Search Results for: swensen

Swensen Portfolio 10-Year Trailing Returns Redux

Here is a check-in on the trailing 10-year total returns for the David Swensen model portfolio, courtesy of ETFPM.com. Last update was in 2011. As a reminder, here is the model portfolio asset allocation with representative ETFs:

30% Domestic US Equity (VTI)
15% Foreign Developed Equity (VEA)
10% Emerging Markets (VWO)
15% Real Estate (VNQ)
15% U.S. Treasury Bonds (IEF)
15% Inflation-Protected Securities (TIP)

The chart below shows the growth of $1,000 invested this way and rebalanced annually (eMAC), starting from January 2003 until the end of March 2013. eMAC stands for “efficent multi-asset class”.

Again, we see that this low-cost, diversified index fund portfolio (+169%) has done well over the last 10.3 years, besting the S&P 500 (+118%) handily as well as the Dow Jones Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index (not shown anymore, but +95% roughly). We also see that a 30% Stock, 70% Long-term Treasury bond portfolio does pretty well, but I tend to dismiss that as rearview-mirror investing. Yes, looking backward it did well, but I doubt you could find any portfolio manager telling their clients to hold 30% Stocks and 70% Long-Term Treasuries as a long-term portfolio during the period between 2003-2007.

Swensen Portfolio 10-Year Total Returns: Low-Cost Diversified ETF Portfolio Results

Last week, I shared a chart that showed how a diversified portfolio that was rebalanced regularly still managed to nearly double in value over the last decade. Here’s another similar finding based on the David Swensen portfolio as compiled by an advisor group called ETF Portfolio Management.

Swensen manages the Yale University endowment and wrote an excellent investment book called Unconventional Success (my review) directed towards individual investors. Even though he does active management himself, he explains why low costs and low turnover are critical, how certain asset class are better than others, and why rebalancing regularly is important. He ends up providing a model portfolio made up of what he calls “Core” asset classes. Here’s the slightly updated David Swensen Portfolio with his recommended 70% stocks / 30% bonds breakdown. Actual low-cost index ETFs are included via ticker symbols.

30% Domestic US Equity (VTI)
15% Foreign Developed Equity (VEA)
10% Emerging Markets (VWO)
15% Real Estate (VNQ)
15% U.S. Treasury Bonds (IEF)
15% Inflation-Protected Securities (TIP)

Instead of the Total Bond Index from last week, which include everything from Treasuries to corporate bonds to mortgage-backed securities, the Swensen bond allocation only has nominal and inflation-linked Treasury bonds. The chart below shows the growth of $1,000 invested this way (eMAC) at the start of 2001 until the end of July 2011. (Last week’s chart included the start of 2000 to end of 2009.) The ETFs listed above were bought and rebalanced annually. eMAC stands for “efficent multi-asset class”.

Again, we see that the diversified and rebalanced portfolio has done well over the last 10 years, more than doubling in value. Check out their annual returns breakdown (summarized below), and you can see how in any single year different asset classes will have different returns. Some go up, some stay steady, some go down. This lack of strong correlation is what helps smooth out your portfolio, and makes you feel better that at least something is doing okay at any given time.

Now, this may not be the ideal portfolio going forward. Nobody knows the future, you can only do what you think gives you the best odds for success. But it does serve as another real-world example of how low-cost diversification works and that you should have good reasons for holding each of the asset classes that you buy.

(The “HF Index” indicated stands for the Dow Jones Credit Suisse Hedge Fund Index, which claims to track ~8,000 hedge funds and thus tracks overall hedge fund performance. After poking around their website, the returns seem to be net of manager fees.)

David Swensen’s Updated Model Asset Allocation

If you don’t know the name David Swensen, he is an investment manager who is best know for managing Yale Universities huge endowment. What makes him interesting is that even though he does invest in some hedge funds and private equity, he doesn’t believe that the common investor should try to emulate this. An excerpt from a recent interview in the Yale Alumni Magazine sums it up:

That’s why the most sensible approach is to come up with specific asset allocation targets that you can implement with low-cost, passively managed index funds and rebalance regularly. You’ll end up beating the overwhelming majority of participants in the financial markets.

In his 2005 book Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment, he proposed a model asset allocation using what he believes are the 6 “core asset classes” that an individual investor should own:

Unconventional Success Model Portfolio Breakdown

Asset Allocation For 70% Stocks/30% Bonds (with ETF examples)
30% Domestic Equity (VTI, IYY)
15% Foreign Developed Equity (EFA, VEA)
5% Emerging Markets (VWO, EEM)
20% Real Estate (VNQ, ICF)
15% U.S. Treasury Bonds (SHY, IEF)
15% Inflation-Protected Securities (TIP, IPE)

But in the Yale interview, he proposes a slight change that reduced real estate exposure in exchange for increased emerging markets holdings:

Today, Swensen says, economic conditions might call for a modest revision. He now recommends that investors have 15 percent of their assets in real estate investment trusts, and raise their investment in emerging-market stock funds to 10 percent.

This interview was printed in March/April 2009, so I’m not sure if you could call this performance chasing or not. I don’t follow his model asset allocation exactly anyway – I think the best idea is to read his excellent book and find out his reasoning for holding each asset class. The exact weightings you can hash out later. It definitely added another dimension to my investing views.

Model Portfolio #7: Unconventional Success by David Swensen

This model portfolio is taken from Unconventional Success by David Swensen. As mentioned before, Swensen is not a personal financial advisor, but is a respected institutional money manager who currently runs the Yale Endowment. In his book for individual investors, he writes that there are only a limited number of core asset classes in which one should invest in. Although he avoids giving specific asset allocation guidance, he does provide an “outline of a well-diversified, equity-oriented portfolio”, which is shown below.

Unconventional Success Model Portfolio Breakdown (Hurrah, I found my software disks so I can make pretty pie charts again!)

Asset Allocation For 70% Stocks/30% Bonds (with ETF examples)
30% Domestic Equity (VTI, IYY)
15% Foreign Developed Equity (EFA, VEA)
5% Emerging Markets (VWO, EEM)
20% Real Estate (VNQ, ICF)
15% U.S. Treasury Bonds (SHY, IEF)
15% Inflation-Protected Securities (TIP)

Commentary
There is a healthy portion devoted to real estate in the portfolio. The common way to track this asset class with REITs, which are considered a domestic stock. Instead of taking up less than 5% of the US stock market by capitalization, it is now taking up more than 40% of the domestic equity portion. I’m not really sure why there is so much, although he does write that if you own your home or other real estate, you may want to reduce your REIT exposure.

In addition, corporate and mortgage-backed bonds are left out, following his opinion that they aren’t the most desirable asset classes for individual portfolios due to added call risk and credit risk. (If you’ve been keeping up with the markets recently, it seems he may have been on to something here.)

As with all the model portfolios, the idea here isn’t just to follow any of them blindly. I do think it helps to see where different experts have similar components to their model portfolios, and where they differ. I also like breaking it down this way into pie charts of stocks-only and bonds-only in order to visualize them better.

See here for other model portfolios from respected sources, part of my incomplete Rough Guide to Investing.

Global Asset Allocation Book Review: Comparing 12+ Expert Model Portfolios

gaafaberI am a regular reader of Meb Faber’s online writings, and volunteered to received a free review copy of his new book Global Asset Allocation: A Survey of the World’s Top Asset Allocation Strategies. It is a rather short book and would probably be around 100 pages if printed, but it condensed a lot of information into that small package.

First off, you are shown how any individual asset class contains its own risks, from cash to stocks. The only “free lunch” out there is diversification, meaning that you should hold a portfolio of different, non-correlated asset classes. For the purposes of this book, the major asset classes are broken down into:

  • US Large Cap Stocks
  • US Small Cap Stocks
  • Foreign Developed Markets Stocks
  • Foreign Emerging Markets Stocks
  • US Corporate Bonds
  • US T-Bills
  • US 10-Year Treasury Bonds
  • US 30-Year Treasury Bonds
  • 10-Year Foreign Gov’t Bonds
  • TIPS (US Inflation-linked Treasuries)
  • Commodities (GSCI)
  • Gold (GFD)
  • REITs (NAREIT)

So, what mix of these “ingredients” is best? Faber discusses and compares model asset allocations from various experts and sources. I will only include the name and brief description below, but the book expands on the portfolios a little more. Don’t expect a comprehensive review of each model and its underpinnings, however.

  • Classic 60/40 – the benchmark portfolio, 60% stocks (S&P 500) and 40% bonds (10-year US Treasuries).
  • Global 60/40 – stocks split 50/50 US/foreign, bonds also split 50/50 US/foreign.
  • Ray Dalio All Seasons – proposed by well-known hedge fund manager in Master The Money Game book.
  • Harry Browne Permanent Portfolio – 25% stocks/25% cash/25% Long-term Treasuries/25% Gold.
  • Global Market Portfolio – Based on the estimated market-weighted composition of asset classes worldwide.
  • Rob Arnott Portfolio – Well-known proponent of fundamental indexing and “smart beta”.
  • Marc Faber Portfolio – Author of the “Gloom, Boom, and Doom” newsletter.
  • David Swensen Portfolio – Yale Endowment manager, from his book Unconventional Success.
  • Mohamad El-Erian Portfolio – Former Harvard Endowment manager, from his book When Markets Collide.
  • Warren Buffett Portfolio – As directed to Buffett’s trust for his wife’s benefit upon his passing.
  • Andrew Tobias Portfolio – 1/3rd each of: US Large, Foreign Developed, US 10-Year Treasuries.
  • Talmud Portfolio – “Let every man divide his money into three parts, and invest a third in land, a third in business and a third let him keep by him in reserve.”
  • 7Twelve Portfolio – From the book 7Twelve by Craig Israelsen.
  • William Bernstein Portfolio – From his book The Intelligent Asset Allocator.
  • Larry Swedroe Portfolio – Specifically, his “Eliminate Fat Tails” portfolio.

Faber collected and calculated the average annualized returns, volatility, Sharpe ratio, and Max Drawdown percentage (peak-to-trough drop in value) of all these model asset allocations from 1973-2013. So what were his conclusions? Here some excerpts from the book:

If you exclude the Permanent Portfolio, all of the allocations are within one percentage point.

What if someone was able to predict the best-performing strategy in 1973 and then decided to implement it via the average mutual fund? We also looked at the effect if someone decided to use a financial advisor who then invested client assets in the average mutual fund. Predicting the best asset allocation, but implementing it via the average mutual fund would push returns down to roughly even with the Permanent Portfolio. If you added advisory fees on top of that, it had the effect of transforming the BEST performing asset allocation into lower than the WORST.

Think about that for a second. Fees are far more important than your asset allocation decision! Now what do you spend most of your time thinking about? Probably the asset allocation decision and not fees! This is the main point we are trying to drive home in this book – if you are going to allocate to a buy and hold portfolio you want to be paying as little as possible in total fees and costs.

So after collecting the best strategies from the smartest gurus out there, all with very different allocations, the difference in past performance between the 12+ portfolios was less than 1% a year (besides the permanent portfolio, which had performance roughly another 1% lower but also the smallest max drawdown). Now, there were some differences in Sharpe ratio, volatility, and max drawdown which was addressed a little but wasn’t explored in much detail. There was no “winner” that was crowned, but for the curious the Arnott portfolio had the highest Sharpe ratio by a little bit and the Permanent portfolio had the smallest max drawdown by a little bit.

Instead of trying to predict future performance, it would appear much more reliable to focus on fees and taxes. I would also add that all of these portfolio backtests looked pretty good, but they were all theoretical returns based on strict application of the model asset allocation. If you are going to use a buy-and-hold portfolio and get these sort of returns, you have to keep buying and keep holding through both the good times and bad.

Although I don’t believe it is explicitly mentioned in this book, Faber’s company has a new ETF that just happens to help you do these things. The Cambria Global Asset Allocation ETF (GAA) is an “all-in-one” ETF that includes 29 underlying funds with an approximate allocation of 40% stocks, 40% bonds, and 20% real assets. The total expense ratio is 0.29% which includes the expenses of the underlying funds with no separate management fee. The ETF holdings have a big chunk of various Vanguard index funds, but it also holds about 9% in Cambria ETFs managed by Faber.

Since it is an all-in-one fund, theoretically you can’t fiddle around with the asset allocation. That’s pretty much how automated advisors like Wealthfront and Betterment work as well. If you have more money to invest, you just hand it over and it will be invested for you, including regular rebalancing. The same idea has also been around for a while through the under-rated Vanguard Target Retirement Funds, which are also all-in-one but stick with simplicity rather than trying to capture possible higher returns though value, momentum, and real asset strategies. The Vanguard Target funds are cheaper though, at around 0.18% expense ratio.

Well, my portfolio already very low in costs. So my own takeaway is that I should… do nothing! :)

Alpha Architect also has a review of this book.

$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment – One Year Update, Part 1

It’s finally been a full year since starting my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.

I’m splitting this summary up: Part 1 will focus on the Benchmark vs. Beat-the-Benchmark results. Part 2 will include the P2P lending performance. Values given are as of November 1, 2013.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I initially put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. With no minimum balance requirement, no maintenance fees, and no annual fees, I haven’t paid a single fee yet on this account. The portfolio used an asset allocation model based on a David Swensen model portfolio, which I bought and held through the entire yearlong period.

The total portfolio value after one year was $12,095, up 21%. Here’s how each separate asset class fared from November 1st, 2012 to November 1st, 2013 (excluding dividends):

  • Total US Stocks +$986 (+25%)
  • Total International Stocks +$588 (+15%)
  • US Small Cap Stocks +$150 (+30%)
  • Emerging Markets Stocks -$3 (-1%)
  • US REIT +$72 (+7%)

Screenshot of holdings below:

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$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – October 2013

Here’s the October 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.

As requested, I updated the scale to zoom in on the comparison chart.

Summary. 11 months into this experiment, the Benchmark and Speculative portfolios are both up between 15-20%. The Speculative portfolio is actually winning now ($12,071 vs. $11,723). I sold all my AAPL shares in September. Both P2P portfolios continue to earn interest and are still on pace for an 8%+ annual return, but the growth rate has slowed lately as late loans have been taking a toll. Values given are after market close October 1, 2013.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. With no minimum balance requirement, no maintenance fees, and no annual fees, I haven’t paid a single fee yet on this account. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio with a buy-hold-rebalance philosophy. Portfolio value is $11,723. Screenshot of holdings below:

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$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – September 2013

Here’s the September 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.

As requested, I updated the scale to zoom in on the comparison chart.

Summary. 10 months into this experiment, the Benchmark and Speculative portfolios have suddenly pulled neck-and-neck, with less than $25 separating them ($11,060 vs $11,083). Both US and Emerging Markets stock indexes have dropped recently, while my Apple shares have risen in anticipation of new product launches before the holiday season. Both P2P portfolios are still paying out competitive interest although late loans continue to pop up. Values given are as of September 1, 2013.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. With no minimum balance requirement, no maintenance fees, and no annual fees, I haven’t paid a single fee yet on this account. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio. Portfolio value is $11,060. Screenshot of holdings below:

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Betterment Bond Portfolio Asset Allocation Changes 2013

Online investment manager Betterment.com recently announced an upcoming change to their portfolio asset allocation, specifically their bond portion. Here’s a visual example of the ETF changes:


(click to enlarge)

I have mixed feelings about this change…

This is a fundamental shift in philosophy and it smells like performance chasing. The original allocation of 100% Treasury bonds (50% Nominal, 50% Inflation-Linked) likely came from David Swensen, as he is the Yale Endowment manager that supported the idea that you should own only the highest-quality bonds and take your risk on the stock side where your interests are aligned with the corporations. (With bonds, corporations and governments are trying to look as safe as possible even if they aren’t. This way, they pay lower interest rates.)

Now, suddenly they want to shift to a “broad global exposure” type of portfolio with lower credit quality and higher risk. Why now? Why was 100% US fine for 3 years but no longer? Perhaps because Treasuries and TIPS in general haven’t been doing that great recently? Perhaps because Emerging Markets bonds have had very high returns during that same period?

Still, it is following general industry movements. Vanguard has also added international bonds to their lineup of Target Retirement Funds. Many more international bond funds are available from many other providers. It appears that the costs for investing in international developed and emerging market bonds have dropped low enough that they can be indexed efficiently. I’m personally not convinced it is necessary and don’t own any international bonds myself, but I can understand the diversification argument.

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$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – August 2013

Here’s the August 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.

As requested, I updated the scale to zoom in on the comparison chart. You can view it the old way here.

Summary. Values are as of August 1, 2013. 9 months into this experiment, the passive benchmark portfolio remains the leader and if anything is widening the gap. My neglected speculative portfolio has been more volatile and also consistently behind the benchmark in this bull market. As for the P2P portfolio, it is starting to look like LendingClub may perform better than Prosper. Although my Prosper portfolio is earning slightly higher average interest, it also has significantly more late loans which has more than offset the higher interest. I’m slightly above 8% annualized return for LendingClub currently using my metrics, slightly below 7% for Prosper.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. Also no minimum balance requirement, no maintenance fees, no annual fees. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio. Screenshot, click to enlarge:

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$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – July 2013

Here’s the July 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.
1307_btmsummary

Summary. Values are as of July 1, 2013. 8 months into this experiment, the passive benchmark portfolio remains the leader despite a slight drop this month. The speculative portfolio has definitely been more volatile and is back to lagging again. As for the P2P portfolio, it is starting to look like LendingClub may perform better than Prosper. Prosper simply has more late loans in the pipeline, although I’m still hopeful for solid overall returns.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the most popular low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio. Screenshot, click to enlarge:

[Read more…]

$30,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Experiment Update – June 2013

Here’s a condensed June 2013 update for my Beat the Market Experiment, a series of three portfolios started on November 1st, 2012:

  1. $10,000 Passive Benchmark Portfolio that would serve as both a performance benchmark and an real-world, low-cost portfolio that would be easy to replicate and maintain for DIY investors.
  2. $10,000 Beat-the-Benchmark Speculative Portfolio that would simply represent the attempts of an “average guy” who is not a financial professional and gets his news from mainstream sources to get the best overall returns possible.
  3. $10,000 P2P Consumer Lending Speculative Portfolio – Split evenly between LendingClub and Prosper, this portfolio is designed to test out the alternative investment class of person-to-person loans. The goal is again to beat the benchmark by setting a target return of 8-10% net of defaults.
1306_btmsummary

Summary. Values are as of June 1, 2013. 7 months into this experiment, the passive benchmark portfolio remains the leader although last month it was pretty flat. The speculative portfolio is bouncing back quite nicely, almost matching the benchmark portfolio. The P2P lending portfolio is still rather young, but I’m satisfied with the current trend of having 5 out of 450+ loans that are over 30 days late.

$10,000 Benchmark Portfolio. I put $10,000 into index funds at TD Ameritrade due to their 100 commission-free ETF program that includes free trades on the best low-cost, index ETFs from Vanguard and iShares. The portfolio was based loosely on a David Swensen model portfolio. Screenshot, click to enlarge:

[Read more…]