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Bogle, Buffett good examples of investors keeping it simple

John Rekenthaler, CFA  |  23 Apr 2018Text size  Decrease  Increase  |  
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Professional investment managers who have time, resources, and high financial rewards on their side, should be able to outperform 99.9% of their amateur peers, at a bare minimum.

That they probably can. The problem is, outdoing 999 of 1,000 rivals doesn’t get a fund manager very far. If there are 10 million involved investors, then that 1-in-1000 camp possesses 10,000 members. Having the insight to invest simply used to suffice for fund managers. Being a poor man’s Warren Buffett was plenty. Today, there are too many managers who fit that description.

The competition among them has become too steep. Unlike professional managers, who cannot thrive at their roles unless they frequently and consistently out-think the wisdom of the crowd, everyday investors need not be brilliant. They are not required to beat others. Their task is keep things simple, so that they don’t beat themselves.

Which means avoiding the avoidable errors that arise from rushed decisions. The whole idea of long-term investing is to align one’s portfolio with the odds. That means: 1) holding securities that figure to outperform cash more often than not, and 2) keeping costs very low while doing so. That sounds so obvious as to be useless. Yet many fail to observe those rules.

Avoiding Emotional Decisions

Some err by not investing, although they have surplus cash. Others are overly cautious with their retirement assets. Others yet overreact to bear markets. Listening to arguments that previous market conditions no longer apply, so that the maths that historically has favoured equities will not do so in the future, is an emotional decision rather than a logical choice.

With fund costs, much progress has occurred. Whereas two decades ago I would have written that the most fund investors overlooked the damage caused by high investment expenses those times have changed. Jack Bogle, after all, has become the fund industry’s best-known commentator. Still, many investors overcomplicate their lives – and sometimes their taxes – by churning their portfolios.

To the two above items, I would add a third: chasing non-financial assets. Examples including flipping houses, purchasing bitcoin, and trading gold bullion. Many people have made their fortunes in such fashion. However, those are mostly intuitive investments; indeed, I would hesitate to call them “investments”. Such purchases are supported by few – if any – calculations. They replace the transparent logic of owning equities or investment-grade bonds with a decision that is largely emotional.

That strategy can work out well. Investing intuitively does not automatically mean failure. Such an approach certainly has a higher success rate than would picking cards at random. However, keeping things simple has historically been the better option, although not always the easiest to follow.

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John Rekenthaler has been researching the fund industry since 1988. He is now a columnist for Morningstar.com and a member of Morningstar's investment research department. John is quick to point out that while Morningstar typically agrees with the views of the Rekenthaler Report, his views are his own.

© 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782 ("ASXO"). The article is current as at date of publication.

 

is Vice President of Research for Morningstar.

© 2019 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither Morningstar, its affiliates, nor the content providers guarantee the data or content contained herein to be accurate, complete or timely nor will they have any liability for its use or distribution. This information is to be used for personal, non-commercial purposes only. No reproduction is permitted without the prior written consent of Morningstar. Any general advice or 'class service' have been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892), or its Authorised Representatives, and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. Please refer to our Financial Services Guide (FSG) for more information at www.morningstar.com.au/s/fsg.pdf. Our publications, ratings and products should be viewed as an additional investment resource, not as your sole source of information. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product's future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a licensed financial adviser. Some material is copyright and published under licence from ASX Operations Pty Ltd ACN 004 523 782. The article is current as at date of publication.

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