Investment Insights Podcast – May 28, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded May 22, 2014), Bill gives a review on the controversial book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty:

What we like: Emphasis on returns to capital (savings); savers will continue to be rewarded.

What we don’t like: Modern-socialistic state belief using high tax rates in order to deal with societal inequalities.

What we are doing about it: We encourage opening savings accounts for children and grandchildren; fund 401(k)s to the max; watching if some of the societal inequalities as outlined by Piketty are dealt with sooner than later.

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or 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.

Embracing Innovation: Envestnet Advisor Summit Wrap-up

VradenburgGreg Vradenburg, Managing Director, Investment Services

Last week we were honored to be one of the Premier Sponsors at the Envestnet Advisor Summit in Chicago. The theme of the event was “the next big thing” and it was evident everywhere. Envestnet Chairman and CEO Judson Bergman opened up the conference by talking about how advisors need to be disruptive innovators in order to succeed and overcome looming industry challenges. He stressed the importance of embracing technology, building brand and perfecting marketing and reminded us of past giants such as MySpace, BlackBerry and Blockbuster that did not take these steps and were not aware of happenings in the new markets and seemingly fell behind.

Envestnet President Bill Crager also talked about how the role of the advisor will become increasingly important in the next five years. As older advisors begin to exit the business, Crager projects that the average advisors assets will increase from $90 million today to $145 million in 2020. (Source: “9 Takeaways from the Envestnet Advisor Summit”, Financial Planning, May 20, 2014)

Conference attendees were also introduced to the Envestnet Institute, an online advisor education portal that features white paper, videos and webinars. Brinker Capital is proud to be one of the contributing content partners for this exciting new unified education portal.

Finally we were pleased by the informative “Liquid Alternatives Panel” that our CIO, Bill Miller, participated in. All panelists agreed the education around alternatives is key for both clients and advisors. Alternatives firmly fill a role in a portfolio by providing greater portfolio diversification as well as access to unique opportunities and strategies; however, they are just a piece of the overall pie.

Our thanks go out to Envestnet for hosting such a great event that allowed us to network with colleagues, investment professionals and Envestnet representatives! We look forward to next year’s Advisor Summit!

Investment Insights Podcast – May 13, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded May 12, 2014):

What we like: Bob Doll’s comments on favoring the economy more than the stock market; positive economic data post-winter

What we don’t like: Stock market no longer a bargain, now more fully valued

What we are doing about it: Focus more on larger themes and individual active managers; looking out for potential rise in interest rates during summer

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording or 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.

Monthly Market and Economic Outlook: May 2014

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

The severe rotation that began in the U.S. equity markets in early March continued throughout April. Investors favored dividend-paying stocks and those with lower valuations at the expense of those trading at higher valuations. Large caps significantly outpaced small caps (+0.5% vs. -3.9%) and value led growth. From a sector perspective, energy (+5.2%), utilities (+4.3%) and consumer staples (+2.9%) led while financials (-1.5%), consumer discretionary (-1.4%) and healthcare (-0.5%) all lagged. Real assets, such as commodities and REITs, also continued to post gains.

International equity markets finished ahead of U.S. equity markets in April, eliminating the performance differential for the year-to-date period. In developed international markets, Japan continues to struggle, while European equities are performing well, helped by an improving economy. After a strong March, emerging markets were relatively flat in April. There has been significant dispersion in the performance of emerging economies so far this year; this variation in performance and fundamentals argues for active management in the asset class. Valuations in emerging markets have become attractive relative to developed markets.

Fixed income notched another month of decent gains in April as Treasury yields fell shutterstock_105096245_stockmarketchartslightly. At 2.6%, 10-year Treasury note yields remain 40 basis points below where they started the year and only 60 basis points higher than when the Fed began discussing tapering a year ago. All fixed income sectors were in positive territory for the month, led again by credit. Both investment grade and high yield credit spreads continue to grind tighter. Within the U.S. credit sector fundamentals are solid and the supply/demand dynamic is favorable, but valuations are elevated, especially in the investment grade space. We favor an actively managed best ideas strategy in high yield today, rather than broad market exposure. Municipal bonds have outpaced the broad fixed income market, helped by improving fundamentals and a positive technical backdrop.

While we believe that the long term bias is for interest rates to move higher, the move will be protracted. Sluggish economic growth, low inflation and geopolitical risks are keeping a lid on rates for the short-term. Despite our view on rates, fixed income still plays an important role in portfolios, as protection against equity market volatility. Our fixed income positioning in portfolios – which includes an emphasis on yield advantaged, shorter duration and low volatility absolute return strategies – is  designed to successfully navigate a rising or stable interest rate environment.

We approach our macro view as a balance between headwinds and tailwinds. We believe the scale remains tipped in favor of tailwinds as we move through the second quarter, with a number of factors supporting the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy remains accommodative: Even with the Fed tapering asset purchases, short-term interest rates should remain near-zero until 2015 if inflation remains low. In addition, the ECB stands ready to provide support if necessary, and the Bank of Japan continues its aggressive monetary easing program.
  • Global growth stable: U.S. economic growth has been slow but steady. While the weather had a negative impact on growth in the first quarter, we expect growth to pick up in the second quarter. Outside of the U.S., growth has not been very robust, but it is still positive.
  • Labor market progress: The recovery in the labor market has been slow, but we have continued to add jobs. The unemployment rate has fallen to 6.3%.
  • Inflation tame: With the CPI increasing just +1.5% over the last 12 months and core CPI running at +1.7%, inflation is below the Fed’s 2% target. Inflation expectations have also been contained, providing the Fed flexibility to remain accommodative.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: U.S. companies have solid balance sheets that are flush with cash that could be reinvested, used for acquisitions, or returned to shareholders. Deal activity has picked up this year. Corporate profits remain at high levels and margins have been resilient.
  • Less Drag from Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, there has been some movement in Washington. Fiscal drag will not have a major impact on growth this year. Congress agreed to both a budget and the extension of the debt ceiling. The deficit has also shown improvement in the short-term.
  • Equity fund flows turned positive: Continued inflows would provide further support to the equity markets.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain, including:

  • Fed Tapering/Tightening: If the Fed continues at the current pace, quantitative easing should end in the fourth quarter. Risk assets have historically reacted negatively when monetary stimulus has been withdrawn; however, this withdrawal is more gradual and the economy appears to be on more solid footing this time. The new Fed chairperson also adds to the uncertainty. Should economic growth and inflation pick up, market participants will shift quickly to concern over the timing of the Fed’s first interest rate hike.
  • Emerging Markets: Slower growth and capital outflows could continue to weigh on emerging markets. While growth in China is slowing, there is not yet evidence of a hard landing.
  • Election Year: While we noted there has been some progress in Washington, market volatility could pick up in the summer should the rhetoric heat up in Washington in preparation for the mid-term elections.
  • Geopolitical Risks: The events surrounding Russia and Ukraine are further evidence that geopolitical risks cannot be ignored.

Risk assets should continue to perform if real growth continues to recover; however, we could see volatility as markets digest the continued withdrawal of stimulus by the Federal Reserve. Economic data will be watched closely for signs that could lead to tighter monetary policy earlier than expected. Equity market valuations are fair, but are not overly rich relative to history, and may even be reasonable when considering the level of interest rates and inflation. Credit conditions still provide a positive backdrop for the markets.

Our portfolios are positioned to take advantage of continued strength in risk assets, and we continue to emphasize high conviction opportunities within asset classes, as well as strategies that can exploit market inefficiencies.

Source:  Brinker Capital

Source: Brinker Capital

Data points above compiled from FactSet, Standard & Poor’s, MSCI, and Barclays. The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change.

Keep a Calm Head in Battle

Dan WilliamsDan Williams, CFP, Investment Analyst

The Battle of Thermopylae, dramatized in the 2007 movie 300, is the story of how a relatively small group of 7,000 disciplined Greeks in 480 B.C. held off a group of 100,000-150,000 invading Persians for three days. Due to the size disadvantage of the Greeks, their eventual defeat at this battle was inevitable. However, this group kept a calm head in battle while the Persian leader Xerxes was said to become so enraged by the delay these Greeks had caused his army that at the battle’s conclusion, he decapitated and crucified King Leonidas of Sparta, the fallen hero of the Greeks, elevating his status as a martyr. While the Greeks lost this battle, at the Battle of Plataea in 479 B.C. the Greek forces won the war. The manifestation of this Greek discipline was the Phalanx formation which lined up troops in close order to form a shield wall defense that marched forward using spears to take down any army in front of them. Given that the Phalanx was only as good as the weakest point, discipline was crucial to its success. This concept was later further refined and improved upon by the Roman legions that used it to great effect to build their empire.

shutterstock_141582367_collegeMay and June mark the end of another school year and the arrival of almost 20 college interns to Brinker Capital. These college students, the most successful not being strangers to discipline, have been exposed to the science of investing in their college courses but have come to Brinker in many cases to help fill the gaps regarding the art of how to identify good investment strategies. To help lay the groundwork for this understanding, we encouraged them to read Money Masters of Our Time by John Train, a book profiling 17 different investment managers of the 20th century.

While all investment managers have proven successful, there was no one right process identified. T. Rowe Price had a process of identifying leaders in very fertile growth areas and holding them long-term until they become mature businesses in a mature industry. Benjamin Graham on the other hand focused on systematically buying the stocks that were thrown away at less than two-thirds of their net current assets and selling once they returned close to intrinsic value. Warren Buffet took a Benjamin Graham initial approach to valuation but then overlaid it with attention given the quality of the businesses and patience to hold these higher quality companies long-term like T. Rowe Price. John Templeton brought a similar attention to valuation and patience but was more willing to go global to find his bargains. George Soros went global as well but speculated more than invested with much more frequent trading in an effort to time the market. This is just to name some of the “money masters” this book discusses.

shutterstock_38215948-soldiersIt is clear that, although all of these managers have been very successful on their own, if hypothetically a super investment management team was able to be formed with these members, the fund would likely suffer from way too many and way too different processes. Like an army with too many generals, having more leaders is not always better. The only element that they seemed to have in common is the fact that they had processes in place that were fundamentally sound and that they stuck to in times of short-term market stress. Some ignored the market swings, some used it as buying opportunities, but all found success by putting their emotions in check when many market participants were caught up in fear or greed. In other words, they had discipline. Like a Roman Phalanx facing down an enemy, a steadfast commitment to a sound plan in the heat of the battle wins the day more often than not.

As such when we evaluate managers this is exactly what we look for. That is to say we need managers to have an effective, sustainable, and proven investment plan and ability to stick to the plan. Much has been made of how individual investors chase performance in good times and break rank at exactly the wrong time in times of stress. While very few of us will prove to be as successful as Warren Buffet, if we can all strive to at least have a plan and stand our ground to keep emotions out of investment decisions we all can be better off.

Brinker Capital at the Envestnet Advisor Summit 2014 Conference

Jean LynchJean Lynch, Managing Director

Brinker Capital is pleased to be one of Envestnet’s Platinum Sponsors for 2014 and to be supporting the Advisor Summit 2014 for the third year in a row! Envestnet’s Advisor Summit is a great venue to network with our clients who access our investment strategies on the Envestnet platform, other investment professionals, and the Envestnet team. This year’s conference is focused on “The Next Big Idea” and the agenda is packed with innovative sessions that will help advisors elevate their business to the next level.

Brinker Capital’s latest “Big Idea” is the introduction of three new 40-Act liquid alternative mutual funds that leverage the strength of our 25+ years on investment management insight and expertise and more than a decade of embracing alternative investments.  These funds – Crystal Strategy Absolute Income Fund, Crystal Strategy Absolute Return Fund, and Crystal Strategy Leveraged Alternative Fund – are designed to mirror the investment strategy of our Crystal Strategy suite of global macro funds.  While each of these funds have their own specific investment strategies and places within an investment portfolio, they do share certain characteristics including broad asset class exposure, diverse strategies, highly-focused stock selection, portfolio hedging and risk management.  For more information on the funds visit, www.crystalstrategyfunds.com.

If you happen to be at the Advisor Summit, be sure to attend the Liquid Alts and Their Growing Role in Portfolio Construction panel on Thursday, May 15 from 2:00pm – 3:00pm to hear from Brinker Capital’s Chief Investment Officer, Bill Miller, as he discusses how our approach to incorporating liquid alternatives into our investment philosophy may help advisors potentially create better outcomes for clients.


Important Information
Please note that investing in alternative strategies involves a high level of risk and is not suitable for all investors. The Crystal Strategy Funds are subject to investment risks, including possible loss of the principal amount invested and therefore are not suitable for all investors. The Funds may not achieve their objectives. Diversification does not ensure a profit or guarantee against loss.

An investor should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses before investing. To obtain this and other information about the Crystal Strategy Funds, see the Prospectus available from your financial advisor, visit www.crystalstrategyfunds.com, or call (855) 572-1722. Read the Prospectus carefully before investing.

The Crystal Strategy Family of Funds is distributed by ALPS Distributors, Inc., 1290 Broadway, Ste. 1100, Denver, CO 80203.  Separately managed accounts and related investment advisory services are provided by Brinker Capital. ALPS is not affiliated with Brinker Capital and does not distribute separately managed accounts. The Crystal Strategy Family of Funds is new and has limited operating history.

Not FDIC Insured – No Bank Guarantee – May Lose Value.

Investment Risks
Alternative Investment Risk. The Team will seek to manage the Fund to balance the potential risks and rewards that we believe are present at any given time and given market. Due to the use of leverage, the Fund will be more aggressive in nature. Likewise, due to the underlying investment process, we believe that there is a strong likelihood that the Fund will perform notably different than traditional strategies with comparable levels of volatility. Similarly, despite the ability to hedge and shift Fund exposures, due to the leveraged nature of the Fund, risks will be magnified and compounded.

Asset Allocation Risk. Portfolio management may favor one or more types of investments or assets that underperform other investments, assets, or securities markets as a whole. Anytime portfolio management buys or sells securities in order to adjust the Fund’s asset allocation, this adjustment will increase portfolio turnover and generate transaction costs.

Borrowing Risk. Borrowing creates leverage. It also adds to Fund expenses and at times could cause the Fund to sell securities when it otherwise might not want to.

Concentration Risk – Investment Companies. Any investment company that  concentrates in a particular segment of the market (such as commodities, gold-related investments, infrastructure-related companies and real estate securities) will generally be more volatile than a fund that invests more broadly. Any market price movements, regulatory or technological changes, or economic conditions affecting the particular market segment in which the investment company concentrates will have a significant impact on the investment company’s performance. While the Fund does not concentrate in a particular industry, it may hold a significant position in an investment company, and there is risk for the Fund with respect to the aggregation of holdings of investment companies. The aggregation of holdings of investment companies may result in the Fund indirectly having significant exposure to a particular industry or group of industries, or in a single issuer. Such indirect concentration may have the effect of increasing the volatility of the Fund’s returns. The Fund does not control the investments of the investment companies, and any indirect concentration occurs as a result of the investment companies following their own investment objectives and strategies.

Derivatives Risk. The Fund’s use of derivatives (which may include options, futures, swaps and credit default swaps) may reduce the Fund’s returns and/or increase volatility. A risk of the Fund’s use of derivatives is that the fluctuations in their values may not correlate perfectly with the overall securities markets. Additional, derivatives are subject to liquidity risk, interest rate risk, market risk, credit risk and management risk.

Short Sale Risk. If the Fund sells a security short and subsequently has to buy the security back at a higher price, the Fund will lose money on the transaction. Any loss will be increased by the amount of compensation, interest or dividends and transaction costs the Fund must pay to a lender of the security. The amount the Fund could lose on a short sale is theoretically unlimited (as compared to a long position, where the maximum loss is the amount invested). The use of short sales, which has the effect of leveraging the Fund, could increase the exposure of the Fund to the market, increase losses and increase the volatility of returns.

Investment Objectives
Absolute Income Fund:  The Fund seeks to provide current income and downside protection to conventional equity markets, with absolute (positive) returns over full market cycles as a secondary objective.

Absolute Return Fund:  The Fund seeks to provide positive (absolute) return over full market cycles.

Leveraged Alternative Fund:  The Fund seeks to provide long-term positive absolute return with reduced correlation to conventional equity markets as a secondary objective.

Bridging the Alternative Investment Information Gap

Sue BerginSue Bergin, President, S Bergin Communications

The groundswell of interest in alternative investments continues to build, creating a thirst for clear, comprehensive and client-facing educational materials.

According to Lipper, alternative mutual funds saw the biggest percentage growth of any fund group, with assets under management increasing 41% to $178.6 billion in 2013. A recent report by Goldman Sachs projects liquid alternatives are in the early stage of a growth trend that could produce $2 trillion in assets under management in the next 10 years. In order for this to happen, however, investors must gain a better understanding of how alternative investments work, how they function within a portfolio, and where potential benefits and risks could occur.[1]

EducateAlternative investment strategies are a separate beast than the traditional methods of investing and traditional asset classes that most investors are familiar with. From divergent performance objectives, to the use of leverage, correlation to markets, liquidity requirements and fees, a fair amount about alternatives is different from traditional investments. Understandably, investors have many questions before they can decide whether to and how much of their portfolio to dedicate to alternative investments.

The task of educating investors about alternatives is falling largely on the shoulder of the advisory community. Well over half (60%) of the high-net-worth investors recently surveyed by MainStay Investments, indicated financial advisors as the top resource for alternative investment ideas. Trailing advisors was internet-based research (41%), research papers and reports (35%), and financial service companies (30%).[2]

Historically, advisors have shied away from recommending alternative investment strategies because they are too difficult to explain. The conundrum they now face is that 70% of those advisors surveyed also acknowledge the need to use new portfolio strategies to manage volatility and still seek positive.[3]

Bridge the Education GapIt’s important that advisors start to value the use of alternatives and find ways to bridge the information gap for investors. The good news is that investors have tipped their hands in terms of what they really want to know. According to the MainStay survey, clients want more information in the following areas:

 

  • Explaining the risks associated with alternative investments (73%)
  • Learning about how alternatives work (71%)
  • Finding out who manages the investments (54%)
  • Charting how alternatives affect returns (46%)

[1] http://www.imca.org/pages/Fundamentals-Alternative-Investments-Certificate

 [2] “HNW Investors Turn to Advisors For Alternative Investment Guidance,” InsuranceNewsNet, April 3, 2014.

[3]Few advisers recommend alternative investments: Respondents to a Natixis survey said that they stick to strategies that can be explained to clients more easily,” InvestmentNews, October 24, 2013

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only.

Investment Insights Podcast – April 30, 2014

Bill MillerBill Miller, Chief Investment Officer

On this week’s podcast (recorded April 25, 2014):

The sentiments below were inspired by Dalbar’s 20th annual investor behavior analysis. You can read a summary of the study here, via ThinkAdvisor.

What we don’t like: Investors have underperformed the markets, often due to fear and poor timing

What we like: Potential market correction during the summer; important for investors to heed the advice of their advisors and stick to investment objectives

What we are doing about it: Focus on the positives like energy renaissance, manufacturing renaissance, and goals-based solutions

Click the play icon below to launch the audio recording.

Source: Dalbar, ThinkAdvisor

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.

How Behavioral Finance Can Help You Set and Keep Financial Goals

Dr. Daniel CrosbyDr. Daniel Crosby, President, IncBlot Behavioral Finance

If you’re ever having trouble sleeping, spend some time researching financial goal setting online and you’re sure to be snoozing in no time. It’s not that the advice you’ll find is bad per se, it’s just that it is fundamentally disconnected from an understanding of how people behave. Most resources will give you some great meat-and-potatoes stuff about setting specific, attainable and timely goals. You will nod your head, go home, and forget all about it, doing what you’ve always done before.

If financial goal setting is to be truly successful, it must account for the way in which people behave, including the really stupid stuff we all do from time to time. What’s more, it must be infused with elements that make it motivational, because let’s face it, you’d probably rather get a root canal than lay out a spreadsheet with some dry figures about Set Your Goalsyour savings goals. To help in this important step, we’ve mixed some best practices in financial planning with some truths about human nature that will add a little, dare we say it, excitement into your financial planning process. After all, your financial goals are only as good as your resolve to adhere to them is strong.

The next time you go to set a financial goal, consider the following:

Plan for the Worst – Cook College performed a study in which people were asked to rate the likelihood that a number of positive events (e.g., win the lottery, marry for life) and negative events (e.g., die of cancer, get divorced) would impact their lives. What they found was that participants overestimated the likelihood of positive events by 15% and underestimated the probability of negative events by 20%.

What this tells us is that we tend to personalize the positive and delegate the dangerous. We think, “I might win the lottery, she might die of cancer. We might live happily ever after, they might get divorced.” We understand that bad things happen, but in service of living a happy life, we tend to think about those things in the abstract. A solid financial plan cannot assume that everything will be wine and roses as far as the eye can see.

Picture Yourself at 90 – One of the reasons that we tend to under prepare for the future is that we value comfort now more than we do in the future. Simply put, the further out an event is, the less valuable we esteem it to be. Let’s say I offered you $100 today or $110 tomorrow. Odds are, you’d use a little bit of self-restraint and go for the extra ten dollars. What if I changed my offer to $100 today or $110 in a month? If you are like most people, you’d take the $100 today rather than wait the extra 30 days. The official term for this devaluation over time is “hyperbolic discounting” and it can have disastrous consequences for managing wealth over a lifetime.

Crosby_BeFi_Help_Set_Goals_2After all, if today’s needs and today’s dollars always perceived as more valuable than tomorrow’s wealth and wants, we’ll make hay while the sun shines. While this can be fun in the moment, your older self is not going to be too happy eating Top Ramen every night. One of the ways to decrease our tendency toward hyperbolic discounting is to make the future more vivid. Researchers at New York University did this by using a computer simulation to age peoples’ faces and found that “manipulating exposure to visual representations of one’s future self leads to lower discounting of future rewards and higher contributions to saving accounts.” Basically, if you can picture yourself wrinkly, you’re more likely to save. Making your own future vivid might include having conversations about your future with your partner, speaking with aging relatives or simply introspecting about your financial future.

Bake In Motivation – Daniel Pink’s seminal work, “Drive” is a concise treatise on what he believes are the three pillars of human motivation – mastery, autonomy and purpose. By including each of these three pillars in the financial goal setting process, you “bake in” motivation, thereby increasing the likelihood of meeting those aspirations. Mastery is all about fluency with the language of finance. While you may never be Warren Buffett, achieving mastery is the first step toward staying motivated. We procrastinate what we don’t like or don’t understand. Once you are facile in the language of numbers, you’ll stop putting your finances on the back burner.

The word “autonomy” is derived from the Greek word “autonomia”, the literal translation of which is “one who gives oneself their own law.” Being autonomous does not mean going it alone. What it does mean is having enough of an understanding of financial best practices that you can select financial professionals whose goals and approaches mimic your own. Finally, and most importantly, is purpose. One of the biggest culprits in bad financial planning is disconnecting the process from the things that matter most to the person making the decisions. Coco Chanel said it best when she said, “The best things in life are free; the second best are very expensive.” Financial solvency facilitates all manner of good, from charitable giving to family vacations to funding an education. If your financial goals are intimately connected to things that matter most to you, saving will cease to be a chore and begin to be a joy.

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

Volatility: Why it Matters

Ryan Dressel Ryan Dressel, Investment Analyst, Brinker Capital

Have you ever noticed how many commercials on TV use blind comparison tests to prove that their products are better than their competitors? Soft drinks, washing detergents, tablets, air fresheners, fast food chains, and even web sites all use this marketing tool on a fairly regular basis. One reason companies do this is to try to change your perception about their product. It’s human nature to associate a good or bad feeling about a product, brand, or company based on personal experiences. If you got sick from food at a restaurant for example, chances are you won’t return to that restaurant again, even if it changes the staff, menu, and décor. A blind comparison test is an attempt to convince you that a product isn’t as bad as you might think.

How can this be applied to your investments? You’ll hear dozens of mutual fund companies advertise that they are beating an index, benchmark, or peer group (such as Lipper) over a specific time frame. You could also open the Wall Street Journal and read about a mutual fund manager boasting smart decisions with regard to short-term news, such as the S&P 500 rising or falling in any given week. If you try to interpret headline news or those T.V. commercials without any context, there’s a good chance you could misjudge your portfolio and even worse, make an irrational decision! What you will rarely hear on T.V. or read in the papers is an advertisement for a portfolio that provides steady and consistent returns by managing volatility.

Why does volatility matter? To demonstrate the value of volatility, we’ll do a blind comparison using two hypothetical portfolios (you saw that coming right?). Both Portfolio A and Portfolio B started with an initial investment of $100,000 and have a sum of returns of 65% over a 10-year time period. The portfolios have the following annual returns over that time frame:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3 Year 4 Year 5 Year 6 Year 7 Year 8 Year 9 Year 10
Portfolio A +2% +13% +5% +20% 7% 4% -7% -1% +16% +6%
Portfolio B +6% +25% -10% +36% -15% +11% -25% -7% +33% +11%

Which portfolio would you predict to have a higher balance at the end of the 10-year time frame? Looking at the returns we can observe a few things that jump out. Portfolio B managed to achieve extremely high gains in years 2, 4 and 9. Conversely, it also had a couple of really bad years in year 5, and year 7. It also finished the last two years with a combined +44%. Looking at Portfolio A, we can see that it never topped 20% in a given year, and never lost more than 7% in a year. It also finished seven out of the 10 years with a return of +7% or less.

If you chose Portfolio A, you would be correct!

Dressel_Volatility_4.18.14_3

As demonstrated in the charts above and below, Portfolio A has a much lower level of volatility. Through the power of compounding, this allowed Portfolio A to finish with a higher balance despite the fact that both portfolios have identical sum of returns. In reality, this is typically achieved by constructing a well-diversified portfolio using a wide array of asset classes. This is also a good reminder of how fixed income and absolute return strategies are beneficial to your portfolio in any market environment.

Dressel_Volatility_4.18.14_2

If these were actual investment products, there is no doubt that you would hear Portfolio B being advertised as an outperformer during a time frame that captures those years of strong performance. In the end however, the only thing that matters is the balance of your portfolio and that you are on track towards achieving your investment goals. Be sure to review your portfolio in the right context, especially during times of market “noise.”

Source: The data used and shown above is hypothetical in nature and shown for illustrative purposes. Not intended as investment advice.

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.