John Bogle Endorses Wiser Wealth, Well…Sort of

Our friends at indexuniverse recently interviewed John Bogle. Mr. Bogle is the mutual fund indexing pioneer that started Vanguard. We listen very intently to Mr. Bogle because here at Wiser Wealth we are index investors and agree with many of his sought after opinions. The Wiser Wealth investing philosophy is to maintain a diversified portfolio, keep costs low, and invest for the long term. Following Mr. Bogle’s presentation there was a question and answer section. He highlighted our core investing philosophies.

Index Universe asked the following questions to Mr. Bogle following his on-line presentation:

Wiandt: Every year we hear from active managers that “this is the year of active management.” Do you believe that there are environments that are more favorable to active management than passive management and index investing? And if so, what do those times look like?

Bogle: There is no way that active managers can possibly have an advantage no matter what the circumstances are. Just think about this: Almost 75% almost of all stocks are owned by institutional investors now, and they are basically, by and large, professional investors. They are pension fund investors. They are pension money managers, they are pension trustees I should say, pension money managers, mutual fund managers, which also manage pension funds and endowment funds. And that’s 75% of all stocks, and only 75% of all stocks. It is just not possible that they can be taking the individual investor on the other side— the remaining part of the market—to the cleaners with every trade. There is no evidence of that.

So what we find is that institutional investors and individual investors basically each capture the market return and they each capture the market—and together they each capture the total market return. That is inevitable. And that’s before cost. So when you take out costs, which are high, you end up explaining almost all the reasons that active managers cannot and do not beat the funds, beat the market itself. It is just statistically, mathematically, tautologically impossible.

Wiandt: An asset allocation question: One of the main reasons we use asset allocation and diversification in our portfolio is to balance the risk. So if one thing is going up, another thing is coming down. If one thing is coming down, you’ve got something else coming up. The problem is—and if you look to October you can see this—when things go bad, it seems like everything goes down. And so what can you say to that? Is there anything that people should do in that environment or do you just ride it out?

Bogle:To me, first, in general, the question is correct insofar as it applies to equities. And it’s been long said—many, many years ago, and it’s proved so true in every crisis since then—international diversification lets us down just when we need it the most. And truer words than that were never spoken. On the other hand, the fact is that bonds produce a very good countercyclical return.

I don’t know exactly what they did in September. But I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks that the bond index fund went up 5% last year. That really was counter in direction, if not in amount, to the 35%, 37% decline in the U.S. stock market. Now I look at bonds as being the ultimate diversifier. I don’t look at diversification in equities [in terms of] being in different equity styles as being particularly helpful in the long run.

Look, we all know there are times when growth is doing better than value and vice versa, that large-cap is doing better than small-cap and vice versa. But they seem to come back. They seem to revert to the mean over long, long periods of time. And it’s very hard. Individual stocks, individual styles, have a very similar correlation with a stock market as a whole, a very similar correlation with one another and with the stock market as a whole—even down to the individual stock level and the style level and the manager level. So I think if you are looking for safety, the best instrument for safety is a high-grade bond portfolio, including Treasuries and high-grade corporates.

Wiandt: It looks like we have got an active investor here with a question. I think you may enjoy this one. He says, “Jack, you continue to encourage individual investors to buy and hold. However, I challenge you to name one goal-oriented endeavor besides investing where an intelligent individual would select a passive approach over an active one. Can you name even one?” he says.

Bogle: I’m sorry. You are just going to have to explain the question. Name even one investor?

Wiandt: Some activity that you would want to do in life where you would choose to be passive instead of active as a way of succeeding.

Bogle: Oh, that is such a great question! And, you know, there is an answer to it. And this is why we get so messed up in the financial business. Would you go to an average doctor? No. Why would anyone go to an active doctor, to a passive doctor or not the best doctor around? The problem is, in the financial markets, they are different from any other endeavor in American life. And that is, there is a market out there and it has a certain value. And all of us together own that market. So literally the only way to capture the market return is to own the market without cost. That cannot be done. But you can do it with a cost of as little as 0.1%, and you will, by definition, beat all these other investors who do it at a cost of maybe 2%–2.5%. There is really not any mystery about this. It is all what I’ve been willing to call or have been able to call the “relentless rules of humble arithmetic.” Get the croupiers’ take out and you capture the market return; you as a group of investors. Lave the croupiers’ take in—pay the croupier … pay Wall Street … pay the money managers … pay the brokers … pay the investment bankers … pay the investment advisers … and you get what’s left.

You know, you are sitting—you individual investor who has asked the question—you, pal, are sitting at the bottom of the food chain of investing. You know, everybody gets paid before you do. Where else is that true in American business? I don’t know if it is true anywhere else at all. So, yes, unequivocally, it is different and it has to be different. And our failure to acknowledge that difference is what gets us into so much behavioral problem.

This is where the philosophy of “keep investing cost low” comes from. Every penny you pay in fees, those you see and those you don’t, is one less penny you have to compound into the future.

Thank you Index Universe for this great interview.

Casey T Smith – Wiser Wealth Management, Inc

By Published On: June 22, 2009

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