Friday, August 27, 2010

DIY Follies

DIY Follies and The Danger Of Web Experts!

First let me start by saying I am a big supporter of DIY investing, both professionally and personally. I believe investing is too important for people to completely trust their money to a third party advisor, regardless of how qualified the advisor might appear to be. I also think that fees in Canada are so egregious that many investors can make a better return on any DIY portfolio than they will on a “fat fee” fund strategy.

So what frustrates me about DIY? It is the smug self assured certainty of many DIY investors I hear from or read comments from. The web has been a great source of information on DIY investing, and much of it is good stuff. Unfortunately a lot of it is also total crap. It seems that reading a single book and wasting a few hours an evening on web blogs is actually deemed sufficient training to become an unlicensed expert advisor to the masses. To make matters even worse, the advice is most often anonymously shared by somebody hiding behind an ego driven pseudonym. Who would not want to follow the advice of “dividendman” or “investpert”! (my made-up examples in case these pretentious pseudonyms are really being used by somebody out there)

So let’s take a look at some of the idiotic recommendations that appear regularly on investment blogs from DIY advisor wannabee’s:

1- Only Idiots invest in Fixed Income: This one is an idiotic comment that even some mediocre professional advisors spout! With the professional advisor it is understandable because they make more money selling stocks than bonds. With the DIY guys it is because they are navel gazers! They often have no concept of risk or downside protection, little understanding of investment horizons, and believe anybody who disagrees with them is a moron. Not surprising many also claim to be young and thus have little money and plenty of time! By the same theory you should invest in lottery tickets since you have years to invest which greatly increase your odds of success.....right?

1a- Contra the DIY: Equity investing is high risk. The returns on equities are typically higher over the long term but with no certainty that the returns will be superior on any given day, month or year. The larger market corrections can take over three years to recover and equity markets can move sideways for decades at a time. In fact some money managers believe we are in a seventeen year sideways market as I write. In looking at a top investment firm’s numbers for the past 5 years, I see a fixed income fund with average 5 year returns of 6% and with no negative returns in the 5 year period. The same firm’s equity portfolio was a top performer over the past 5 years and has a return of 6.3%. Net of fees (2% on equity and 0.9% on fixed income) and the fixed income portfolio has higher returns, lower volatility and lower fees. So what if the person was indexing their DIY portfolio? The benchmark returns were 3.7% for the equity fund and 4.9% for the fixed income fund.

2- Dividend Funds are the perfect strategy for everybody: The blog world is filled with folks who push the concept of 100% dividend stocks. They suggest that only the bright geniuses like themselves are aware that “dividends pay you to hold the stock in good markets or bad” and that historically, the “consistent dividend growth is the secret to better investment returns”. In fact dividends can pay more than GICs so sell your low interest GICs and buy dividend stocks and you will grow rich!

2a – Contra the DIY: Dividends are indeed a good thing! They are not however the primary investment goal of all clients. Most dividend companies are in older mature and thus lower growth industries. If you are in equities for growth then you may find non-dividend paying energy or tech stocks more appropriate than the dividend approach. The blue chip dividend stocks are often very highly priced with similarly high price earnings ratios. When dividends outstrip GICs it should come as no surprise that the additional return is compensation for increased risk. The other nasty part of a dividend strategy is when a firm suddenly decreases the dividend and the stock drops like a rock. It can take a lot of years of 3.2% dividends to make up for a 35% price drop! (think Manulife for a recent real life lesson)

3- Don’t Invest in Foreign Markets Because of a- currency risk, b- currency conversion fees, c- Canadian markets will outperform! : The Canadian market is a top performing market. European markets are weak sisters that never make a good return and Japan is a wasteland! The smart money invests in Canada because we have natural resources that can only become more valuable over time. We also have gold that will save us when the world ends as we know it. The stock markets all move together so it does not pay to diversify by geography. The loonie is king and foreign holdings increase currency risk too much.

3a –Contra the DIY: In fact diversification has very little to do with long term currency risk and long term investors do not suffer a lot of losses on currency fees (which are still annoying and to be minimized). The diversification into foreign countries is done for two reasons. Foreign countries often have less than perfect market correlation which means if we drop 30% and Europe drops 25% in a bad market, we would benefit by holding some Europe equities on average. Historically the major markets do not hold the top spot for more than a few years before a nation drops back and is replaced by a new market that is heating up. You cannot reasonably predict the world wide shifts so benefit from holding a little of many markets. You do not expect peak performance from every market every year.
The second reason to diversify geographically is to diversify across sectors. Canada is a small market with little health or high tech companies to be had. Foreign firms often provide better exposure to business sectors the Canadian market cannot offer.

4- Follow My Lead Because I Made 30% Returns For Every Year in The Last 7 Years!

I buy only a- dividend, b- small cap, c-gold and diamonds, d- options, e- outer Mongolia futures, and I have beaten the pros for years. Everybody else is stupid and I am a genius and am willing to share my brilliant approach with you! Honest! Check my blog! Honest! Ask my brother-in-law! Honest!

4a Contra the DIY: Unfortunately, I am only exaggerating a little bit! There are several thousand very bright and well educated investment experts with almost unlimited support from top analysts. They did not miss your magic formula for success! You are not a genius unless you do it, have it audited by professionals, and can repeat it over and over. You may be lucky, you may have incorrectly measured results or you may be full of crap! It’s hard to tell from this side of the screen, but I am very confident you are not a genius! Honest! Really! Seriously!

The DIY world is a great place with a lot of bright folks who are interested in investing! But be aware, not every comment is created equal and a little assumed knowledge can indeed be very dangerous. The key to success in the DIY world is very simple: Do Your Own Research! Blogs can be fun and informative but they are not tested or validated. The top forums or blogs will most often make it very clear they are expressing “opinions”, not expert opinions, and just somebody’s opinions. They also make it clear they are not licensed security advisors and you should not buy or sell on their opinions, but rather may want to research what they are commenting on.

Your sceptical of advice friend.....SOIS Mike!