Diversification: The power of winning by not losing

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital 

The image is indelibly etched in the mind of baseball fans everywhere. In 1988, an injury-hobbled Kirk Gibson, sick with a stomach virus to boot, limp-running around second base and pumping his fist. Without a doubt, Gibby’s homerun is one of the most memorable in baseball history, setting up the Dodgers for an improbable Game One “W” and eventual World Series win. But in remembering the heroics of the moment, we tend to forget all that came before.

The score at the time of Gibson’s unexpected plate appearance was 4 to 3 in favor of the Oakland Athletics, whose mulleted (and we now know, steroid-fueled) superstar Jose Canseco had hit a grand slam in the first inning. Canseco had an outstanding year in 1988, hitting .307 with 42 homeruns, 124 RBIs and, eye-popping by today’s standards, 40 stolen bases. Loading the bases in front of Canseco was massively risky as was throwing him the hanging slider that he eventually parked over the center field fence. But riskier still was sending Gibson to bat sick with the flu and hobbled by injuries sustained in the NLCS. That we don’t perceive it as risky is an example of what psychologists call “counterfactual thinking.” It turned out in the Dodgers favor, so Tommy Lasorda is viewed as a strategic genius. But had it not, and simple statistics tell us that getting a hit is never in even the best hitter’s favor, Lasorda would have been a goat.

Just as we laud improbable and memorable athletic achievements without adequately accounting for risk and counterfactuals, we do likewise with large and singular financial events. Paulson’s shorting of subprime mortgage products. Soros shorting $10 billion in currency. These events are so large, so memorable and worked out so favorably that we ascribe to them a level of prescience that may not actually correspond with the expected level of risk-adjusted return. A friend of mine once joked that, “every man thinks he is ten sit-ups away from being Brad Pitt.” Having observed significant overconfidence among both professionals and novice traders alike, I might similarly assert that “every stock market enthusiast thinks that (s)he is one trade away from being George Soros.” The good fun we can have talking about, “The Greatest Trade of All Time” notwithstanding, most real wealth is accumulated by not losing rather than winning in spectacular fashion.

Diversification.Power of Winning by not Losing

The danger in taking excessively risky bets with the hope of a spectacular win is best illustrated by what is formally known as variance drain. Variance drain is the difference between mean return and compound return over a period of time due to the variability of periodic returns. The greater the variability from peak to trough, the more the expected returns will deviate negatively. Confused?

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average ten percent returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved a 40% return – you are the Kirk Gibson of the market! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off lower lows.

A second, behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (hint: that means you and everyone you know). As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Baseball fans know the frustration of watching their favorite player “swing for the fences”, trying to end the game with a single stroke of the bat, when a single would do. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

The Center for Outcomes, powered by Brinker Capital, has prepared a system to help advisors employ the value of behavioral alpha across all aspects of their work – from business development to client service and retention. To learn more about The Center for Outcomes and Brinker Capital, call us at 800-333-4573.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Diversification: It’s Not Beauty and the Beast, but Still a Tale as Old as Time

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes & Founder, Nocturne Capital

Hedge fund guru Cliff Asness calls it “the only free lunch in investing.” Toby Moskowitz calls it “the lowest hanging fruit in investing.” Dr. Brian Portnoy says that doing it “means always having to say you’re sorry.” We’re speaking, of course, of diversification.

Diversification, or the reduction of non-market risk by investing in a variety of assets, is one of the hallmarks of traditional approaches to investing. What is less appreciated, however, are the ways in which it makes emotional as well as economic sense not to have all of your eggs in one basket. As is so often the case, the poets, philosophers and aesthetes beat the mathematicians to understanding this basic tenet of emotional self-regulation. The Bible mentions the benefits of diversification as a risk management technique in Ecclesiastes, a book estimated to have been written roughly 935 BC. It reads:

But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. (Ecclesiastes 11:2)

The Talmud too references an early form of diversification, the prescription there being to split one’s assets into three parts—one third in business, another third in currency and the final third in real estate.

The most famous, and perhaps most eloquent, early mention of diversification is found in Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice, where we read:

My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,

Nor to one place; nor is my whole estate

Upon the fortune of this present year:

Therefore my merchandise makes me not sad. (I.i.42-45)

It is interesting to note how these early mentions of diversification focus as much on human psychology as they do the economic benefits of diversification, for investing broadly is as much about managing fear and uncertainty as it is making money.

Don't put your eggs in one basketBrought to the forefront by Harry Markowitz in the 1950s, diversification across a number of asset classes reduced volatility and the impact of what is known as “variance drain.” Variance drain sounds heady, but in a nutshell, it refers to the detrimental effects of compounding wealth off of low lows when investing in a highly volatile manner. Even when arithmetic means are the same, the impact on accumulated wealth can be dramatic. (This is not the same as the more widely used annualized return numbers, as they account for variance drain, but for this illustration, we’ll look specifically at variance drain.)

Say you invest $100,000 each in two products that both average 10% returns per year, one with great volatility and the other with managed volatility. The managed volatility money rises 10% for each of two years, yielding a final result of $121,000. The more volatile investment returns -20% in year one and a whopping 40% in year two, also resulting in a similar 10% average yearly gain. The good news is that you can brag to your golf buddies about having achieved an average return of 40%—you are an investment wizard! The bad news, however, is that your investment will sit at a mere $112,000, fully $9,000 less than your investment in the less volatile investment since your gains compounded off of lower lows. (To account for this, the investment industry uses annualized returns, which account for variance drain, rather than average returns.)

Managing variance drain is important, but a second, more important benefit of diversification is that it constrains bad behavior. As we’ve said on many occasions, the average equity investor lags the returns of the equity market significantly. It is simply hard to overstate the wealth-destroying impact of volatility-borne irrationality. The behavioral implication of volatile holdings is that the ride is harder to bear for loss-averse investors (yes, that means you).

As volatility increases, so too does the chance of a paper loss, which is likely to decrease holding periods and increase trading behavior, both of which are correlated with decreased returns. Warren Buffett’s first rule of investing is to never lose money. His second rule? Never forget the first rule. The Oracle of Omaha understands both the financial and behavioral ruin that come from taking oversized risk, and more importantly, the power of winning by not losing.

DiversificationAt Brinker Capital, we follow a multi-asset class investing approach because we believe that broad diversification is humility in practice. As much as experts would like to convince you otherwise, the simple fact is that no one knows which asset classes will perform well at any given time and that diversification is the only logical response to such uncertainty. But far from being a lame concession to uncertainty, the power of a multi-asset class approach has the potential to deliver powerful results. Take, for example, the “Lost Decade” of the early aughts, thusly named because investors in large capitalization U.S. stocks (e.g., the S&P 500) would have realized losses of 1% per annum over that 10-year stretch. Ouch. Those who were evenly diversified across five asset classes (U.S. stocks, foreign stocks, commodities, real estate, and bonds), however, didn’t experience a lost decade at all, realizing a respectable annualized gain of 7.2% per year. Other years, the shoe is on the other foot. Over the seven years following the Great Recession, stocks have exploded upward while a diversified basket of assets has had more tepid growth. But the recent underperformance of a diversified basket of assets does nothing to change the wisdom of diversification; a principle that has been around for millennia and will serve investors well for centuries to come.

Diversification does not assure a profit or protection against loss. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

Five Answers for the Voices in Your Head

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Executive Director, The Center for Outcomes

Many investors are waking up this morning to the unsettling realization that trading was halted in China last night after another precipitous market drop. When paired with rumors of hydrogen bomb testing in North Korea, the recent acts of domestic terrorism and a long-in-the-tooth bull market, it can all be a little frightening and overwhelming.

It’s at a time like this that it’s best to temper the catastrophic voices in our head with some research-based truths about how financial markets work.

For each of the rash, fear-induced common thoughts below (in bold), we have countered with a dose of realism:

“It’s been a good run, but it’s time to get out.”
From 1926 to 1997, the worst market outcome at any one year was pretty scary, -43.3%; but consider how time changes the equation—the worst return of any 25-year period was 5.9% annualized. Take it from the Rolling Stones: “Time is on my side, yes it is.”

“I can’t just stand here!”
In his book, What Investors Really Want, behavioral economist Meir Statman cites research from Sweden showing that the heaviest traders lose 4% of their account value each year. Across 19 major stock exchanges, investors who made frequent changes trailed buy-and-hold investors by 1.5% a year. Your New Year’s resolution may be to be more active in 2016, but that shouldn’t apply to the market.

“If I time this just right…”
As Ben Carlson relates in A Wealth of Common Sense, “A study performed by the Federal Reserve…looked at mutual fund inflows and outflows over nearly 30 years from 1984 to 2012. Predictably, they found that most investors poured money into the markets after large gains and pulled money out after sustaining losses—a buy high, sell low debacle of a strategy.” Everyone knows to buy low and sell high, but very few put it into practice. Will you?

“I don’t want to bother my advisor.”
Vanguard’s Advisor’s Alpha study did an excellent job of quantifying the value added (in basis points) of many of the common activities performed by an advisor, and the results may surprise you. They found that the greatest value provided by an advisor was behavioral coaching, which added 150 bps per year, far greater than any other activity. At times like this is why investors have advisors so don’t be afraid to call them for advice and support.

“THIS IS THE END OF THE WORLD!”
Since 1928, the U.S. economy has been in recession about 20% of the time and has still managed to compound wealth at a dramatic clip. What’s more, we have never gone more than ten years at any time without at least one recession. Now, we are not currently in a recession, but you could expect between 10 and 15 in your lifetime. The sooner you can reconcile yourself to the inevitability of volatility, the faster you will be able to take advantage of all the good that markets do.

Brinker Capital understands that investing for the long-term can be daunting, especially during a time like this, but we are focused on providing investment solutions, like the Personal Benchmark program, that help investors manage the emotions of investing to achieve their unique financial goals.

For more of what not to do during times of market volatility, click here.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Stress Management for Financial Advisors

Crosby_2015Dr. Daniel Crosby, Founder, Nocturne Capital

The dictionary definition of stress is, “a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain, that disturbs or interferes with the normal physiological equilibrium of an organism.” But one can scarcely conceive of a more pointless construct to define than stress, because just as the Supreme Court famously said of smut, you know it when you see it. This is especially true of financial advisors, who inhabit one of the most stressful professional roles in the modern corporate landscape.

shutterstock_247024930Health.com named financial advisors to their list of 10 Careers with High Rates of Depression.” A study titled, “Casualties of Wall Street” found that 23% of advisors surveyed had significant signs of clinical depression while another 36% percent showed mild to moderate symptoms. And a study published in the “Journal of Financial Therapy” found that the vast majority of financial professionals surveyed experience medium to high levels of post-traumatic stress in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

So what’s an advisor to do? Well, the tips for managing of stress are often simple and intuitive. So simple in fact, that they may be overlooked by advisors accustomed to a life filled with risk and complexity. Notwithstanding their simplicity, try the tips below to start feeling better today:

Tame technology – The 24/7 availability of technology such as email has done a great deal to increase the stress level of people everywhere. Having a means of being reached at any time by your clients means that you are in a constant state of heightened readiness. Set limits on your electronic availability by turning off or limiting the times of day when you “plug in.” These periods of electronic disengagement will allow you to connect with others socially, exercise, and pursue hobbies, all of which have been proven to combat stress.

Damsel in Eustress – One common misconception is that stress is always the result of negative events. Recently, an advisor was crying in my office, unable to pinpoint the reason for her feelings of anxiety. As I learned more, she revealed that she was overseeing a number of projects at work, preparing for a wedding, and readying herself for a move. Although each of these things was positive, the cumulative effect of all of this positive change was quite stressful. Remember, the body cannot distinguish “eustress” (literally, good stress) from bad stress, so be sure to take a moment to relax, even when things are going your way.

shutterstock_41447092As a Man Thinketh – Too often, we accept the fact that things just “are” and that we have little control over our lives. Viktor Frankl said it best, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” The things that happen to you can be as positive or negative as you construe them to be. If you choose to interpret life events in an upbeat and optimistic manner, you will position yourself for success in all areas, and achieve that success with calm confidence. For practice, try and think of five positive things to emerge as a result of the most recent economic volatility (e.g., spent more time with family).

Little Comfort – It is a strange paradox that all of the so-called “comfort foods” have the very opposite of the desired effect on stress levels. Caffeine causes elevations in heart rate and respiration that can mimic a panic attack. Alcohol depresses our mood and impairs decision making, and eating fatty foods provides a brief period of pleasure followed by sustained periods of regret and lethargy. While we understand that an evening run or a healthy meal may be advisable, our short-sighted bodies tell us differently in times of stress or sadness. The next time you are feeling down, let your brain drive your decision-making; your body will thank you later.

Fake Out – Have you ever heard the old saying, “fake it ‘till you make it?” Well, it turns out that science substantiates this pithy phrase. In the past, the conventional psychological wisdom was that we felt a certain way, and then exhibited behaviors that conveyed that emotion. Put simply, “I’m happy, therefore I smile.” What more research has found, is that the opposite is also true – “I smile, therefore I’m happy.” Research subjects who were instructed to smile, regardless of whether or not they were actually happy, saw an increase in mood. This recent evidence suggests that being proactive, maintaining a schedule, and acting happy can start to improve a negative mood. It turns out that, some of the times you feel least like acting upbeat are the times it could benefit you most.

The market is extremely volatile right now, but that doesn’t mean that your life needs to be. 2 to 3% of outperformance achieved by those who work with advisors, is predicated on your being an effective behavioral coach during times of uncertainty. It is only as you take steps to manage stress in your own life that you can effectively model the kind of behavior that most benefits your clients.

Views expressed are for illustrative purposes only. The information was created and supplied by Dr. Daniel Crosby of Nocturne Capital, an unaffiliated third party. Brinker Capital Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor

Happy Holidays from Brinker Capital

Chuck Widger, Executive Chairman, Brinker Capital

Chuck_HolidayVideoChuck Widger
“This is just a short holiday message from all of us here at Brinker Capital.  All of us —  staff, management and the firm’s Executive Committee wish you, investors, advisors, your colleagues, and families the happiest of holiday seasons.  We hope that all of you will take time in the coming holiday season to get some rest and share quality time with those who mean the most to you.  A good quality of life involves a constructive and productive work experience and the joy of time spent with family and friends.”

2012 Highlights

  • Strategies favoring capital preservation have protected client assets
  • Strategies emphasizing income have delivered competitive yields
  • Absolute return strategies have managed volatility and provided appreciation
  • Accumulation strategies have participated and created attractive appreciation

“During this holiday season, as in holiday’s past, all of us at Brinker not only have you, the investors and advisors we serve, at front of mind.  But we also have in mind those in need, and organizations which serve those in need.  Contributions by Brinker have been made to Teach for America, The Wounded Warrior Project and The ALS Association.

With your good health in mind, Happy Holidays everyone.”