examples: here and here). Merrill Lynch offers a Market Analysis Technical Handbook. Some Bank of America / Merrill Lynch analysts utilize technical analysis: here. Fidelity considers TA an advanced technique

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Does indexing threaten the market?

Introduction

Index investing has grown significantly over the past 30 years. Back in 1990, few were even aware of the option for indexing, and options were limited mostly to a handful of conventional mutual funds tracking the U.S. S&P 500 index. In 1993, Boston’s State Street Global Advisors launched the first S&P 500 index-tracking exchanged traded fund (ETF), with ticker SPY. Today this ETF controls over USD$300 billion in assets. Thousands of other index-tracking mutual funds and ETFs, tracking numerous different indices, in numerous different world markets and regions, are now in operation; in the U.S. alone, there were 1716

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Can mutual fund investors beat the market?

FTSE 100 index

Introduction

Many individual investors employ mutual funds as an alternative to direct ownership of stocks or bonds.

Indeed, mutual funds have some advantages:

Diversity: Even a single fund can encapsulate a large sector of the market. Peace of mind: One is less likely to stress out about sudden bad news regarding a particular firm if one owns shares in it only indirectly as part of a large mutual fund’s portfolio. Management fees: Several leading index mutual funds have even lower management fees than corresponding exchange-traded funds (ETFs). And as a class, mutual funds have significantly lower

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Can the January effect be exploited in the market?

Hoarfrost: Courtesy Wikimedia

Introduction

The “January effect,” in common with the “Halloween indicator” and “sell in May and go away”, is a catchy, get-rich-quick investment idea adored by financial commentators because it is so easy to explain to unsophisticated readers. It rests on the claim that the U.S. stock market performs better in January, compared to the other months in the year.

Unfortunately, financial reports promoting the “January effect” are often vague and confusing. One recent example is here, which, like others in this genre, lacks a specific actionable investment strategy. In fact, this particular report does not even

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How is big data impacting the finance world?

Introduction

“Big data” is already a frequently-heard buzzword, both in the business analytics arena, but also in the field of high-performance scientific computing. Basically, “big data” encompasses the collection, processing, indexing and utilization of large-scale datasets. Some concrete examples include temperature and sunlight data downloaded from satellites monitoring of the Earth’s environment, particle tracking data produced by the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, and anonymized smartphone position data made available, in some cases, by wireless operators and even certain smartphone applications.

Courtesy Quandl, DigitalGlobe and Orbital Insight

Big data has enormous potential to revolutionize the world of finance, mainly

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Will artificial intelligence upend the financial world?

Many now accept that artificial intelligence, robotics and other high-tech developments will upend blue-collar professions such as retail sales, truck driving, package delivery, fast food and more. Some observers now estimate that self-driving vehicles could replace 1.7 million truckers in the next decade. Drivers of delivery vehicles could see their jobs replaced by Amazon drones.

But what about finance, the epitome of white collar employment? Far from being immune, white collar occupations in general, and finance in particular, are arguably even more prone to be substantially affected. Entire categories of highly-paid workers could be rendered obsolete in a matter of

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