Monthly Archives: October 2011
Playing off of my last post on mutual funds, I wanted to say something about diversification. Wall Street, FA’s, and basically anyone involved with finance has increasingly banged into us the idea of diversification. It’s the old theory of “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”. While this is a great way to reduce risk, it’s also a great way to put a ceiling on returns. Take a minute to think about some of the richest people in the world, many of which happen to be in finance. Bill Gates–Microsoft. Carlos Slim–Mexican Telecoms. Warren Buffett–Berkshire Hathaway. The list is long as fuck, but you get the idea. All these guys were/are FAR from diversified. They focused on one area, and crushed it. While diversification is good for someone who can’t afford to lose, it’s not very useful for those looking to really make some money.
Why do you invest your savings? Not to have the smallest losses, but to have the biggest returns. If you hand your money off to a broker who is WILD good at trading options, why would you want him to invest some of your money in commodities? This isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep some money invested in safe assets, such as Treasuries/gold/low-volatility currencies, but if you think the tech industry is going to skyrocket, what’s the point of having 50% exposure to tech stocks and 50% exposure to say, utility stocks? Like life in general, you should stick to what you’re good at with investing. You can’t allow emotions to dictate your trades, and you can’t be good at every strategy. Speaking of which, just handed in some homework for an econ class, part of which was a problem about diversification. If I split my exposure to half China and half US, my expected utility is greater than just investing in the US! Dope! I think Jing Zhang woulda been pissed if I wrote “fuck that” as my answer.
During my job this summer I kept a notebook and wrote about 3-5 pages of notes each day. The thing is about 200 pages front and back and I got to about 170 by the end of it, so there’s a shitload of my thoughts on paper. It’s funny reading some of the earlier notes compared to my later ones. One of those things where you go into the summer thinking “alright I know a solid amount let’s crushingtons”. Then you end the summer and all you can think is “wow I learned so much… and I didn’t know DICK coming in”. But ya I’m gonna start posting some of the better notes I took and maybe see if my opinion has changed since.
This note is from one of my last days when I was having a conversation with my boss about different types of careers. We started talking about mutual funds, and how they differ from say, a broker like him. To preface, my boss is an extremely hard worker, the kind of guy who gets 4 hours of sleep a night because he’s got trade strategies running through his head non-stop. More than that, he’s extremely old school. Doesn’t pay attention to P/E ratios or any technical indicators like that. And to his defense, he’s good as HELL at what he does… making money for other people. But back to my main point, he has a strong anti-mutual fund opinion. And here’s why.
Let’s say you want to get into bonds right now. While there are tons of strategies you can use for bond exposure, the two most basic are buying your own bonds straight up or investing in a bond fund. For most people, the latter means your broker will purchase shares in whatever bond mutual fund it is you want. Right off the bat you should notice something. You’re paying a broker to manage your money, but the asset you hold (shares of the bond fund) is being managed by someone else entirely. Seems stupid to me at least.
The next issue is the mutual fund managers’ motives, which have to be tilted toward the fund investors. Most investors who want to get into a bond mutual fund are curious about one thing: what is their yearly return? When you buy your own bond(s), you know the YTM, call protection status, maturity date, etc. All of these things let you know exactly what your total return is, not just what your coupon rate is. If you’re not following, this is what I mean. An investor buys into a fund because he sees it gives a 5% semi-annual return, in other words the fund’s structure is made up of 5% coupon bonds that pay every 6 months. This sounds great to the investor, but the actual return isn’t going to be 5%. If all the investors care about is that 5% coupon, the managers will have no problem paying premiums on those bonds when structuring the fund just to get that 5% coupon (not a 5% YTM). So in reality, when you sell your shares or the fund closes you won’t be making a total return of 5%/6-months.
The last part shows how mutual fund management can be bad (obviously there’s a ton of good mutual funds out there with great managers, but I’m speaking in general right now). The main goal of the fund is that % return, while brokers and FA’s must also worry about their clients retirement goals, whether or not they need to send kids to college, etc. So, mutual fund managers can apply one single strategy to every investor, whether or not that strategy applies to that investor. The managers don’t have to speak directly to the investors, and only have to worry about the structure of the fund (making sure they’re solvent enough to pay out investors who want out). In the end, mutual fund managers don’t have too much incentive to actively manage the fund for higher returns. They know that they can load up on coupon bonds paying out what people want, and that’s good enough. I’ll expand on that point in my next post.
The last problem goes back to the fund structure. Money is always coming in and going out of these funds. Therefore, the structure of the fund is always being changed (i.e., diversification %, maturity structure, etc.). Unlike a broker, where you know exactly what you hold at all times, it’s much more difficult finding out the funds exact holdings, and therefore your own holdings (as a % of the fund). All in all, it’s a pretty lazy way to invest your money. There are plenty of ways to find higher returns, more income/cash flow, or whatever your personal strategy should be.
Obviously protestors have to do absurd things to get national media attention, but this guy is outrageous. We’ve now found out he was lying about the house thing, but just imagine we didn’t know that (everything else is true I guess). It’s a wonder that people got on this guy’s side so hard. If you go to GWU law school, and your parents are obviously well-educated/probably rich, why was your house taken away? I can’t imagine they just stole your home if you were on-time with your payments. I realize at times some of the stuff I say may seem cold-hearted and make it look like I lack empathy, but like… I get it. It’s sad that so many people lost their jobs/homes and it’s a very shitty deal. But you can’t blame corporations for trying to survive, and banks for taking back their property (that’s why you get a mortgage) when you don’t pay them. It’s real world shit. Things don’t always go as planned. Now obviously he was lying and his parents are good on their mortgage, but just b/c I (and a LOT of other people) don’t agree with you it doesn’t mean I’m a cold-hearted bastard. And just to reiterate, corporations are one of the best things about the US. They’re rich enough to be able to pay great wages/salaries. They cover medical expenses for the majority of workers. And they care so much about their reputation to the point where they don’t want to fuck us over. Why do you think you see so many product recalls on the news? A company hears one case of a faulty product and BOOM–recall. Whether you can admit it or not, we’re kept extremely safe compared to the rest of the world. Protestors, you’re what the French call les incompetents.
Here’s a non-partisan, rational analysis of the #OccupyWallStreet demands. It’s literally spot on. And BI usually rubs me the wrong way. If you wanna be taken seriously and “open up discussion”, then come to the table with some facts and not this blanket smear campaign. Nobody is out to get us. Yes, in general corporations care more about money than anything else… that is the reason for their existence. Short/quick read