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Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 10:57 AM   #1
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Is indexing good?

I received this article as an e-mail and thought it relevant, especially to those FIREing. I suspect this issue has come up before on this board, but a revisit may be worth it. It gives the best argument against indexing I've seen. You need to click the "next" button in left hand corner at the bottom of each page to see the entire article:

http://www.investorsinsight.com/otb_...?EditionID=233

--Greg
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 12:22 PM   #2
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Apocalypse . . .um . . .SOON
It gives the best argument against indexing I've seen.
Great article, but once again they forgot to include the names of the managers who are going to generate positive alpha over the next couple decades. When the odds are stacked 80/20 against the average (blissfully ignorant) investor, I can understand why so many of them run to Gus Sauter. And for those of us who aren't interested in searching out talented management at any cost, there are ETFs.

Does John Mauldin ever write his own columns anymore? Don't get me wrong, I'm impressed by a guy who appears to have a true talent for getting other people to do his work for him, but he sure has a lot of "guest" columnists.
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 12:50 PM   #3
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Re: Is indexing good?

"The only way to get "alpha" is to be willing to invest without looking over your shoulder at some index. "

In other words, in order to beat the market, just ignore it?



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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 12:52 PM   #4
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Re: Is indexing good?

From a completely non-investment-guru point of view, this phrase struck me..

Quote:
indexers might keep outperforming but the long term returns of the stock markets will fall, as a sign that the economy's structural growth rate is falling.
So what's the incentive for any one index investor to quit index investing.. altruism? Single-handedly volunteering to prop up the economy? *
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 01:10 PM   #5
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Re: Is indexing good?

Maybe I am not thinking about this correctly but I don't get the "misallocation of capital" claim. For the companies included in most of the major indices, when I buy a share of their stock there is NO effect on the company's capital. With the exception an IPO or secondary offering, the share I buy is being sold by another investor, not the company. The same is true when an index mutual fund buys shares of a company in the index. So how does indexing result in misallocation of capital?

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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 01:37 PM   #6
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
Maybe I am not thinking about this correctly but I don't get the "misallocation of capital" claim. For the companies included in most of the major indices, when I buy a share of their stock there is NO effect on the company's capital. With the exception an IPO or secondary offering, the share I buy is being sold by another investor, not the company. The same is true when an index mutual fund buys shares of a company in the index. So how does indexing result in misallocation of capital?
I only skimmed the article, but I gleaned it was "misallocation of capital" because investors put money into something because it is a member of an index (or, "just because"). The author's version of appropriate allocation of capital is apparently based on the underlying performance and fundamentals of the companies - good companies with good growth prospects (and/or good values with low P/E's, P/B's or whatever). Grumpy, what you said is true - it isn't an issue of allocation of capital between investors and the target of the investment (publicly traded companies), only between the universe of investors.



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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 02:02 PM   #7
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Re: Is indexing good?

The following is my own personal opinion and like @ssholes, everyone has one, so take it for what its worth. *

The lack of data in this article along with the convoluted discussion and the lack of a fact-based conclusion, convinces me that the author has a vested interest in moving money from index funds to hedge funds. *It would appear that perhaps there could be a financial incentive for the author to convince investors to forgo index funds and move to investing in higher expense funds. *The winner is the hedge fund manager and the loser is the investor by paying more in fund expenses while taking on more potential risk. *

In short....scare the index fund investor out of these low expense (low profit) funds and into higher expense (higher profit) funds. *The fund managers will get rich on the backs of the investors. *

Then again.....I could just be paranoid. *
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 02:38 PM   #8
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveR
The following is my own personal opinion and like @ssholes, everyone has one, so take it for what its worth. *
I think the rest of the joke is that nobody thinks theirs stings.

And no, you're not paranoid. The vast majority of financial literature is slanted one way or another. People don't write articles for their health -- they write articles to make money -- whether through telling people what they want to hear, and thereby selling more newspapers/magazines, or by convincing them that they need to take action and the author's the answer!
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 03:15 PM   #9
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Re: Is indexing good?

1) the "fact" that indexing or investments in indexfunds caused the late 1990's bubble is pretty laughable. Where's the evidence? There isn't any. Plus there were bubbles way before index funds.

2) And it didn't start out with index funds buying stocks that were overvalued and then active managers/investors started piling in. Since index funds just buy the stocks that are reflected by the active managers/investors , it must've been the active managers/investors starting the bubble.

I wonder how much these guys are getting paid by the hedge funds?*

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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 03:18 PM   #10
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay_Gatsby
I think the rest of the joke is that nobody thinks theirs stings.
Prep-H can cure those stings.

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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 04:17 PM   #11
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
Maybe I am not thinking about this correctly but I don't get the "misallocation of capital" claim. For the companies included in most of the major indices, when I buy a share of their stock there is NO effect on the company's capital. With the exception an IPO or secondary offering, the share I buy is being sold by another investor, not the company. The same is true when an index mutual fund buys shares of a company in the index. So how does indexing result in misallocation of capital?

Grumpy
Grumpy:

I really need to reread the article before responding completely, but . . . It's a misallocation of 'your' capital in that you are not buying the best possible companies out there. Rather you are buying into an index fund that that has its own seperate criteria for entry, does GE belong to the S&P 500? for instance. It doesn't mean, for example, that GE is misallotating any new capital it is receiving (that's a different issue). It means that you are just adding your capital not to GE but to the pool held by other shareholders of GE, irregardless of its fitness to be a growing, dynamic company. You end up buying into GE because it is part of an index instead of buying into GE because it's a great company. That's part of the macro-misallocation. All the companies in the S&P500 grew not necessarily just because they grew earnings but because their share price went up due to people buying that index fund. The index may end up bubble-like because lots of people and pensions stuff money into them because they have been told this is the best way to allocate retirement resources. A self-fulfilling tautology in a sense.

And it's worked very well for the past twenty some years until everybody starts doing it (then you can have serious macro problems)or when everyone starts pulling out (using their retirement monies. also, remember the demographic shift thas is now coming?) over the next twenty years, which is one type of macro problem. Bogle is not necessarily correct forever, but he sure had a heck of a run.
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 04:25 PM   #12
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveR

Then again.....I could just be paranoid. *
Yep!

JG
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 04:25 PM   #13
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SteveR
The lack of data in this article along with the convoluted discussion and the lack of a fact-based conclusion, convinces me that the author has a vested interest in moving money from index funds to hedge funds. *It would appear that perhaps there could be a financial incentive for the author to convince investors to forgo index funds and move to investing in higher expense funds.
Well, he IS a money manager. *Apparently he also needs to distribute newsletters & sell his books, which is why he must be too busy to write his own articles.

But how could not trust a guy with the guts to wear a tie like this?
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 05:27 PM   #14
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Re: Is indexing good?

I can see that there is an element of positive feedback where index funds are concerned. If a company has a large market cap, then managers of index funds have to buy alot of its shares. But remember, in order to buy shares, someone must sell the shares. The ultimate price of the shares is still determined by the balance of buyers and sellers. If the company has a large market cap, but is a poorly run enterprise, there should be more sellers than buyers, so the price should drop. It is only if the vast majority of the shares of a company are already owned by index funds that the positive feedback loop will drive the share price in an upward spiral. I don't have the data but I suspect that the percentage of any large company's shares owned by index funds is not large enough for this to be a significant problem.

Grumpy

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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 10:14 PM   #15
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Apocalypse . . .um . . .SOON
The index may end up bubble-like because lots of people and pensions stuff money into them because they have been told this is the best way to allocate retirement resources.
I've worried about this a couple of times before, but I decided there are still way more non-indexers than indexers and it's not going to be a problem soon. I like to think this board's membership is a big fan of indexing, but a lot of posters are slice-and-dicers and allocation shifters. A surprising number of posters show high-fee managed funds when they post their allocations, although many such posts are new posters or regulars who bought into something not cheaply escaped from. I don't talk to many people about finance, but those that do seem to have an uneasy feeling about a computer managing their investment and get warm fuzzies thinking some highly paid expert is at the helm.

Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I'm happy with it so far. Also, arguably I'm not an indexer anymore as I'm heavy into Wellington, have a slice of REIT index and am in LifeStrategy Moderate Growth which has a managed component (Asset Allocation Fund). I consider myself an indexer at heart, though; I chose Wellington and LS for their index-likeness and built-in rebalancing.
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 10:40 PM   #16
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
I can see that there is an element of positive feedback where index funds are concerned. If a company has a large market cap, then managers of index funds have to buy alot of its shares. But remember, in order to buy shares, someone must sell the shares. The ultimate price of the shares is still determined by the balance of buyers and sellers. If the company has a large market cap, but is a poorly run enterprise, there should be more sellers than buyers, so the price should drop. It is only if the vast majority of the shares of a company are already owned by index funds that the positive feedback loop will drive the share price in an upward spiral. I don't have the data but I suspect that the percentage of any large company's shares owned by index funds is not large enough for this to be a significant problem.

Grumpy

Grumpy:

http://finance.yahoo.com/q/mh?s=GE

I suspect even the institutional holders are 'holding in trust' for retirement funds. The percentage could even be much higher. John Mauldin in his previous book, Bullseye Investing, spent a fair portion of it talking about the demographic problems of the baby boomer generation and how it may affect their retirements. We face similar problems w/ Social Security because the lockbox contains gov't bonds that only healthy taxes can pay off.

Another sort of strange fluke about the S&P 500 indexes is that before stocks get into it they have already grown substantially: Somebody else usually catches all that serious growth and index buyers sort of get some after that inclusion. When was the best time to buy Microsoft? If large-cap stock indexing is your only form of investment appreciation (I know, nobody does this) then you may be taking unneccesary risk for a limited exposure to gains.

I think there will be a fairly strong element of positive feedback in the GE statistics.

Thanks for the question. I enjoy thinking worrying about it.
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-02-2005, 10:59 PM   #17
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Re: Is indexing good?

BMJ: I am not trying to say "don't" even thought it sounds like it sometimes. All I'm trying to do is explain the risks as I see them. Everybody is ultimately responsible for there own money. I don't even think index funds shouldn't be in a portfolio. One just needs to know how and why they act the way they do--so that one doesn't end up doing excessive amounts of timing selling near the bottom of a big market drop and not buying back in on the way up because of fear. To me a diverse and solid portfolio does what is expected when the things that may happen do happen. This takes some thinking and work. Sometimes it means living on dividends and interest until the price returns to a normal range. Nobody can do this better than the individuals owning the portfolio--or they need to learn it. To me, FI in FIRE means what it says.
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-03-2005, 11:44 AM   #18
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by grumpy
But remember, in order to buy shares, someone must sell the shares.*
Yes, bought shares must equal sold shares but the price of the exchange is not necessarily at the pre-exchange price.* If someone wants to buy 1MM shares at the current market price of $50, he may be only able to buy 500K at that price, and the remaining 500K is only available at $51 - meaning that his purchase affects the market clearing price.* If, in this example, the purchase is the result of an arbitrary investment rule (like an index fund) then the $1 appreciation in stock price, and the resulting lower cost of capital for the firm, may be construed as a misallocation of capital because one side of the exchange is acting irrationally or arbitrarilly.* (A rational seller will naturally offer to sell his shares at a premium to 'fair market value')

However, this misallocation of capital will persist only in an inefficient market.* It is therefore true that John Mauldin's argument can be summarized as simply saying "capital markets are not efficient and investors can exploit these inefficiencies to outperform the market." (ignoring the follow-on conclusion that investor's attempts to exploit these inefficiencies causes the market to become more efficient)* In Mauldin's version, it is the prevalence of indexing (both overt and covert) that causes the market's inefficiency - but whatever the cause, his argument is essentially no different than that of anyone else who advocates active investment management.* *
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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-03-2005, 01:11 PM   #19
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Re: Is indexing good?

Apocalypse,

I failed to see your point re: GE being owned in large quantities by index funds. The "Major Holders" listing you linked to at Yahoo Finance showed that of the top ten mutual fund holders, only 3 were index funds. That means 7 actively managed funds are making big bets on GE. Are you saying that a minority position (that which is owned by index funds) is causing huge distorting effects and inefficiencies in the capital markets?

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Re: Is indexing good?
Old 12-03-2005, 02:44 PM   #20
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Re: Is indexing good?

Quote:
Originally Posted by . . . Yrs to Go
and the resulting lower cost of capital for the firm
Unless this is an IPO or secondary offering, how is the cost of capital lower for THE FIRM? Most stock buys/sells are between investors and do not directly effect the firm.

Grumpy
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