the new S&P 500 sector arrangement

Keeping Score tomorrow

a new S&P 500 sector breakout

Announced last November, a new S&P sector arrangement went into effect last Friday.

Telecom, with only three constituents and about a 2% market weighting, disappeared and was replaced by the new Communication Services sector.

The latter contains former telecom names + enough heavyweights from IT (e.g., Facebook, Alphabet, Activision, Electronic Arts) and Consumer discretionary (e.g., Disney, 21st Century Fox, Comcast, Netflix) to give the new sector a total of 26 constituents and about a 10% market weighting–clipping a total of eight percentage points from IT + Consumer discretionary.

 

revised overall sector weightings:

IT .    21%

Healthcare .    15%

Financials .         13.3%

Consumer discretionary .         10.3%

Communication services .         10%

Industrials .         9.7%

Staples .         6.7%

Energy          6.0%

Utilities .         2.8%

Real estate .         2.7%

Materials .         2.4%.

 

my thoughts

–Telecom was a mature sector–if sector is the right word for three stocks–with large, high-dividend companies in it.  So it had defensive characteristics.  Not Communication, though, which contains a bunch of high-multiple, low/no yield components.

–The old Wall Street saw is that any sector is in for big trouble when it breaches 25% of the S&P 500’s weight.  That’s no longer the case with IT, but the change is obviously artificial.

–Splitting the index  sectors into highly cyclical, somewhat cyclical and defensive comes out like this:

Highly:  Materials, Industrials .  ~12% of the S&P

Defensive:  Real Estate, Utilities, Staples .   ~12% of the S&P

Somewhat cyclical:  everything else.      ~76% of the S&P.

Nothing has really changed, but parsing it out like that makes the index look like it has almost no defensive characteristics.  The lower weight for IT makes the index look less risky: this does the opposite–if only by about 2 percentage points.

–There’ll be new passive ways to bet on the Communication sector

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the structure of the S&P 500, and why it matters…

…to us as individual investors, for the portion of our assets we choose to manage actively.

As of the close of trade in New York last Friday, the Standard and Poors 500 was weighted, by sector, as follows:

IT      24.0%

Financials      14.8%

Healthcare      14.1%

Consumer discretionary     12.1%

Industrials     10.1%

Staples      8.1%

Energy      5.8%

Utilities         3.1%

Materials     3.0%

Real estate     2.9%

Telecom      2.0%.

The goal of active managers is to have better results than the index (I could say “an index fund,” but the two are the same, less the small fees an index fund purveyor charges).  We’ll only have different results if we have different holdings than the S&P.  And if our holdings aren’t different–either different names or different weightings (or both)–we can’t be better.  In order to be different our first job is to know what the index looks like.  The list above is a first cut.

Let’s rearrange it to show the sectors in order from the most sensitive to general economic activity to the least.  I’m going to divide the sectors into three groups, from those that do best in a red-hot world economy, those that will still do well with so-so growth, and those that have the most defensive characteristics–meaning they do their best relative to the index when economies are contracting.

 

most economically sensitive

Materials      3.0%

Industrials      10.1%

Energy     5.8%

————————————-total = 18.9%

economically sensitive

IT      24%

Consumer discretionary     12.1%

Financials      14.1%

Real estate         2.9%

————————————-total = 53.1%

defensive

Healthcare     14.1%

Staples     8.1%

Telecom      2.0%

Utilities     3.1%

————————————-total = 27.3%.

I’ve stuck Energy in the most sensitive segment.  Recently it’s been marching to its own drummer, as the big integrated oils restructure and as the crude oil price yo-yos up and down.  Ultimately, though, I think in today’s world oil is just another industrial commodity that’s not that different from steel or aluminum.  Put it somewhere else if you disagree.

This isn’t the only reordering we could make.  We could also arrange the index by market capitalization in order to either emphasize big stocks or small ones in our holdings.  But this is the most common one professionals, and their institutional customers, use.  Personally, I think it’s also the most useful way to think about the index.

 

To my mind, the most striking thing about the S&P 500 is that it is mostly geared to a rising economy.  If we think recession is brewing, tiny changes in holdings aren’t going to make much of a difference in relative performance.

Another–very important–point is that if you have a portfolio that’s, say, 10% Healthcare, and your benchmark is the S&P 500, you’re betting against Healthcare as a sector, not on it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

index fund gains in the US

According to a survey reported in the Financial Times and done at the newspaper’s request by Morningstar, assets in US index mutual funds now comprise a third of total domestic mutual fund assets.  That’s up from 25% this time three years ago.

Nevertheless, actively managed assets under management have risen by 14%, despite the market share shift.  So the fees being collected by active managers are up.  This is doubtless due mostly to the fact that markets have been rising.  The S&P 500 is up by about a third over the three-year span, the Bloomberg Treasury index by 12%.  Watch out, though, if markets flatten or begin to decline.

 

More bad news:  the FT is reporting that 90.2% of US active equity managers underperformed their benchmark, after deducting fees, over the twelve months ending June.  Not numbers that will stem outflows.

 

Since I’m getting such an unbelievably late start today, I’ll only make two points:

–in the investment organizations I’m aware of, management control is in the hands of professional marketers, not professional investors.  I think their giving a much higher priority to selling rather than making products is a substantial part of the underperformance problem for these firms.  It’s highly unlikely, I think, that marketers will volunteer to step down and turn the reins over to makers.  So I expect underperformance issues will continue.  If I’m correct, the next bear market could prove crushing for these organizations, since the combination of falling prices and client withdrawals will doubtless mean sharp declines in profits.  Where will the money come from to beef up research and portfolio management operations then?

–some large investment management firms known for active management are reported to be finally entering the index fund market themselves.  First of all, this seems to me to show the marketing bent of their managements, giving support to my first point.

In addition, index funds have very large economy of scale effects and the oldest/largest have been in existence for decades.  Because of this, I can’t imagine that Johnny-come-lately firms will ever have profitable index offerings.  The firms may subsidize their index funds  so that the fees for you and me will be on a par with bigger rivals’, but I don’t see how the subsidies can ever be taken away.  Yes, such firms may retain assets, but their bottom lines will be worse off than if they retained them.

the record of active fund managers in Europe

I’ve been reading the Indexology blog again.  A few days ago, the topic was the performance of actively managed equity funds managed by European fund managers over the past ten years.

The numbers are almost incomprehensibly bad.

In the “best” category, large-cap European stocks in developed markets there, 55% of the funds underperformed over the past year.  That result deteriorates pretty steadily as time progresses, with the result that on a ten-year view 87% underperform.   .and that’s the best!

The race for last place is almost a dead heat among Global, Emerging Markets and US.  Over the past year, 82% -83% of managers in these categories underperformed.  This result also deteriorates over time.  Over the past ten years, 97% – 98% underperformed.

This is the same pattern as for US active managers   …only worse.

The performance figures are after all fees–management, administrative, marketing…–except for the sales charges levied by traditional brokers.

More importantly, the figures for each period include all funds active during that time, not just the ones that made it through the entire period.  That’s key because over the past ten years about half of the funds active for part of the time were either shut down or (more likely) merged with other funds.  It’s possible that one or two of the defunct funds were great performers but  for some reason couldn’t be sold.  However, in my experience, the overwhelming majority would have been folded because the performance was bad.

Similar figures for the survivors confirms my belief.  The 10-year record for this smaller, hardier, group shows around half the funds outperforming their indices–except for the emerging markets category where over two-thirds of the surviving managers still underperform.

Why do clients put up with this?

One answer is that the absolute returns have been between 5% and 10% yearly in euros.  On the low side that means up by almost 65% over the past decade.  That’s not all that investors could reasonable have expected, but it’s not a loss.  So alarm bells don’t go off when holders get their statements.

Another is that they aren’t.  These sad figures for active managers are the biggest explanation for the popularity of passive products.

 

a report card for smart beta

Purveyors of “smart beta” equity portfolio strategies have been very popular over the past few years, both with individual investors and with institutions.

The source of the attraction is clear:

smart beta claim to provide better performance than an index fund without engaging in active portfolio management. Actually, it claims to outperform because it doesn’t employ value-subtracting human portfolio managers to muck up the works.  Rather, smart beta operates by reshaping the weightings of stocks in the index according to predetermined computer-managed rules.  (I’ve written about smart beta in more detail in other posts.)

In other words, it’s free lunch.

My observation is that smart beta is a marketing gimmick  …one that has been very successful in bringing in new money, but a gimmick nonetheless.  Basically what it does is to create a portfolio that contains the index constituents, but in different proportions from their index weightings.  The rules for determining the smart beta weightings are set in advance and the portfolio is periodically rebalanced to restore the “correct” proportions.  For my money, the preceding sentence describes active management.  The portfolio managers are just hidden behind a computer curtain.

A simple example of smart beta:  maintain a portfolio of S&P 500 names but have .2% of the money in each stock–rather than having it loaded up with lots of Apple, ExxonMobil, Microsoft, Johnson&Johnson and Berkshire Hathaway.  Historically, this is a strategy that had its best run in the late 1970s – early 1980s, but which followed with a very extended period of sub-par performance.

Anyway,

I was catching up on my reading of the Financial Times over the weekend and came across an article from the FTfm of February 2nd titled,“Smart beta is no guarantee you will beat the market.”

It turns out that of the 10 biggest smart beta ETFs in the US, seven have underperformed over the past three years and five over the past five years.

That’s not that different from what active managers have done.

However, unlike the case for active managers, assets under smart beta management have grown fivefold since 2009.

 

 

 

the FT, Vanguard and Morningstar: active vs. passive investing

Saturday’s edition of the Financial Times opens with a screaming front-page headline, ” $3.5 billion pulled out of Fidelity funds.”  

 …must have been a slow news day.  

The article goes on to explain that net inflows of individual investor cash into the stock market–both in the EU and the US–over the first half of 2014 have been going to index products, not to active managers. 

I can see several good reasons why this is so:

1.  Indexing is like cruise control.  You know you’re going to get more or less the return on the index against which a given index fund/ETF is benchmarked.  So you only have two variables to consider:  how closely the fund/ETF is able to track the benchmark, and what its expense ratio is.  There’s no fretting about an active manager’s style and strategy, or whether he/she is still running the portfolio whose historical record you’re examining

2. Fidelity doesn’t necessarily want mutual fund customers.  I’ve had a Fidelity brokerage account for decades.  Fidelity has never approached me, ever, to buy a mutual fund product of any type.  I presume it’s because the company makes more money from having me trade individual stocks.

3.  Picking active managers takes some effort.  It requires having some understanding of the stock market and an ability to deduce strategy from the lists of holdings that managers report each quarter to the SEC.  

True, there is Morningstar, a service which has been providing its famous “star” rankings of mutual funds for about a quarter century.  Although Morningstar, disingenuously, warns buyers of its star information not to use it as the reason for picking a given mutual fund, people do pay for the rankings.  So they must have a reason.  Investment management companies take out full-page adds to tout their high star-ness.  Inflows seek high-star funds and shun low-star ones.

Over at least the past several years, however, Vanguard points out that following Morningstar rankings hasn’t been a good idea.  The index fund giant is publicizing a study it did of Morningstar fund rankings from 2011 – 2013.  Over the three years, Vanguard says there was a strong correlation between Morningstar star ranking and fund performance, but it was the opposite of what the rankings suggested.  One-star funds performed the best vs. their peers, two-star funds the next best   …and so on, in order, with five-star funds performing the worst.  Whoops!

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of Morningstar’s use of short-term volatility as a measure of the riskiness of a portfolio.  My guess is that the relative stability of a fund’s NAV ends up being the most important factor in getting a high star rating.  So that rating has little to do with future return potential.  But I have no real idea how Morningstar could have gone as badly astray as Vanguard says.

Anyway, to sum up, if there’s any news in the FT article, it’s the (understandable) extent to which individual investors are embracing psssive investing, not the fact that they’re doing so.