A Guide to Better Public Market Investing
Public market investing has long been the choice for individuals seeking to grow their wealth by investing in stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments. Over the years, it has evolved significantly, and with the rise of technological advancements, it is crucial for investors to stay informed. This guide will delve into the intricate world of public market investing, the challenges it currently faces, and how to make informed investment decisions.
The Traditional Approach
Historically, public market investing meant building a diversified portfolio that aimed to minimize risk while maximizing returns. The late Vanguard Founder, John Bogle, advocated for a simple yet effective approach – investing in a low-cost, passively managed total market index. This approach gained immense popularity.
However, in recent years, the landscape of public markets has transformed drastically with the introduction of algorithms and rule-based investing. This shift has given rise to a surge in passively managed Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), which are designed to include companies based on the algorithms they follow.
A Crisis of Options & Quick Turnaround
With the proliferation of ETFs, investors often find themselves in a situation akin to searching for “Waldo” in a never-ending game, where the same companies repeatedly appear across multiple ETFs. This redundancy has led to challenges in diversification and has resulted in an overwhelming number of investment options.
The public markets have also been plagued by companies going public without rigorous due diligence, the proliferation of speculative funds, and the influence of social media on trading activity. In essence, public markets have turned into a chaotic circus.
The Beginning of ETFs
To understand the current state of public market investing, we must look back to the origins of Exchange-Traded Funds. The first ETF, known as SPDR (Standard & Poor’s Depository Receipt), was launched in 1993 by State Street Global Advisors. It tracked the S&P 500 index, offering a cost-effective way to invest in stocks.
Today, the ETF industry has expanded significantly, boasting over 8,500 ETFs worldwide with trillions of dollars in assets under management. Fund managers widely endorse ETFs for their transparency, lower costs, and superior tax efficiency compared to traditional mutual funds.
The Rise of Non-Traditional ETFs
The ETF industry has witnessed significant diversification, with various types of ETFs emerging, including broad-market, commodity, inverse, and leveraged ETFs. Some ETFs even utilize AI and NLP algorithms to select underlying companies, while others grant fund managers the power to influence these companies by directing proxy votes at board of director meetings.
Speculative investing entails high-risk investments with the expectation of high returns, often in a relatively short timeframe. Typically associated with hedge funds managed by expert fund managers and teams of subject matter experts, speculative investments involve continuous monitoring of companies and their price movements to achieve above-average returns.
In recent times, speculative ETFs have democratized the speculative nature of hedge funds, allowing retail investors to access these strategies. However, retail investors may lack the financial resilience of accredited investors, and the average returns on speculative ETFs have been disappointing, with an average return of -26%.
Companies have increasingly relied on AI and NLP algorithms to manage ETFs, aiming to reduce costs and enhance efficiency. However, the effectiveness of these algorithms is contingent on the quality of the training data and inputs. Public companies provide a wealth of data in SEC filings, news articles, and social media posts. Still, the low quality of this data can result in flawed decision-making.
AI/NLP-constructed ETFs may struggle to discern context accurately. For example, an ETF constructed to include companies mentioned in news articles related to “telemedicine” may include businesses that have only tangential connections to telemedicine, leading to suboptimal investment choices.
Activist ETFs leverage collective investor influence to sway the board of director meetings of the companies included in the ETF. Their goal is often to promote social responsibility within these companies, aligning them with principles like climate responsibility, diversity, equity, and inclusion, or religious beliefs.
While these initiatives have noble intentions, investors should be aware that prioritizing such principles may not necessarily result in higher financial returns. The primary objective of investing in an ETF is to grow one’s wealth.
The Limitations of Total Market Index ETFs
Total market index ETFs are designed to provide investors with a balanced and secure portfolio by owning diverse companies. However, they have limitations. In the past, investing in the entire U.S. market made sense because companies had to undergo rigorous due diligence processes through initial public offerings (IPOs) before going public.
Today, companies can go public through direct listings or special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) without the same level of scrutiny. This has led to financially unstable companies being included in total market ETFs merely because they are U.S. headquartered.
The Solution: Actively Managed ETFs
To navigate the complexities of today’s public markets and overcome the limitations of passive investing, many investors are turning to actively managed ETFs. These funds are managed by professional fund managers who follow specific investment theses to guide their decisions.
Actively managed ETFs can:
- Outperform the market
- Optimize the basket of companies for low-risk/volatility
- Only include specific companies in a particular sector, continuously vetted by an investment committee
The investment teams behind these funds comprise subject matter experts who continuously monitor the companies in the ETF and make informed decisions based on the latest information. This human touch can be invaluable, especially in situations where passively managed ETFs may inadvertently include unstable companies.
Despite the advantages of actively managed ETFs, they remain cost-effective, with an average expense ratio of 0.7%, making them a more affordable option than traditional mutual funds or financial advisors.
Taking an Active Role in Public Markets
In conclusion, the public market landscape has evolved significantly, and the rise of ETFs has introduced new opportunities and challenges for investors. While passive investing remains a popular choice, it’s essential for investors to consider actively managed ETFs as a viable option to navigate the unpredictability of the market.
Actively managed ETFs offer a human touch and the flexibility to respond swiftly to market fluctuations while maintaining diversification. They present an opportunity for investors to actively manage risk and potentially achieve higher returns.
In a world where the public markets resemble a circus of options, actively managed ETFs can be your trusted guide to better investing.