Beyond Ridiculous: A Portfolio for all Seasons

Ulli Uncategorized Contact

Every so often you find a reporter’s story analyzing a fund manager’s portfolio or coming up with his own (in theory, of course) group of mutual fund/ETF holdings allegedly suited for all seasons.

You can recognize this by psychologically appealing names such as “The Lazy Man’s Way,” “Gone Fishing,” or other esoteric ones indicating that this certain portfolio combination is all you need — and you won’t ever have to worry about it.

This happened again a few days ago when a reporter interviewed and analyzed a well known money manager’s portfolio (over $20 billion under management). Apparently, his approach is to hold a variety of 11 inexpensive Vanguard Index funds allocated in certain percentages. Nothing wrong with that.

Investment returns were given for 2006 (about equal to the S + P 500) and over 3 and 5 years, where he outperformed the S + P 500 handily.

Since all ticker symbols and percentage allocations were listed, it would now be easy for the casual reader to imitate this portfolio with the assumption that, the way it was presented, this is a portfolio to duplicate and forget.

That’s the problem I have with this scenario. Fund managers and mutual fund companies are chomping at the bit that 5-year return figures are now showing some positive numbers (without the bear market), with a 5-year reporting period now covering 2002-2006.

Let me make it crystal clear. As great of a performance as this above portfolio has shown over 3 and 5 years, it was a big loser in the last bear market!

How do I know? I plugged in the numbers. Here’s how I did it. As you know, my trend tracking methodology had us on the sidelines in cash from 10/13/2000 until 4/29/2003.

To see a comparison, I applied the closing prices for the funds using the dates above in combination with the Vanguard portfolio. What a surprise! It turned out that this portfolio lost exactly 30% during the dates specified while the S + P 500 lost 33%.

The best portfolio component gained 17%, while the worst one lost 46%.

In Wall Street’s perverse thinking, a loss of “only” 30% is great, because the S + P 500 lost 33%. That’s one way to outperform the S + P and earn recognition among peers.

My point is, be careful when you read these stories. Don’t ever assume that there is a portfolio for all seasons. As much as we all would like one, it doesn’t exist.

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Comments 9

  1. Uli,

    I follow the string of stories on that you’re referring to very closely. I believe in them and as my portfolio increases in value I try to expand from the few mutual funds/ETF’s (I think they use three as a minimum) to the 11 or so in Aronson’s “Family” portfolio.

    However, I’m also a believer in what you do as well. So, as a result, I merge your trend-tracking methodology, and subsequent exits and entrys, with my “Vanguard” style of diversification investing to get the best of both worlds. And with the new world of Vanguard ETF’s that allows me to indeed make these entrys and exits without the extra costs of VG mutual fund expenses since there are no “NTF” brokers that deal with VG that I know of.

    I wouldn’t invest without you, or Vanguard 😉

    I’m also very excited about the new Vanguard Total International ETF (including Canada) that is supposed to be coming out this quarter. I’ll likely be one of the first in.

    One last thing: I miss seeing Vanguard Consumer Staples ETF (VDC) in your weekly stat sheets, I’m sure that it would be up there with some of the others but I don’t think you’re including it for some reason. I’ve owned it since shortly prior to the Summer ’06 correction (and it was one of only two positions I retained during that period) and it has performed extremely well.

    Thanks and Goodnight,

    P.S. I hope you didn’t mind me naming names in this post.

  2. Ulli,

    Thank you for adding VDC, it should be a worthwhile addition to the tables. I think the most intriguing aspect of this ETF is it’s reluctance to drawdown. I measured only 3.29% MaxDD last summer (S&P; was down 7.22%) and that alone is the reason I retained it in my portfolio despite moving most other funds into MM. It has paid off, nicely outperforming the S&P;, so far.

    For Ben,

    After taking a look at the IFA book you referred to I couldn’t help the feeling that I had seen something very similar to it before. Sure enough, a quick trip back to the library jogged my memory for “The Successful Investor Today” (ISBN 0-312-30979-1). Although it does not contain nearly the amount of statistical data and charting, it is certainly cut from the same cloth and mirrors the IFA thrust very closely. After reading TSID a couple of years ago it was one of the primary sources that put me on the path of indexing.

    Goodnight all…


  3. Ulli,

    Manually….but for now I’m tracking < 100 components. I’m currently developing a programmatic solution of my own design. When finished I’ll be able to grow my list of funds tracked by leaps and bounds. G.H.

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