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The Results of Lazy Investing

After finding my post about “lazy investing”, a reader of The Third Pig suggested following such an approach would eventually lead to financial ruin. The reader suggested to be a successful investor one had to be unnaturally gifted in analytic ability and/or spend countless hours researching and trading his portfolio. I cannot speculate on where this reader developed his point of view but what I can say is the evidence does not support him. Warren Buffett has often said that successful investing requires three things: a 5th grade understanding of mathmatics, a sound investment philosophy and the right temperament. Never does he say you have to be a genius or you have to stay up all hours a night trading your portfolio.

Legg Mason Capital Management performed a study in an attempt to find the common characteristics of mutual funds that beat the S&P 500 Index during the period of 1992 to 2002. What was found was a few common attributes of the outperformers which are strickingly similar to a lazy investing approach. Those funds were/are/have:

  • Portfolio concentration: These portfolios have, on average 37% of assets in their top-10 holdings, versus 24% for the S&P 500 and a 28% median for all U.S. equity funds.
  • Portfolio turnover: As a whole, this group of investors had about 30% turnover, which stands in stark contrast to turnover for all equity funds of 110%. They are truly, lazy investors (how we like to define it).
  • Value Investment Style: Most if not all of the funds listed seek stocks with prices that are less than their value. These fund managers recognize that price and value are not the same, often diverge and then converge again. They take advantage of this consequence of investing in the stocks of companies.
  • Off Wall Street: Only a small fraction of high-performing investors are located in the financial centers of New York or Boston. There location allows them to quiet the noise of Wall Street, dampening the temptation to trade frequently or with reckless abandon. They can take a more methodical and rational approach.

The chart below shows how some of those funds have fared against the S&P 500 in the 10 years ending September 30, 2009. As you can see, most of them beat the market and had positive returns in a period that experienced the worst economic times since the great depression. Oakmark Select in particular had a bad run as a result of owning a large piece of Washington Mutual during the subprime crisis (article) but it hardly mattered over the long term. The funds that didn’t have been a little more volatile than the market and measured over different but similarly long periods, also outperformed the market. Although I cherry-picked the funds I follow most, the sample is representative of the group listed in the Legg Mason white paper.

Following this approach, our Core Model Portfolio Average has performed well over a similarly long period of nearly 7 years (ending 9/30/2009) returning an annualized 10.7% versus the S&P 500’s 3.8%. Bottom line, it pays to be lazy when it comes to investing.

Disclosure: I and the clients of Brick Financial Management, LLC did not own shares in any of the the companies or funds mentioned in this post at the time of this writing. But positions may change at any time.

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