Larry Swedroe, principal of an asset management company and investment book author, also posted his Lessons That 2008 Taught Us In 2008 on SeekingAlpha. It was a nice compilation that covered a variety of topics from active management to Madoff to your “Plan B”.
Here are some excerpts of a few lessons involving investing and your portfolio:
Don’t forget that companies that managed money themselves were often the victims this year!
Lesson 1: Neither investment banks nor other active managers (including hedge funds) can protect investors from bear markets. [...]
If their money managers could protect you, why did firms like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns go belly up and Merrill Lynch have to be rescued by Bank of America? It is in the best interest of these firms to manage their risks well. Yet, they have clearly demonstrated that they cannot. As evidence of their lack of ability to forecast events consider that in 2008 Lehman spent $751 million buying back its own stock at an average price of $49.60 and Merrill Lynch spent $5.27 billion buying back its stock in 2007 at an average price of $84.88.(2)
Lots of other historically renowned and recommended active managers had a bad year as well.
Lesson 6: One of the more persistent myths is that active managers can protect you from bear markets. In 2008, the hardest hit sector was financial stocks. Financials comprise a significant portion of the asset class of value stocks. As benchmarks for the active managers we can use the Vanguard Small Value Index Fund that lost 32.1 percent and the Vanguard (Large) Value Fund that lost 36.0 percent.
The following is a list of the returns of some of the actively managed mutual funds with superstar value managers, four of whom were named by Morningstar in June 2008 as their recommendations to run value superstars, their recommendations (those are noted with *): Legg Mason Value Trust lost 55.1 percent; *Dodge & Cox lost 44.3 percent; Dreman Concentrated Value lost 49.5 percent; *Weitz Value lost 40.7 percent; *Schneider Value lost 55.0 percent; and *Columbia Value and Restructuring lost 47.6 percent.
Of course, some actively managed value funds beat those benchmarks. However, how would you have known ahead of time which ones they would be?
Some did guess this would happen. But was it luck or skill?
Lesson 9: There is a great likelihood that each time there is a crisis, some guru will have forecasted it with amazing accuracy. But that ignores two important facts. The first problem is that even blind squirrels occasionally will find acorns. In other words, there are tens of thousands of gurus making forecasts all the time.