When going on a hike in uncharted territory, even the best weather forecast can be pretty spotty. So to choose whether to wear shorts or heavy snow gear, a rational first step is often to check the historical averages. What’s the typical temperature and precipitation in January? The future may be unknown, but good data can help us make educated decisions.
In that same spirit of wisely preparing for an unknown future by becoming students of history, I spend a lot of time collecting portfolio data from all around the world. The final 2020 numbers are starting to trickle in, so let’s talk for just a minute about what that means.
As we patiently wait for updated market data for the new year, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about “the market.” That simple term is tossed around daily in financial circles, but the true meaning is so often misunderstood that it can unfortunately perpetuate a warped viewpoint of asset allocation that leads well-intentioned people down a measurably risky path. So what is the market? And how might educated investors formulate a portfolio that tracks a true global benchmark rather than a small subset of fleetingly popular securities? The answers to those questions can be found in a straightforward but deceptively tricky to pin down asset allocation called the Global Market Portfolio.
The emotional rollercoaster that we all know as 2020 is finally coming to an end, and reflecting on everything that happened I thought it might be interesting to roll up my sleeves and do some serious number crunching. Amid all of the newsworthy events of the past year, the wild financial ride certainly made for an interesting experience for diligent investors. So how did the various portfolios perform over such a volatile financial timeframe? What did the best? What did the worst? And what happened when sterile portfolio theory ran head-first into the brutal COVID-reinforced wall and left bruised investors looking for quick relief from the pain? Let’s jump right in and find out!
It’s not every day that I get an email out of the blue that completely blows my mind, and I have to admit my head is still spinning. Recently I was approached by the team at Cambria to let me know that one of my articles had been selected for Volume 4 of Meb Faber’s “The Best Investment Writing” series. To say it’s an honor doesn’t really do it justice. I’m incredibly excited to have made the cut, and truly humbled to be featured among so many investing heavyweights I admire. Thanks, Meb!
I first wrote this post three years ago, but it’s one I personally think of often. With all of the stress, struggles, highs, and lows that have been unavoidable facts of life in 2020, I feel compelled to share an old but refreshing perspective that feels appropriate in the moment. Think of it as familiar comfort food for tired financial minds.
Happy Thanksgiving! My sincere hope is that you have much to be thankful for.
Between spooky Halloween decorations, the predictable election anxiety, and a touch of understandable Covid fatigue, is seems fear is on the minds of investors these days. I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in nervous takes from stressed investors worried about everything from low interest rates to high valuations. While families with enough savings and job security to weather the lockdown storm are doing pretty well in the grand scheme of things, the thing about fear is that it’s flexible.
No matter who you are or how confident you feel, I can guarantee you have a pain point tucked away that scares the living daylights out of you. Maybe it’s spiders, heights, or rejection. Or yes, financial loss that delays your retirement or destroys your life goals. Nobody is immune. And many people seem to be sharing concerns that stocks and bonds are about to fall apart and drag their life savings into the dark financial abyss.
But make no mistake — those fears are often quite legitimate! The doomsday analysts may be completely right about the prospects for different assets. Markets shift all the time, and the question is not if but when stocks and bonds give up the ghost. So knowing that the grim financial reaper may be right around the next corner, there are at least three different options for tackling the dreaded unknown.
Like many areas of study with reams of background knowledge, one of the challenges of learning about engineering is the sheer number of books required. And we’re not just talking about small paperbacks telling straightforward linear stories, but massive volumes of technical data where the chapters are often referenced out of order based on the research subject of the day. Even when you eventually identify what you’re looking for, it’s really easy to forget where you found it or have a tough time explaining to others how to compile the same information. So when you find a particularly useful page in the deep sea of options, nothing beats a good bookmark.
Bookmarks are super handy in portfolio research as well. Spend enough time searching for the perfect combination of assets to meet your needs, and you’re bound to eventually find one that piques your interest. Rather than diligently documenting and re-entering multi-asset portfolios by hand, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to save and share ideas as easily as referencing a bookmarked page?
That’s a question I’ve been thinking about for years, and I’m excited to announce that I finally have a working solution. It’s not a traditional bookmark in the physical or website sense, but in a way it’s even more flexible. Portfolio Charts now features portfolio shortcodes!
I’m a big fan of asset allocation. Rather than slaving over daily market news to chase fleeting profits and avoid unpredictable losses, smart investors can create an intelligently constructed portfolio that grows and protects their hard-earned money with low stress and minimum effort. Like following a simple recipe to bake a cake from scratch, all you have to do is purchase a handful of low-cost ingredients, combine them in the right proportions, and let chemistry, heat, and time do all the work. Simple but sophisticated portfolio ideas designed by some of the best minds in the business can help you meet your important life goals while freeing you to focus your own energy on the things in life that truly matter. And with just a small amount of coaching, anyone can do it!
What’s not to like?
Well, to be honest there is one thing that has always sorta rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not a problem with the strategy itself, but an inherent communication issue dripping in bias that I believe subtly chases off a lot of people new to the concept. Asset allocation has a marketing problem, and it all comes down to terminology.
Buried in an otherwise mind-numbingly boring regulatory filing released recently was a seemingly innocuous line item that most people would not give a second thought. Sometime in the second quarter, Berkshire Hathaway invested a comparatively tiny 0.3% of their total portfolio into just a single new company. No big deal, right?
But it wasn’t just any company. After spending decades as perhaps the most respected and widely-cited critic of gold as an investment, Warren Buffett bought 21 million shares of Barrick Gold — one of the largest gold mining companies in the world. It was so out of character that the financial world immediately did a huge double-take. The headline from Bloomberg pretty much speaks for itself:
Berkshire Makes a Bet on Gold Market That Buffett Once Mocked
As one might expect, investors on both extremes of the gold-appreciating spectrum are furiously debating what this all means. Buffett’s closest gold-averse followers are circling the wagons and dealing with a lot of cognitive dissonance, while gold bugs are enjoying dishing out some playful jabs after years of being on the receiving end. Lost in the middle is a vast sea of normal investors watching the news and searching for actionable information.
This article is for that last group just wanting to know the truth about gold and what it can (and can’t) do for their own portfolios.
While useful and accurate data is always my primary concern with Portfolio Charts, I spend way more time than you might realize creating the perfect visual design. Whether it’s selecting the ideal chart settings to make the data pop, finding just the right image to accompany a post, or iterating dozens or even hundreds of visual layouts to find the cleanest option, I’m always looking for ways to beautify each page.
One can certainly argue my design background contributes to my obsessiveness over each detail, but it runs a lot deeper than just wanting to create something easy on the eyes. I learned long ago that little visual choices really do matter. Like the bright aposematic colors that warn predators about the poison dart frog, eye-catching items often communicate very important information. So a truly beautiful design is way more than just skin deep.