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Enrich Your Future 03: Persistence of Performance: Athletes Versus Investment Managers

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Quick take

In this episode of Enrich Your Future, Andrew and Larry Swedroe discuss Larry’s new book, Enrich Your Future: The Keys to Successful Investing. In this series, they discuss Chapter 03: Persistence of Performance: Athletes Versus Investment Managers.

LEARNING: The nature of the competition in the investment arena is so different that conventional wisdom does not apply. What works in one paradigm does not necessarily work in another.

 

“Active managers fail with great persistence not because they’re dumb, it’s just that they have a burden of costs, which makes it very difficult for them to outperform and overcome those costs.”

Larry Swedroe

 

In this episode of Enrich Your Future, Andrew and Larry Swedroe discuss Larry’s new book, Enrich Your Future: The Keys to Successful Investing. The book is a collection of stories that Larry has developed over the 30 years or so that he’s been trying to help investors. Larry is the head of financial and economic research at Buckingham Wealth Partners. You can learn more about Larry’s Worst Investment Ever story on Ep645: Beware of Idiosyncratic Risks.

Larry deeply understands the world of academic research and investing, especially risk. Today, Andrew and Larry discuss Chapter 03: Persistence of Performance: Athletes Versus Investment Managers.

Chapter 03: Persistence of Performance: Athletes Versus Investment Managers

In this chapter, Larry expounds on why we do not see the persistence of the outperformance of investment managers. He also tries to help investors understand how securities markets set prices.

Skills versus luck

One of the most strongly held beliefs is that successful people succeed not through luck but through the skill of persistence over time. So, people assume that successful active managers must also result from this skill, not just luck. Larry explains that while this may be true for athletes where competition is one-on-one, it is not the case when it comes to investing.

According to Dr. Mark Rubinstein, competition for an investment manager is not other individual investment managers but rather the market’s collective wisdom. Further, Rex Sinquefield states that just because there are some investors smarter than others, that advantage will not show up. The market is too vast and too informationally efficient. Many people fail to comprehend that in many forms of competition, such as chess, poker, or investing, the relative skill level plays the more critical role in determining outcomes, not the absolute level. The “paradox of skill” means that even as skill level rises, luck can become more crucial in determining outcomes if the level of competition also increases.

The cost of outperformance

When it comes to outperforming the market, Larry cautions that investment managers are not engaged in a zero-sum game. In pursuing market-beating returns, they face significantly higher expenses than passive investors. These costs, which include research expenses, other fund operating expenses, bid-offer spreads, commissions, market impact costs, and taxes, can pose significant financial risks. Investors must be aware of these potential pitfalls and factor them into their investment strategies.

According to Larry, small-cap stocks tend to outperform large stocks in the long term. This performance isn’t a size effect but a merger effect. Active managers fail with remarkable persistence in emerging markets because there are costs to exploit market inefficiencies, and the more inefficient the market is, the more the implementation costs.

Why conventional wisdom doesn’t apply in investing

In conclusion, Larry states that conventional wisdom states that past performance is a good predictor of future performance. It is conventional wisdom because it holds true in most endeavors, be it a sporting event or any other form of competition. The problem for investors who believe in conventional wisdom is that the nature of the competition in the investment arena is so different that conventional wisdom does not apply. What works in one paradigm does not necessarily work in another. Peter Bernstein said, “In the real world, investors seem to have great difficulty outperforming one another in any convincing or consistent fashion. Today’s hero is often tomorrow’s blockhead.”

Further reading

  1. Dr. Mark Rubinstein, “Rational Markets: Yes or No? The Affirmative Case,” Financial Analysts Journal (May-June 2001).
  2. Ron Ross, The Unbeatable Market (Optimum Press, 2002).
  3. Raymond Fazzi, “Going Their Own Way,” Financial Advisor (March 2001).
  4. Tim Riley, “Can Mutual Fund Stars Still Pick Stocks?: A Replication and Extension of Kosowski, Timmermann, Wermers, and White (2006).” January 2019.
  5. Robert Kosowski, Allan Timmermann, Russ Wermers and Hal White, “Can Mutual Fund ‘Stars’ Really Pick Stocks? New Evidence from a Bootstrap Analysis, Journal of Finance (December 2006)
  6. Ralph Wanger, A Zebra in Lion Country (Simon & Schuster, 1997).
  7. Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods (Wiley, 1996).

Did you miss out on the previous chapters? Check them out:

About Larry Swedroe

Larry Swedroe is head of financial and economic research at Buckingham Wealth Partners. Since joining the firm in 1996, Larry has spent his time, talent, and energy educating investors on the benefits of evidence-based investing with an enthusiasm few can match.

Larry was among the first authors to publish a book that explained the science of investing in layman’s terms, “The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need.” He has authored or co-authored 18 books.

Larry’s dedication to helping others has made him a sought-after national speaker. He has made appearances on national television on various outlets.

Larry is a prolific writer, regularly contributing to multiple outlets, including AlphaArchitect, Advisor Perspectives, and Wealth Management.