Nearly ten years ago when I started Abnormal Returns the tagline “a wide-ranging, forecast-free investment blog” was in part a reaction to a blogosphere that at the time was seemingly all about stock picks. That vein lives on in the Seeking Alphas of the world.
There is, in fact, nothing wrong with that. Stock picking remains interesting to many because it is a venue in which the smallest investor can compete on a global scale against the world’s best investors. However for the vast majority of investors stock-picking, and other forms of active management, are at best a distraction and at worst a money loser.
That is why it is heartening to see the stars of today’s investment blogosphere are not in fact stock-pickers but those who are pointing investors towards a more sustainable investment path. John Kimelman at Barron’s recently wrote about The Reformed Broker, Josh Brown:
Brown is sort of the anti-Jim Cramer, a prolific writer and TV talking head who is constantly beating the drum for prudent asset allocation rather than for quickly barking out individual stocks that will beat the market.
The irony being that Jim Cramer’s CNBC show Mad Money just celebrated a ten-year anniversary of its own. Fans of the show would do well to check out the performance of the show’s stock picks over time.
It is interesting to note that the most dynamic part of the investment management business, robo-advisors, have avoided active investment strategies like the plague. By and large they focus on building investors diversified, low-cost, passive portfolios that are rebalanced over time with an eye on taxes. A solution that for the vast majority of investors is superior to their ad hoc efforts to-date.
If you were to ask me what has changed over the past ten years would be this. Active fund management has been dethroned as the default for a growing number of investors, both individual and institutional. The world’s largest bond fund is now the Vanguard Total Bond Market Index. Almost all net fund inflows are now into low-cost passive funds. Star fund managers are now a dying breed.
There is no doubt that this is in part a bull market phenomenon. As soon as we experience a 10% correction, let alone a full-blow bear market, active strategies will once again be touted as the prescription for the then-current drawdown. But a growing number of investors now recognize that spending a half an hour in front of the TV watching Cramer picking stocks is time better spent on more productive endeavors.