Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bogle & Buffett on Frictional Costs

John Bogle had the following to say in a speech earlier this year:

"Hedge funds (so-called; actually concentrated investment accounts which offer a wide variety of strategies) manage about $2.8 trillion of assets, at a cost equal to at least 3% of assets per year (300 basis points, an informed guess), generating some $84 billion in annual fees."

Vanguard manages roughly $3 trillion with roughly two thirds being index funds. Similar size but naturally much lower costs:

"The costs of supervising these index portfolios come to about $400 million annually, or 0.02% per year (two basis points)—less than 1% of the hedge fund rate. Administering the index funds and handling the accounts of some 15 million index shareholders costs another $1.2 billion, adding 0.06% (six basis points) to bring the aggregate expense ratio to eight basis points."

The ~ 300 basis point "informed guess" is primarily driven by the 2 and 20 compensation structure that is common to hedge funds. The above comments are not unlike those made by Warren Buffett -- in reference to his bet that a low-cost S&P 500 index fund would outperform a basket of hedge funds chosen by experts -- at the Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa) shareholder meeting earlier this year:

"The result is that after eight years and several hundred hedge fund managers being involved, the totally unmanaged fund by Vanguard with very minimal costs is now 40-something [percentage] points ahead of the group of hedge funds. It may sound like a terrible result for the hedge funds, but it's not a terrible result for the hedge fund managers."

Buffett also pointed out...

"We have two [investment] managers at Berkshire. They each manage $9 billion for us. They both ran hedge funds before. If they had a 2/20 arrangement with Berkshire, which is not uncommon in the hedge fund world, they would be getting $180 million annually each merely for breathing."

And then added:

"It's a compensation scheme that is unbelievable to me and that's one reason I made this bet."

So it comes down to this big difference in frictional costs to explain the results (so far) of Buffett's bet.

Investors in these high-cost funds are betting that, over many years, a capable manager can reliably outrun such a frictional cost headwind and that somehow those investors will be able to correctly pick beforehand who that manager is going to be. As Charlie Munger said at the same Berkshire meeting:

"There have been a few of these managers who've actually succeeded...But it's a tiny group of looking for a needle in a haystack."

The likelihood that a manager will do well ends up much higher than the likelihood those who actually put their capital at risk will do well.

It seems rather obvious that the system would be vastly improved if the opposite were true.

Tortured logic is required to explain why those who are putting their capital at risk shouldn't first be compensated sufficiently before vast sums are drained from their balance sheet.


Long position in BRKb established at much lower than recent market prices

Related posts:
Buffett on Active Investing
John Bogle: Arithmetic Quants vs Algorithmic Quants
Hedge Funds: Balancing Risk & Reward?
Index Funds vs Actively Managed Funds
John Bogle on Investor Returns
Buffett's Hedge Fund Bet
John Bogle's "Relentless Rules of Humble Arithmetic", Part II
Index Fund Investing Revisited
Charlie Munger on Complexity, Hedge Funds, and Pension Funds
Why Do So Many Investors Underperform?
When Mutual Funds Outperform Their Investors
John Bogle's "Relentless Rules of Humble Arithmetic"
Investor Overconfidence Revisited
Newton's Fourth Law
Investor Overconfidence
Chasing "Rearview-Mirror Performance"
Index Fund Investing
Investors Are Often Their Own Worst Enemies, Part II
Investors Are Often Their Own Worst Enemies
The Illusion of Skill
Buffett's Bet Against Hedge Funds, Part II
Buffett's Bet Against Hedge Funds
The Illusion of Control
Buffett, Bogle, and the "Invisible Foot" Revisited
If Buffett Were Paid Like a Hedge Fund Manager - Part II
If Buffett Were Paid Like a Hedge Fund Manager
Buffett, Bogle, and the Invisible Foot
Charlie Munger on LTCM & Overconfidence
"Nothing But Costs"
Bogle: History and the Classics
When Genius Failed...Again

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