Focusing on what you can control can lead to a better investment experience.
Whether you’ve been investing for decades or are just getting started, you’ll likely ask yourself some of the following questions at some point on your investment journey. While this is not intended to be an exhaustive list, we hope to shed some light on a few key principles (using data and reasoning) that may help improve investors’ odds of investment success in the long run. Remember, your financial advisor is here to help.
1. What sort of competition do I face as an investor?
The market is an effective information-processing machine. Millions of market participants buy and sell securities every day and the real-time information they bring helps set prices.
This means competition is stiff, and trying to outguess market prices is difficult for anyone, even professional money managers (see question 2 for more on this). This is good news for investors, though. Rather than basing an investment strategy on “trying to find securities that are priced ‘incorrectly,’” investors can instead rely on the information in market prices to help build their portfolios (see question 5 for more details).
Source: World Federation of Exchanges members, affiliates, correspondents, and non-members. Trade data from the global electronic order book. Daily averages were computed using year-to-date totals as of December 31, 2016, divided by 250 as an approximate number of annual trading days.
2. What are my chances of picking an investment fund that survives and outperforms?
Flip a coin and your odds of getting heads or tails are 50/50. Historically, the odds of selecting an investment fund that’s around 15 years later are about the same. Regarding out-performance, the odds are worse. The market’s pricing power works against fund managers who try to outperform through stock picking or market timing. One needn’t look further than real-world results to see this. Based on research*, only 17% of U.S. equity mutual funds and 18% of fixed income funds have survived and outperformed their benchmarks over the past 15 years.
*Source: Mutual Fund Landscape 2017, Dimensional Fund Advisors. See Appendix for important details on the study. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
3. If I choose a fund because of strong past performance, does that mean it will do well in the future?
Some investors select mutual funds based on past returns. However, research shows that most funds in the top quartile (25%) of previous five-year returns did not maintain a top-quartile ranking in the following year. In other words, past performance offers little insight into a fund’s future returns.
Source: Mutual Fund Landscape 2017, Dimensional Fund Advisors. See Appendix for important details on the study. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
4. Do I have to outsmart the market to be a successful investor?
Financial markets have rewarded long-term investors. People expect a positive return on the capital they invest, and historically, the equity and bond markets have provided growth of wealth that has more than offset inflation. Instead of fighting markets, let them work for you.
US Small Cap is the CRSP 6–10 Index. US Large Cap is the S&P 500 Index. Long-Term Government Bonds is the IA SBBI US LT Govt TR USD, provided by Ibbotson Associates via Morningstar Direct. Treasury Bills is the IA SBBI US 30 Day TBill TR USD, provided by Ibbotson Associates via Morningstar Direct. US Inflation is measured as changes in the US Consumer Price Index. US Consumer Price Index data is provided by the US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. CRSP data is provided by the Center for Research in Security Prices, University of Chicago. The S&P data is provided by Standard & Poor’s Index Services Group. Indices are not available for direct investment. Index performance does not reflect the expenses associated with the management of an actual portfolio. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
5. Is there a better way to build a portfolio?
Academic research has identified these equity and fixed income dimensions, which point to differences in expected returns among securities. Instead of attempting to outguess market prices, investors can instead pursue higher expected returns by structuring their portfolio around these dimensions.
Relative price is measured by the price-to-book ratio; value stocks are those with lower price-to-book ratios. Profitability is a measure of current profitability based on information from individual companies’ income statements.
6. Is international investing for me?
Diversification helps reduce risks that have no expected return, but diversifying only within your home market may not be enough. Global diversification can broaden your investment opportunity set. By holding a globally diversified portfolio, investors are well positioned to seek returns wherever they occur.
Number of holdings and countries for the S&P 500 Index and MSCI ACWI (All Country World Index) Investable Market Index (IMI) as of December 31, 2016. The S&P data is provided by Standard & Poor’s Index Services Group. MSCI data ©MSCI 2017, all rights reserved. International investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political stability. Investing in emerging markets may accentuate those risks. Diversification does not eliminate the risk of market loss. Indices are not available for direct investment.
7. Will making frequent changes to my portfolio help me achieve investment success?
It’s tough, if not impossible, to know which market segments will outperform from period to period.
Accordingly, it’s better to avoid market-timing calls and other unnecessary changes that can be costly. Allowing emotions or opinions about short-term market conditions to impact long-term investment decisions can lead to disappointing results.