Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All the Serious Money is Indexed

A recent New York Times article discussed how index funds are not only the most efficient way for people of modest means to accumulate wealth but are also the best way for wealthy investors to keep and grow their wealth.

The reporter interviewed Princeton professor of economics Burton Malkiel, author of the 1973 investment classic "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" and pioneer in research which shed light on the folly of trying to beat the market. In the article he postulated that of all of the mutual funds in existence or created since the 1970s, the number that actually beat the broad indexes through 2009 would be in the single digits.

The counterpoints in the article from some active managers border on laughable. One compared stocks to baseball batters, saying "If you find the ones with the higher average, you're adding real value." Well no kidding...except that study after study shows that the odds of doing that are about the same as the odds of any single person reading this becoming an American Idol winner.

The same manager also said "We're selecting high-quality companies with earnings streams and eliminating all the bad stocks in the S&P that you have to own because it's an index." Apparently they're buying those great stocks from other active managers who prefer low-quality companies without earnings streams. (Remember they're not buying them from those silly indexers, because the indexers own a proportionate share of everything in the market.)

Malkiel also dispels the notion that commodities belong in a portfolio as a distinct asset class, because by properly diversifying one already has such exposure: "...if you're really well diversified and into emerging markets you're going to have some investments in Brazil, which is natural resource rich. It's simple."

Malkiel also divulges his personal holdings, which include buying some individual stocks "because it's fun. All the serious money is indexed."


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