#4: Warren Buffett is not an Index Hugger

Two weeks ago, the Financial Times (FT) Unhedged Newsletter (URL) joined many others to write about Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway (BRK) in the week of its famous annual general meeting in Omaha. The FT also published an outstanding series on the future of Berkshire Hathaway without the now 93 year-old legendary CEO and Chairman (URL).

I stumbled across some statements in the two Unhedged Newsletters “Warren Buffett: The world’s richest index-hugger” (URL) and “Berkshire’s next move” (URL) from May 6 and 7, respectively. I have nothing qualified to say about Buffett’s succession, but I do believe the statement that Warren Buffett is an index hugger deserves some more discussion.

  • Berkshire Hathaway’s returns over the last 21 years
  • Berkshire Hathaway’s “risk” over the last 21 years
  • What is risk?
  • Berkshire Hathaway in good and bad markets
  • Is Warren Buffett an index hugger?

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AgPa #77: Too Much Passive Investing?

The Rise of Passive Investing and Active Mutual Fund Skill (2023)
Da Huang
SSRN Working Paper, URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is a quite recent working paper that examines the impact of passive investing on the US stock market. The debate about a potential tipping point when too many assets go passive is ongoing and often quite emotional. Depending on who you ask, you hear everything from “fundamentally broken” markets to the idea that we only need very few skilled active managers who compete for all the alpha. This week’s paper provides some interesting theoretical and empirical results on that matter.

  • Passive investing in the US grew tremendously
  • Passive investing forces unskilled managers to quit
  • Surviving active managers have more skill, but take less risk
  • We are probably not yet at the point of too much passive

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AgPa #74: Peer-Reviewed Research is Not Helpful to Predict Returns – Really?

Does peer-reviewed theory help predict the cross-section of stock returns? (2023)
Andrew Y. Chen, Alejandro Lopez-Lira, Tom Zimmermann
Working Paper, URL

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper examines the holy grail of empirical research and systematic investing. Is all the research from those smart academics and practitioners really helpful to predict stock returns? Or are we all victims of data mining? The paper if of course not the first one examining this issue, but the approach is in my opinion quite interesting and the authors derive some thought-provoking implications. Pure data mining matches the results from decades of peer-reviewed research surprisingly well. The practical implications, however, are in my opinion not as clear as the statistical ones.

Putting all of this together, the authors may be right that peer-reviewed research and theory are (statistically) not helpful to predict stock returns. I do believe, however, that theory and rigor research in the sense of understanding what you are attempting to do is helpful for real-world investing.

  • Return predictors decay out-of-sample – with and without theory
  • Data mining generates similar patterns like peer-reviewed research
  • Out-of-sample decays are similar for data mining and peer-reviewed research

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AgPa #71: Go Where the Earnings (per Share) Are

What Matters More for Emerging Markets Investors: Economic Growth or EPS Growth? (2022)
Jason Hsu, Jay Ritter, Phillip Wool, Harry Zhao
The Journal of Portfolio Management Emerging Markets 2022, 48 (8), URL/PDF

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is one from the myth-busting category and examines the relation between countries’ GDP growth and stock market returns. The idea and analyses are admittedly not new and the paper is basically an update of one of the authors previous work. Nonetheless, I think the question is very interesting and still very relevant for regional asset allocation.

  • GDP growth and stock returns are not correlated over the long-term
  • Theoretically, the missing relation is not surprising
  • Go Where the Earnings (per Share) Are

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AgPa #69: Rebalancing Luck

Fundamental Indexation: Rebalancing Assumptions and Performance (2010)
David Blitz, Bart van der Grient, Pim van Vliet
The Journal of Index Investing Fall 2010, 1(2), URL/SSRN

This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is already more than 10 years old, but still carries a very important message. The core idea is very simple. If you design an investment strategy, you must make decisions about rebalancing. There are two aspects to consider. How much and when. This week’s authors examine the when at the example of fundamental indices. They show that choosing arbitrary rebalancing date(s) introduces substantial luck or bad luck to a strategy. Even more important, this luck or bad luck doesn’t seem to cancel out over time and thus permanently affects real-world returns. Fortunately, however, there are ways to make yourself less dependent from rebalancing luck…

  • Different rebalancing dates lead to different outcomes
  • Rebalancing luck (or bad luck) is relevant and persistent
  • There is a solution: stretch rebalancing over the year

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AgPa #61: Minivans versus Sports Cars

Sensation Seeking and Hedge Funds (2018)
Stephen Brown, Yan Lu, Sugata Ray, Melvyn Teo
The Journal of Finance 73(6), 2871-2914, URL/SSRN

Tell me about the car you drive and I tell you who you are. In the hope of not offending the car enthusiasts too much, this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper relates the performance and characteristics of hedge fund managers to the type of car they drive. As announced in last week’s article, this is a funny example for the important soft factors that investors should consider when selecting an asset manager.

  • Sports car drivers take more risk and deliver lower performance
  • Funds of sports car drivers come with more operational risk
  • Sports-car-driving investors want sports-car-driving fund managers

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AgPa #59: Why and When Institutional Investors Fire Asset Managers

Forbearance in Institutional Investment Management: Evidence from Survey Data (2023)
Amit Goyal, Ramon Tol, Sunil Wahal
Financial Analysts Journal 79(2), 7-20, URL

As we all know, extracting excess returns from (equity) markets is not so easy. Identifying and monitoring managers who can reliably do that is therefore at least as difficult, if not harder. In particular, deciding whether to continue working with a temporary underperforming manager is often difficult. This week‘s paper examines how institutional reports approach this problem in practice…

  • Institutional investors are more patient than thought
  • Tolerance for underperformance is surprisingly long
  • Sophistication and risk-appetite of investors do matter

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AgPa #57: Stocks for the Long-Run – Riskier Than Thought

Stocks for the long run? Evidence from a broad sample of developed markets (2022)
Aizhan Anarkulova, Scott Cederburg, Michael S. O’Doherty
Journal of Financial Economics 143(1), URL/SSRN

Stocks for the Long-Run – this is not only the title of Jeremy Siegel’s popular book but also a well-established idea among investors. If you can wait long enough and don’t need your money on the way, just put it in a diversified index fund and wait. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper challenges this simple advice and shows that even over very long periods, the chance of losing money with stocks can be higher than previously thought…

  • History offers some scary events of wealth-destruction
  • The US equity market is not necessarily representative
  • Global diversification helps tremendously

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AgPa #56: The Equity Risk Premium of Small Businesses

Small Business Equity Returns: Empirical Evidence from the Business Credit Card Securitization Market (2023)
Matthias Fleckenstein, Francis A. Longstaff
The Journal of Finance 78(1), URL

In 2020, there were more than 31M small private businesses in the US. Even though the estimated value of those businesses is “just” $12T, the sheer number is astonishing when compared to about 4,000 tradable US stocks (excluding penny stocks). For stocks, we typically use measures like returns, multiples, and volatilities. But given the lack of daily prices, it is difficult to calculate those measures for small private businesses. This week’s AGNOSTIC Paper is an attempt to change that…

  • Small businesses had an equity risk premium of 10.7% and a volatility of 56%
  • Robustness: the model generates plausible results for S&P 500 stocks

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AgPa #53: Investing in Interesting Times

Investing in Interesting Times (2023)
Annti Ilmanen
The Journal of Portfolio Management Multi-Asset Special Issue 2023, URL/AQR

Almost exactly one year ago, Antti Ilmanen (Partner at AQR Capital Management) released his outstanding book Investing Amid Low Expected Returns: Making the Most When Markets Offer the Least. The book is (in my opinion) a must-read and the timing couldn’t have been better. Many of the key themes began to materialize in 2022. Given how much markets have changed since then, Antti released a few updates for six of his major ideas in this week’s AGNOSTIC Paper.

  • The low expected return challenge
  • Investors’ response to low expected returns – private markets
  • What happened in 2022 and where we stand now
  • Long-only versus long-short strategies
  • Downside protection via trend-following

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