Active Management: Skill versus Luck

This is a summary of a panel discussion from the MMI 2013 Spring Convention held in NYC on April 22-24.

Moderator:
John Thompson, Partner, Head of Investment Solutions, Hewitt EnnisKnupp

Panelists:
Ed Foley, Director, Dimensional Fund Advisors
Brian Hansen, President & COO, Confluence Investment Management
Robert G. Smith, President & CIO, Sage Advisory Services

According to the Standard & Poor’s Indices Versus Active Funds (SPIVA) Scorecard:

The year 2012 marked the return of the double digit gains across all the domestic and global equity benchmark indices. The gains passive indices made did not, however, translate into active management, as most active managers in all categories except large-cap growth and real estate funds underperformed their respective benchmarks in 2012. Performance lagged behind the benchmark indices for 63.25% of large-cap funds, 80.45% of mid-cap funds and 66.5% of small cap funds.

Performance returns over the past five years clearly show that active management has had a tough time, Smith opined.  While many more fixed income managers beat their indices, equity managers tend to do better during rising markets.  Maybe equity managers could take after fixed income and do more sector rotation, he pondered.04-11-13-Failure-of-Active-Management-Equity

According to Hansen, there is a lot of “closet” benchmarking going on.  These managers are going to have a harder time trying to outperform over time.  Confluence believes that it’s better to do research and locate undervalued stocks for long-term payouts than to try and mirror the index.  They do have an ETF strategy group that exclusively uses passive benchmarks, he noted.

DFA maintains a blend between active and passive management, Foley explained.  Research shows that performance from active management is driven by a mixture of skill and luck.  The question is, how do you separate the skilled managers from the ones who were just lucky?  Also, can you structure portfolios around reliable premiums, he asked?

What are some long-term investment aspects that your firm is focusing on?

Sage offers three broad investment strategies; active fixed income, structured products, and tactical asset allocation using ETFs, Smith reported.  He believes that the hot button strategies going forward will most likely be global tactical active allocation, multi-asset income, and fixed income strategies that take advantage of ETFs on an opportunistic basis.  They avoid buy and hold strategies, which failed in 2008 when the financial crisis effectively changed “core plus into core minus”, he joked.

DFA started in 1981 and have always had close ties with the University of Chicago, Foley explained.  Their philosophy on building portfolios is encompassed in three principles; 1) Markets reflect all information available to buyers and sellers, 2) portfolio structure determines performance and provides significant contribution to how performance is generated; and 3) diversification, he said. Continue reading

Why Haven’t Advisors Embraced Unified Managed Accounts?

This is an overview of a session from the MMI 2012 Tech & Ops Conference held in Jersey City, NJ.

Moderator:

  • Jay Link, Managing Director, Managed Solutions Group, Merrill Lynch

Panelists:

  • Andrew Clipper, Managing Director, Head of Wealth Management Services, NA, Citi
  • John Capelli, Managing Director, COO, Managed Account Advisors, Merrill Lynch
  • Rob Klapprodt, President and Co-Founder, Vestmark

Are UMA/UMH and Rep as PM essentially the same thing?

While there are similarities between the Merrill UMA and Rep as PM programs as far as the end investor is concerned there are important differences, Capelli emphasized. UMA’s can include investment management delivered strategies, for example. Also, while Rep as PM can use mutual funds and ETFs to provide exposure to lower correlation asset classes, such as emerging markets, a UMA can deliver them at a lower cost using individual securities, he said.

If the goal is to create a portfolio across all of an investor’s assets, those assets are usually spread out across numerous legal entities and accounts, Clipper observed. The UMA/UMH structure is the best delivery mechanism for a holistic approach. On the OpenWealth platform, they separate out portfolio administration (i.e. rebalancing, asset location, cash management) from the intellectual property (i.e. the models). The portfolio administration is all handled in a central location, while the intellectual property can be added anywhere along the value chain, he said.

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The Wizards of ETFs – Behind the Curtain (2/2)

This is a review of a session from the Money Management Institute’s 2012 Fall Solution Conference.  This is part two of a two-part series.  You can read part one here.

Moderator:

  • Benjamin T. Fulton, Managing Director of Global ETFs, Invesco Powershares Capital Management, LLC

Panelists:

  • Sam Turner, Director of Large Cap Portfolio Management at Riverfront Investment Group
  • Jill Iacono Mavro, Managing Director, Head of National Accounts, State Street Global Advisors – $337 billion in ETF assets globally, 94% in US, SPY launched in 1993
  • Dodd Kittsley, Senior Product Manager & Head of ETP Research, iShares

How much weight should advisors put on liquidity when evaluating an ETF?

There are two levels of liquidity: primary and secondary markets, Mavro said. On the primary market, an ETF is as liquid as the underlying index that it tracks. It depends on how easy is it for authorized market participants to trade the basket of securities that represent the index. On the secondary market, liquidity is defined by how often the ETF is traded. The more it is traded, the thinner the spread between the bid and ask prices. Advisors should look at both levels together, not just one or the other.

Turner disagreed and stated that primary market liquidity and fees are the two worst reasons to select ETFs.  Riverfront focuses primarily on exposure and have never had an issue getting out of an ETF due to lack of primary market liquidity, he said.

Secondary market liquidity can become an issue when investing ETFs according to Michael Jones, also from Riverfront Investments, who was in the audience.  He provided an example where Riverfront was the seed investor for an international ETF that was currency-hedged (The ETF happened to be DBX MSCI EAFE Hedged Equity Fund, symbol: DBEF). Primary market liquidity wasn’t a problem for them since they were working directly with the authorized participant and had great execution.  However the use of the currency hedge became more and more expensive to the point where they had to pull their investment due to the high marginal trading costs of bringing on each additional client, he said.

Should You Avoid ETFs with Low AUM?
An article in Barrons makes the case that low AUM is not a good liquidity indicator for ETFs:
“…asset levels aren’t always the best proxy for liquidity. Unlike a stock, an ETF can still have strong liquidity even if its trading volume is low or its assets are tiny. That’s because the underlying stocks’ or bonds’ liquidity is usually the best way to measure an ETF’s real ease of trading. Barron’s asked market-making firm Knight Capital to rate the liquidity of 30 small ETFs whose 2012 returns are about double those of the S&P 500 as of early November. If you judge ETF tradability by the way its components trade, as Knight does, you’ll find lots of low-asset ETFs with more-than-expected liquidity. “I wouldn’t shy away from ETFs that have low volume or low assets. You just have to be smart about how you trade it,” says Eric Lichtenstein, managing director of Knight’s ETF trading desk.”

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The Wizards of ETFs – Behind the Curtain (1/2)

This is a summary of a session from the Money Management Institute’s 2012 Fall Solution Conference entitled ETFs: To Develop or Not Develop?  This is part one of a two-part series.  You can jump to part two by clicking here.

Moderator:

  • Benjamin T. Fulton, Managing Director of Global ETFs, Invesco Powershares Capital Management, LLC

Panelists:

  • Sam Turner, Director of Large Cap Portfolio Management at Riverfront Investment Group
  • Jill Iacono Mavro, Managing Director, Head of National Accounts, State Street Global Advisors – $337 billion in ETF assets globally, 94% in US, SPY launched in 1993
  • Dodd Kittsley, Senior Product Manager & Head of ETP Research, iShares

How has the trend of advisors shifting towards Rep as Portfolio Manager (RPM) changed your business model?

Turner believes RPM is more of a challenge than a threat since it is the end client experience that matters. Competition from RPM raises the bar, with each crisis causing a shakeout of weaker products and players. The next crisis may not be a market downturn but could be a repeat of 2009 when many government central banks were trying to stimulate their economies through quantitative easing, he said.

Many of the advisors who Turner has spoken to are over-weighted in cash because their client’s are nervous. If the market continues its current upswing into 2013, then this lack of participation could be a risk for these advisors, he warned. Their clients may fire them because they were too cautious.

RPM has also been a huge growth engine outside the US, Kittsley stated. Financial transparency rules enacted in the UK will be a huge catalyst for growth in that market. ETFs are well-suited for managed books of business.

StateStreet’s distribution efforts started in the RIA segment, Mavro explained. They treat it more like an institutional service model. iShares and PowerShares have been focusing on RPM for many years and it has become a differentiator for them on larger platforms Regulatory reform targeting advisors running discretionary portfolios often result in more outsourcing, which benefits firms like Riverfront, she claimed.

Related WM Today Posts
Has Rep as PM Growth Peaked?
Rep as PM: The Inside Scoop

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Has Rep as PM Growth Peaked? (2/2)

This is a summary of a panel discussion from the Money Management Institute’s 2012 Spring conference held in Chicago, IL.  This is part 2 of 2.  You can read Part 1 here.

Moderator: Jay Link, Managing Director, Merrill Lynch

Panelists:
Lorna Sabia, Managing Director, Head of Managed Solutions Group, Merrill Lynch
James Walker, Head of Consulting Group, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Matthew Witkos, President, Eaton Vance Distributors.  Chairman of MMI.

Is your firm coming out with any new product offerings?

According to Witkos, Eaton Vance has developed a new product that they are calling Exchange Traded Managed Funds.  It is like an ETF since it trades like a stock, except without the transparency of an ETF so that the money manager’s intellectual property is protected.

What is the sponsor perspective on mutual fund velocity?  

No one wants advisors over-trading mutual funds, Walker commented.  Firms look at trade velocity and try to keep it within a certain range, he said.  The industry should be more aware of the difference between selling mutual funds individually versus fitting them into a larger portfolio.  Walker thinks that market velocity won’t be going away any time soon.
Sabia feels that velocity is a complex topic and more data is needed to determine the impact that it might have on a portfolio.  She also stated that she believes that sponsors, advisors and managers all “own” the issue of velocity and everyone should work together to deal with it.

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Has Rep as PM Growth Peaked? (1/2)

This is a summary of a panel discussion from the Money Management Institute’s 2012 Spring conference held in Chicago, IL.  This is part 1 of 2.  You can read part 2 of 2 here.

Moderator: Jay Link, Managing Director, Merrill Lynch

Panelists:
Lorna Sabbia, Managing Director, Head of Managed Solutions Group, Merrill Lynch
James Walker, Head of Consulting Group, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney
Matthew Witkos, President, Eaton Vance Distributors.  Chairman of MMI.
Has the growth of RPM programs peaked?  According to Dover Research, five years ago, there was $1.2 trillion of client assets in managed solutions and RPM/RAA combined were less than 30% of that total.  Today, total managed assets have grown to $2.4 trillion while rep-driven programs have increased their share to 40% or almost $1 trillion.

How important is RPM to your firm?

RPM is Morgan Stanley’s fastest growing program, Walker reported, with $560 bil in all advisory programs, $150 bil in RPM globally.  Major change in past few year has been change from individual equities (now 34%) to include ETFs, mutual funds, etc.  This is a great solution for Reps that consider themselves to be active allocators.  Trend: move towards discretion, driven by FAs practice management, customers want outcome based investing.  From a regulatory sense, it’s easier to deliver on fiduciary duty.
Sabbia joined the Managed Solutions Group seven months ago.  At Merrill, RPM is called the Personal Investment Advisory (PIA) program and was launched in 1996, now $105 bil AUM.  Approximately 4,500 FAs leverage the program and they’re segmented into three buckets: it’s their fastest growing segment with a $15.7 bil net increase last year and they’re on track to beat that number this year, she said.

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Rep as PM: The Inside Scoop – Part 2

This post is a summary of a session from the MMI 2011 Fall Solutions Conference that was held in NYC. It is part 2 of a 2 part series. Click here to read Part 1.

Moderator:
Marc Zeitoun, Managing Director, Head of Distribution, Rydex/SGI

Panelists:
Jay Link,
Managing Director, Managed Solutions Group, Merrill Lynch
Peter Malafronte,
Executive Director, Managed Accounts, UBS
George Raffa, National Sales Manager, Asset Management Division, SVP, Raymond James

I felt that this was one of the most useful sessions at MMI because the panelists all shared lots of information about their firm’s advisory business, including statistics (my favorite) and details about the inner workings of their programs. Also, the moderator did an excellent job moving things along and asked insightful follow-up questions, which gave the panelists a chance to elaborate on some key concepts and helped make the session more interesting.

How do Rep as PM and Rep as Advisor programs work together?

Peter agreed that the two platforms are complimentary and the decision as to which to choose is mainly a client preference issue. It depends on whether or not they want to be involved in the decision making process, he said.

Also, Rep as Advisor is sometimes considered to be a “farm league” for RPM clients, Peter joked. Once a client has worked with an advisor in a non-discretionary program, has developed trust and understands how the advisor thinks about investments, portfolio construction and managing risk, that client is more likely to feel comfortable moving into a Rep as PM program, he asserted.

Marc added that the conventional wisdom says that RPM assets are the stickiest and least litigious. Additionally, they have higher levels of client satisfaction.

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