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Three Reasons to Consider Index Funds

Fed Up With High Prices? July Opened A Window of Opportunity

July 31st: More Sellers than Buyers

Late July Muni Minutes

Contributing to the Active vs. Passive Debate: The Grand Launch of the SPIVA® Europe Scorecard

Three Reasons to Consider Index Funds

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Priscilla Luk

Managing Director, Global Research & Design, APAC

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Indexing is an investment approach which simply tracks an index to provide exposure to a market or segment of a market. For the three reasons listed below, it may be a viable complement or substitute to actively managed investments.

Firstly, indices outperform the majority of actively managed funds. The SPIVA Australia Scorecard, which is published twice a year, tracks the number of actively managed Australian mutual funds that were outperformed by their comparable benchmarks over different timeframes. The year end 2013 SPIVA Australia Scorecard showed that benchmark indices outperformed the majority of their comparable actively managed funds over three- and five-year horizons. Similar findings are also observed in the U.S., Canada and Europe SPIVA Scorecards.

Percentage of Active Funds Outperformed by the Comparable Index

Secondly, winning streaks don’t often last. We observed that only very few Australian actively managed funds were consistent top performers. Out of 95 top-quartile-performing Australian Equity Large-Cap funds as of December 2009, only 3.2% managed to remain in the top quartile by the end of December 2013. In the US, less than 1% of domestic equity funds that began as top-quartile performers in March 2010 ended up in the top quartile almost four years later, as shown in the Persistence Scorecard published in June 2014.

Performance Persistence of Australian Active Funds Over Five Consecutive 12-Month Periods

Lastly, indexing generally offers lower costs, greater transparency and portfolio diversification. Index-linked products generally have lower management and administration fees and no commissions. There is also less turnover in ETFs than in most actively managed funds, resulting in lower trading costs and fewer taxable events, such as capital gains distributions. All of these reasons contribute to the cost of investing in an ETF being less expensive than the cost of investing in actively managed funds.

Compared to active funds, ETFs are typically more transparent as most ETF providers update ETF performance and constituent lists every trading day on their websites, whereas most actively managed funds only publish a selection of their holdings on a monthly basis. Indexing also provides more portfolio diversification as each index can track hundreds–even thousands–of securities, which reduces a portfolio’s dependence on single investments.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Fed Up With High Prices? July Opened A Window of Opportunity

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Jodie Gunzberg

Managing Director, Head of U.S. Equities

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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After much economic activity this week, the Fed announced inflation moved “somewhat closer” to the objective and is showing signs of firming after running below its 2% target for the past two years.  In the last June report from the United States Department of Labor, food prices continued to increase although at a slower pace and unleaded gasoline prices had the biggest increase since March 2013. 

The Commerce Department reported earlier Wednesday the economy grew at a 4% annual rate in the second quarter, bouncing back after a 2.1% first quarter contraction driven by bad weather.  The combination of a growing economy and bad weather was great news for commodities in the first half of the year as evidenced by the 5.7% increase in the S&P GSCI through June. That all changed in July.

July 2014 was the worst month for commodities since May 2012. The S&P GSCI lost 5.3%, giving up almost its entire gain for the year, now positive only 11 basis points YTD. The DJCI also had a big loss of 4.9% that pushed it into negative territory for the year, down 39 basis points.

While this is not good news for commodity investors, this might be the relief consumers need to keep their wallets from shrinking. Energy and Agriculture were the two worst performing sectors in July, down 5.8% and 8.7%, respectively in the S&P GSCI. Energy was down even more, losing 6.7%, in the DJCI from its heavier weight in natural gas that lost 13.7%, the most since March 2012. However, agriculture fared slightly better in the DJCI than in the S&P GSCI losing 7.2% from its bigger weight in soybeans, which lost 6.5%, less than wheat and corn – plus coffee was up another 11.4%, bringing its YTD total up to 68.9%.

Although not the biggest loser in the index or the most heavily weighted, one of the most important commodities that we all care about is unleaded gasoline. Prices at the pump have been brutal, as I mentioned above that the government reported the biggest price increase since March 2013. If the S&P GSCI or DJCI Unleaded Gasoline is any indication of prices we may see, the -8.1% spot return was the 5th worst July on record since 1988 and may provide some indication of price relief at the pump. It is also the worst July since July 2008, when after the index drop, the CPI data showed a drop in price increase from 4.090 in July 2008 to 1.689 by Dec 2008.

Further we have been discussing the impact of climate change (and potentially el nino) on food prices, where food processors have been running out of choices (substitution and buying ahead) to keep food prices down for everyday consumers like you and me.  The result has been higher prices at the grocery store. This happened from the destruction of the agriculture and livestock chain from the freezing weather in Q1. Now after the decline in July from perfect weather that brought down the grains, the agriculture is priced the lowest since July of 2010.

Fed up with high prices
Source: S&P Dow Jones Indices. Data from July 2009 to July 2014. Past performance is not an indication of future results.

This may open a window of opportunity for food processors to purchase cheap ingredients ahead of further price spikes that may happen from an el nino and climate change. Then, we may see lower prices again at the grocery store.

 

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

July 31st: More Sellers than Buyers

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David Blitzer

Managing Director and Chairman of the Index Committee

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Stocks closed down today with the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrials both down 1.8% despite yesterday’s stronger-than-expected GDP report, numerous earnings reports which beat Street expectations and no hints of early interest rate moves from the Fed.  Bearish or negative news stories weren’t much different from the day or week before – unrest in the Middle East, sanctions on Russia in response to fighting in the Ukraine and an on-going argument between Argentina and a hedge fund over debt.  There was no single event to send the market down for the worst loss in years.

Fear, greed, anxiety and the madness of crowds really do drive markets.  While it is often possible to cite shifts in the economy, corporate earnings or political events for market moves that extend over months or years; short term day-to-day shifts are driven as much or more by emotion than by reason and news. Robert Shiller, the author of Irrational Exuberance, describes surveys of investors down in the days following the 1987 market crash.  Clearly today’s dip is nothing like the 1987 event when the S&P 500 dropped over 20% in a day, but then investors couldn’t point to a news story or major event that sent the market plunging.  The most common news stories cited by investors were about falling stock prices, not some external change in fundamentals or the economy.

Was today’s drop driven by emotion or anxiety with little news or analysis of fundamentals?  The market has drifted in the last few days and closed flat on the best economic news in the last few years. The chart shows a rise in the frequency of searches for the phrase “stock market bubble” on Google Trends and the biggest news story seems to be a lack of action in the Congress.  It will take several weeks or months to see if today’s drop was caused by more worried people selling than confident people buying.  Unless news and the fundamentals turn much worse the best explanation may be simply worried investors.

Period Shown 11/2013 to 7/2014
Period Shown 11/2013 to 7/2014

Google Trends shows the relative frequency of searches for specific terms.  The letter A indicates the publication of an article in Forbes on Where to Invest When the Market Bubble Bursts.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Late July Muni Minutes

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Tyler Cling

Senior Manager, Fixed Income Indices

S&P Dow Jones Indices

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Long-term bonds have posted solid gains thus far in 2014, with rates holding low longer than most expected. The composition of the municipal bond market is heavily weighted with short duration bonds. The looming sentiment of rising rates and inflation has investors focused on reinvestment risk; however, a supply imbalance systemic of voters’ hindrance for governments to take on additional debt has municipals as a whole outperforming their peers. This is demonstrated in the S&P Municipal Bond 20-Year High Grade Index which has a YTD return of 14.29% due to low rates & short supply.

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In a year of record corporate bond issuance from low cost/easily available financing in an environment where investors are looking anywhere for high-yield returns, corporates are under performing. The S&P U.S. Issued High Yield Corporate Bond Index has a YTD return of 5.05% compared to the S&P Municipal Bond High Yield Index which is 9.23%. The raw yield statistics can be misleading when considering tax implications, where the S&P Municipal Bond High Yield Index has a tax equivalent yield of 9.86%, far superior to its corporate bond counterpart of 5.26%.

The heavily short-term weighted muni market is showcased in the broad market S&P Municipal Bond Index, which tracks over 75,000 bonds. The S&P Municipal Bond Index has a modified duration of 4.84 compared to 12.08 as seen in the S&P Municipal Bond 20-Year High Grade Index. Duration asserts not only the timeliness of cash flow repayment, but also the price volatility to interest rate changes. While the market prepares itself for rate inflation, those positioned for stagnant rates (long duration) have been benefiting.

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Generally, all munis are surpassing analysts’ expectations in 2014, however, not all munis are created equal. High performing Tobacco bonds are up 11.26% YTD which can be seen in the S&P Municipal Bond Tobacco Index, whereas Puerto Rico bonds in the S&P Municipal Bond Puerto Rico Index continue to underperform at 4.37% YTD.

For a look into this week’s economic indicators, please refer to my colleague Kevin Horan’s recent post.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.

Contributing to the Active vs. Passive Debate: The Grand Launch of the SPIVA® Europe Scorecard

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Daniel Ung

Director

Global Research & Design

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Following the success of the SPIVA publications in the U.S. and elsewhere, we have decided to launch a similar publication for Europe to shed some light on the ongoing active vs. passive debate.  Similar to the publications in other regions, SPIVA Europe will be published twice a year; mid-year and at the end of the year.

Let’s have a look at the results of the past year.

Euro-Denominated Equity Funds
The past year saw a strong rebound of the European equity markets, as measured by the S&P Europe 350®, which posted an impressive 21% gain.  Over 1-year, 3-years and 5-years, most actively managed funds invested in European and Eurozone equities underperformed. This was equally true for both global equities and emerging market equities, which would have been expected to outperform their respective benchmarks in conditions of heightened volatility and wide return dispersion.

GBP-Denominated Equity Funds
The significant majority of the U.K. and European actively managed equities funds have posted better returns than the benchmark.  This success was not repeated when it came to international funds, emerging market funds and U.S. funds, over the short-term and the long-term.

The posts on this blog are opinions, not advice. Please read our Disclaimers.