ISMS 37: Larry Swedroe – Pay Attention to a Fund’s Proper Benchmarks and Taxes

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In this episode of Investment Strategy Made Simple (ISMS), Andrew gets into part two of his discussion with Larry Swedroe: Ignorance is Bliss. Today, they discuss two chapters of Larry’s book Investment Mistakes Even Smart Investors Make and How to Avoid Them. In this fourteenth series, they discuss mistake number 26: Do You Fail to Compare Your Funds to Proper Benchmarks? And mistake 27: Do You Focus On Pretax Returns?

LEARNING: Always run a regression analysis against an asset pricing model on Actively managed funds have higher tax expenses than ETFs and mutual funds.


“If you want to see if an active manager is truly outperforming and their appropriate risk-adjusted benchmark, run a regression analysis against an asset pricing model on”

Larry Swedroe


In this episode of Investment Strategy Made Simple (ISMS), Andrew gets into part two of his discussion with Larry Swedroe: Ignorance is Bliss. Larry is the head of financial and economic research at Buckingham Wealth Partners. You can learn more about Larry’s Worst Investment Ever story on Ep645: Beware of Idiosyncratic Risks.

Larry deeply understands the world of academic research and investing, especially risk. Today, Andrew and Larry discuss two chapters of Larry’s book Investment Mistakes Even Smart Investors Make and How to Avoid Them. In this fourteenth series, they discuss mistake number 26: Do You Fail to Compare Your Funds to Proper Benchmarks? And mistake 27: Do You Focus On Pretax Returns?

Mistake number 26: Do You Fail to Compare Your Funds to Proper Benchmarks?

In Larry’s opinion, mutual funds lie about their performance or bend the facts to suit their needs. The SEC requires mutual funds to define their category, but it doesn’t tell them what is the proper benchmark. So, the mutual fund can choose a benchmark that is easier to beat than a more appropriate benchmark to make it look good. A classic example is that all small-cap funds almost always benchmark themselves against the Russell 2000, a small-cap index. However, the Russell 2000 is not a small-cap stock index. The Russell 1000 is the largest 1000 of the largest 3000. The Russell 2000 is the next smallest 2000 stock of the largest 3000.

Small-cap funds should be compared to a small-cap index, and large-cap funds should be compared to a large-cap index. The same is true about value and growth funds. Mark Carhart’s classic study of the mutual fund industry determined that once you accounted for style factors (small cap versus large cap and value versus growth), the average actively managed fund underperformed its benchmark on a pretax basis by 1.8% per year. For the 5-, 10-, and 15-year periods ending in 2000, only 16%, 16%, and 17% of actively managed funds outperformed the Wilshire 5000.

To avoid making this type of mistake, Larry says you should compare the performance of an actively managed fund against its appropriate passive benchmark. If you want to see if an active manager is outperforming and their risk-adjusted benchmark is suitable, run a regression analysis against an asset pricing model on

Mistake number 27: Do You Focus On Pretax Returns?

According to Larry, active managers, on average, are smart and generate gross alpha. The problem is that their costs far exceed their ability to generate alpha. One of the oldest studies found the average stock-picking fund added value with their picks by about 0.8%. But their expense ratio was about 0.8%. The trading costs were 0.7%. Also, the cost of holding cash adds up, so they underperform by over 1% yearly. So investors, even though they may have identified a manager with stock picking skills, will underperform appropriate benchmarks anyway. But the sad part is that taxes for the average taxable investor are often the most significant expense they face.

Robert Jeffrey and Robert Arnott showed the impact of taxes on returns in their study of 71 actively managed funds for the 10 years 1982-91. They found that while 15 of the 71 funds beat a passively managed fund on a pretax basis, only five did so on an after-tax basis.

Larry says that individual investors are beginning to awaken to the critical role that fund distributions play in after-tax performance. This has been one of the driving forces behind the rapid growth of ETFs index and other passively managed funds.

Did you miss out on previous mistakes? Check them out:

About Larry Swedroe

Larry Swedroe is head of financial and economic research at Buckingham Wealth Partners. Since joining the firm in 1996, Larry has spent his time, talent, and energy educating investors on the benefits of evidence-based investing with an enthusiasm few can match.

Larry was among the first authors to publish a book that explained the science of investing in layman’s terms, “The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You’ll Ever Need.” He has authored or co-authored 18 books.

Larry’s dedication to helping others has made him a sought-after national speaker. He has made appearances on national television on various outlets.

Larry is a prolific writer, regularly contributing to multiple outlets, including AlphaArchitect, Advisor Perspectives, and Wealth Management.


Read full transcript

Andrew Stotz 00:02
thermo risk takers this is your worst podcast hosts Andrew Stotz, from a Stotz Academy, and today I'm continuing my discussion with Larry swedroe, who is head of finance and Economic Research at Buckingham wealth partners. You can learn more about his story in Episode 645. Larry deeply understands the world of academic research about investing and especially risk. Today we're going to discuss two chapters from his books, the book called investment mistakes even smart investors make and how to avoid them, you know, go to Amazon right now, and get that book because there's just so much value. But we're going to be talking about mistake 26, do you fail to compare your funds to proper benchmarks? And 27? Do you focus on pre tax returns? Larry, take it away?

Larry Swedroe 00:51
Well, the first one is, we're gonna talk about is how mutual funds in effect lie have used that word about their performance, or at least bend the facts to suit their needs. The SEC does require mutual funds to define their category. So let's say they define their category as small stocks. But it doesn't tell them what is the proper benchmark. So the mutual fund can choose a benchmark that is easier to beat than a more appropriate benchmark, and then they look good. So the classic example of this that I like to say, is all small cap funds, almost always benchmark themselves against the Russell 2000 A small cap index. Okay. So first thing we need to know is the Russell 2000 really is in small cap stocks. It's become a little bit more so today, but it's the way it's defined is the Russell 1000 is the largest 1000 of the largest 3000. And then the Russell 2000 is the next smallest 2000 stocks. And for now, one point we had like 8000 stocks, and you're only caption the top 3000. If you wanted really small cap stocks, you couldn't own the Russell 2000 Or you would miss them. And that's really where the biggest premium is. Okay. Historically, it's in the ninth and 10th 10th decile of stocks. So one way they could easily bench talk is to own smallest stocks, micro caps. And then because you're in the ninth and 10th decile of smallest stocks, you would, over time on average outperform, but it was much worse than that, because the Russell 2000, you know, was a really horrific index, it was dumbly designed so poorly. So that Vanguard for a long time views that as it's not just as benchmark, but that was the index, it was replicating. Now, they saw how bad it was, it was costing them and their investors one and a half 2% a year, because of the way the construction rules was set, that everyone knew in advance, which stocks would be added and subtracted. So the active managers hedge funds would front run whenever they knew Vanguard and all the Russell 2000 indexes would have to buy a stock because it was entering the Russell 2000. And that would drive the price up. And they would buy it, say two weeks or a month before. And Vanguard would come in and push the prices even higher. And when a stock was leaving, they would front run in short it and then Vanguard would come in and have to sell as well as others. And so the Russell 2000 dramatically underperform a very similar index like the s&p 600, or a more proper index might be the Chris in small cap index, or an MSCI 1750 index, which has better construction roles. So does Souder eventually convinced Vanguard to drop that and really then switch they think to their crisp index and then to the MSCI 1750, or vice versa? That's another example but we're not done yet. So another way to deal with this is we know that act of man managers tend to the word we use is style drift. So they use the name growth stocks. But that doesn't mean 100% of their portfolio is going to be growth stocks doesn't even mean that 100% of the portfolio, let's say they're in a large growth category, say by Morningstar, or it's called the large growth fidelity fund or whatever brand name, they probably own or can own small stocks. They can own value stocks. So what happens is something that became known in the financial community is Dunn's law is at work. So Steve Dunn was a lawyer who happened to be on websites, you know, on finance and investing 25 years ago, I met him there, he pointed the following out. When an asset class does well, index funds are going to generally outperform almost everybody because they're pure. So they only own let's say, value stocks far outperform. As they did say, in 2022, then, if any active fund on some growth, these stocks, well, they're gonna get killed relative to the benchmark. Or let's say small value outperform large value, which on average is done by call it 2% or more a year? Well, your your, you know, if you're a small value fund and active fund might own some mid cap value, some large value they style just so you're gonna underperform. But when the reverse is true, let's say you're a small cap manager this year, and you want some Tesla or Microsoft or Nvidia, well, now you've styled drifted. You didn't want those stocks, but they own them. And so now they'll outperform or have an advantage over an index, because the index doesn't own any of those outperformance. So, when an index that asset class does well, the index funds tend to outperform by wider margins and higher percentages than they do on average. And when the let's say this a year small value is doing poorly, relative to say large growth. Well, you know, the index of small value relative to active managers is likely to do poorly because they own Andhra percent of the worst performing asset class where somebody an active manager and small value may own 20%, or something like that of the other asset class. If you look at the data over the long term in every asset class, active managers even pre tax basis, underperform something 90 to 95% of the time. And the longer the time period was the odds. But if you look at short periods, you want to look at what the asset class did, and then see the relative performance and you have to be very careful about doing so the right way for investors to easily check this to see if an active manager is truly outperforming and appropriate risk adjusted benchmark, okay, is to run a regression analysis against an asset pricing model. And we've talked about this, I believe, before we had portfolio And you could just type in the fund symbol and use I use the AQR factors in a four factor, model cluding quality, and then look at the data. And then it'll tell you whether generated Alpha meaning app performance or underperformance relative to the appropriate benchmark. And that's how you can tell how a fund has done over whatever time period. But we know there's actually good literature on this good studies, funds, choose easier to beat benchmarks, ones that they can outperform either because it's a poorly designed benchmark, or they're going to tilt more to the factors. If you're a small value, they'll have lower market caps, and lower prices to book value, for example. And

Andrew Stotz 09:42
you wrap up this particular section by saying to avoid making this miss this type of mistake, make sure that you compare the performance of an actively managed fund against its appropriate passive benchmark, which I think what you're advising is you know, well, you'd hope that the fund is choosing the right benchmark by You know, they may or may not, but at least you

Larry Swedroe 10:02
know, yeah. So I think the best way to do it is either go to a portfolio visualizer, run the alphas and see whether it was positive or negative. The other way to do it is to compare their performance in an asset class to systematic manager like dimensional fund advisors, or Avantis. But the thing is, like I mentioned, they're going to be pure. And if your active manager isn't, and the asset classes done poorly, their style drifting a little bit, maybe it's locked or scale, we don't know. But they'll outperform because of that style drift. But over the long term, you would not expect that to be the case. And

Andrew Stotz 10:52
when you do the factor model in the portfolio, visualizer, it's going to show that the outperformance of that particular fund is driven by let's say, a large cap position versus small cap.

Larry Swedroe 11:04
So in effect, what you do is it shows you what I call the loadings. So what how much exposure do you have to that factor relative to the market. So, for example, you want small cap exposure, you want to have, you know, have a base of small cap beta of say, one, okay, you have full exposure to that factor. But you might look at a small cap fund, like Vanguard small cap index, and I don't know the numbers, but it might have a loading on that of point six. So you're only getting 60% of the exposure to that factor,

Andrew Stotz 11:48
like, and there's a couple of things that I thought about when I was reading this chapter. The first one is the idea that one of the questions I have is a typical fund manager, let's say that runs a concentrated portfolio, an active fund manager, and let's say that he's got 10 active share, you know, seven, you know, let's say 50%, of his portfolios in 10 stocks, and then he's got another 30 or something like that, whatever that number is, one of my questions I've always had in my mind is, let's say that that person, on average has a portfolio of 40 stocks, when you benchmark them against a passive index that owns all stocks, and then you calculate the standard deviation of the two portfolios, obviously, his portfolio, that's always going to have just 40 stocks versus the passive index, it's going to have, you know, 1000, stocks is always going to be on a risk adjusted return, you know, a clear winner will be the passive fund only because the passive fund has full diversification versus the active fund managers got, you know, 48. He's trying to outperform by focusing on 40 stocks. So I'm just curious, how do you look at the number of stocks that are in a portfolio, and the number of stocks that are in the benchmark that you're comparing to doesn't matter?

Larry Swedroe 13:14
Well, what you would expect is, the fewer the stocks, the higher the volatility, right. And we know that stock selection makes up a very minor portion of the returns over the long term, it's these exposure to factors that determine 95% plus of the exposure, so you're getting uncompensated risk. So you better get alpha, right? Because you could diversify away those risks just by owning the entire asset class, which is what the funds like dimensional, so you should expect to see higher standard deviations. Now, maybe they do a great job. And they choose low beta stocks within that asset class. So they tend to be less cyclical, for example. So you could get, you know, that kind of situation. So that might offset it. Right, that would give you exposure to say the quality factor, and that could lead you to miss understanding their performance. So that's one thing. The second thing you can look at is something called the R squared or the correlation coefficient. That'll tell you how good a job the model is doing, of predicting or explaining the returns. Now, the fewer the number of stocks, the lower that's likely to be larger number of stocks. You look like the market, you're going to get correlations in the high 90s.

Andrew Stotz 14:49
Looks like you're looking to characters tell us about the beta of the small camp or something like that. What do you

Larry Swedroe 14:56
so yeah, I'm looking. Just I know that A Vanguard small value symbol. So I was just going to look at the beta of that symbol. Why can't I? Let's see. Hold on, that's 1030 23 est, just one more second. Should Okay, here we go. So the van got, oh, it didn't take a hang on. All right, that's it. So, the Vanguard fund as a loading on the size back, this is a small value font, it has a loading on the size factor of just under 50%. Now, if you want to own a symbol of fun, let's say you wanted more pure exposure, like I do. So you might own the Bridgeway. Small value fun. Alright, so now we could look at that. And we find that it's exposure is one. And by the way, it's loading on the value factor. Why isn't it shown here? So the value factor, it's going to be point seven, one, and the Vanguard fun. Let's see what that is. So this is a good example we can use is only point five, two. So you losing significant exposures there. So if you get a year, like 2013, or 2016, when small value dramatically outperform Bridgeway is going to have much better performance than the Vanguard fund. Okay, when you get a year, like this year, I'm willing to bet that the Vanguard fund is going to outperform, and they will say, Well, it's a better fun, no, it's just a matter of what the factors did. During that period. It's

Andrew Stotz 17:18
like the race I just ran at the park the other day, it was just me against a 87 year old man. And I just I won. I mean, I have to say, it's just, you know, my skill and competence. And all of the work hard work I've put into my running abilities. Or maybe my benchmark was just a little off. I have another question about this, that, given your history with the market, I thought we'd be the perfect person to answer this question. And that question is, I went to see the Wilshire 5000. to only find that there's 3500 companies in it. That's,

Larry Swedroe 18:04
that's to a great degree of function of Sarbanes Oxley, making it so expensive. To be a public company, when I was on the board of a private REIT that was going public, it was going to go public with less than 100 million valuation. Today, almost nobody goes public, unless you're like, the company that my firm is owned by waited till they were over a billion dollar valuation, because the costs of being public have become so high. All the audit fees and complications, everything. So what's happened is those companies are staying private. And that means a lot of the smallest stocks which have higher long term returns, you know, you don't get to buy Tesla, let's say when it's a startup till it gets to be this huge company, and usually the greatest returns are when they're smaller, right? So that's another problem for investors who would like to seek those higher return? Let me just, I think this is worthwhile to walk down this path. Bridgeway if you look at their fun, or we just went through it, it's much smaller, small cap value fund, that at Bridgeway small value fund the symbol is BLS VX. Now there's an ETF for its BS vo but it's much smaller than Vanguards fun if you went to and looked at the portfolio's statistics, you would see for example, that the Bridgeway fund has a P E, for example of under eight and it's got an average market cap at, let's say, on under $900 million. So it's really small and very valuing. If we look at Vanguards small value fund, on the other hand, we could do the same thing. And in one second, we'll get those numbers. So the Bridgeway Fund had a PE we said of I think it was under nine, right? The Vanguard fund is over 10. That's a pretty significant difference. And the market cap, or maybe it was even under eight, the market cap is almost 5 billion, versus under 900 million. So now let's see what happened. So you get 2013. That was a year small cap value did really well. Yep. What should you expect to see which fund is going to outperform?

Andrew Stotz 20:56
Well, the one that has the most exposure to small cap value,

Larry Swedroe 21:00
that's Bridgeway, it was up 44%. And it outperformed the Vanguard fund by almost 8% 8%. In the same asset, there's no skill there. This is pure systematic investing on both parties. It just shows its exposure to these factors are what is determining your turn, if we look at 2016, the next year, small value dramatically outperformed, it was 34 and 25. cents 2022, small value loss nine for Vanguard only loss for for Bridgeway. But this year, Vanguards fund is ahead because small value is the lowest perform.

Andrew Stotz 21:45
There's so many, you know, these raises all the challenges for the typical investor. And of course, you know, you know, you have the sophistication to be able to, you know, identify this, where should the average person begin? I mean, first of all, they have a broad based diversified index fund, let's say total market fund, but they wanted to start to do a little bit of tilts, you know, but they don't have the capacity to look at every single different fund that's out there, where would you recommend that they

Larry Swedroe 22:14
start? Pretty simple, what you want to look for is one funds that are systematic, right, and their strategies are not only systematic, that transparent, so you know exactly what they're doing. They publish the strategy. And it's replicable. Right, so you know, that if the manager gets fired, it doesn't matter, though. It's like a machine running it. With a little bit of, you know, trading that goes on to try to keep transactions costs, a lot of it'll be algorithmic programming today, to save money on trading costs. And obviously, everybody's algo program be slightly different. So you won't get an exact replication. But these are low turnover funds anyway, what you really want to do is to look for the funds that have the deepest exposure. So I would use alpha and SR portfolio visualizer. There, and you there are only a handful of funds, families that are really the leaders in this systematic, they're more but you know, I use dimensional and Avantis as the two big players. Bridgeway has a niche and small value. There are other funds like BlackRock and others, but, you know, you can use Vanguard, but you're not going to get bigger exposure. Because Vanguards market is the average retail investor. And their fund might have, you know, 30 billion, you can't run 30 billion in a really small micro cap fund, because you would when you trade, you would drive price and so on. So they don't even want to look, they're very small. So that's one way. A simple way for those who aren't familiar with these terms, is just use Morningstar and go to the tab that says portfolio and look at the kind of metrics we looked at. My favorite ones are market cap and you want the smallest, all else equal. And then what you want is to look at value metrics. And you can look at things like price to cash flow, which not only shows value, but quality as well. So that's simple ways to do it. Or you could just take the model portfolio recommendations in my books. That's enough. Okay, you

Andrew Stotz 24:41
go there you go. Because not factories, there's only a small number of factors that are worth even spending your time on.

Larry Swedroe 24:47
Yeah, let's go over this is really important because a lot of people think small value funds, they're all like they're all index, I'm just gonna buy the cheapest one. So Vanguards fund is say eight base service points. And the Avant is fun, for example, I think is not in the 20s. So it's more expensive. But if you, let's say 20%, more loading on the size and value factors, and it's even more, as we said, well, if you think there's a 3%, premium on value and a 2%, or whatever on sighs, well, 20% of 2% is 40 basis points, and 20% of 3% is 60. So I'd be happy to pay another 15 or so base 20, to get a higher expected return of maybe 60 to 80 basis points, now, it was close. And I was only getting an extra 10 or 15, I take maybe the guaranteed savings for when you have much bigger numbers like that. And by the way, you get a much better diversification, because these things don't look like the market. So in years, like 2013, and 16, and 22, when the market is doing poorly, your fund might be doing a lot better. Might be it's not a guarantee.

Andrew Stotz 26:09
Yeah, it's interesting, because when you think about fees, the highest feed funds are pretty much guaranteed to be losers over the long run, but the lowest of the low at once you get down to the lowest of the low, there's trade offs related to what's the exposure that they're giving you. And if you're going to get a pure exposure to let's just say small value, you may have to pay a little bit more than a mass market fund like Vanguard, because they're just impossible at the amount of money that they're managing to have pure exposure to it. And there's a cost

Larry Swedroe 26:44
and the flip side is you're gonna have to pay more because the other fund doesn't have the economies of scale that Vanguard has. So I have to charge more. Because there are fixed costs cluding SEC fees and registration and all this kind of stuff. Counting audits, doesn't matter the size of the fund. So when you run a $30 billion fund, those fees are much smaller for the value on the assets of Vanguard can charge less.

Andrew Stotz 27:12
And I just want to wrap up on this by saying the kind of the tidbit also that comes out of this is that 100% of the growth in listed companies in stock markets is coming from outside of the US, the US is shrinking. The capitalist model of a free market to trade in stocks is disappearing in the US,

Larry Swedroe 27:38
oddly because of Sarbanes Oxley. But also I would say this, the amount of money available to private equity through private credit, which provides these LBO funds and stuff is dramatically increased. And that means there's a lot of these companies are either staying private longer through the ability to borrow from private credit, or they are being bought up and taken private, where they can save significant dollars. They don't have the expenses of being a public company anymore. And they don't have to worry about short term earnings and all that stuff, and can focus on longer term growth. So you're seeing some of that, but there's no doubt that we don't see really micro cap stocks going public anymore. It's just too expensive. This is the failure of government to understand the consequences of their decisions, that they don't see this unintended consequences. Well,

Andrew Stotz 28:42
it's no problem because there's been a free lunch. The free lunches, the Fed printed all kinds of money and produced extremely low interest rates that no other country could do. Because you as well as the reserve currency, they could keep interest rates down at one or you know, one 1% The Private Equity get a pool of capital at very low rates. So thanks to taxpayers, and citizens whose currency is ultimately probably devaluing because of the printing of money. They're paying for the rights and privileges of the private equity funds to get this local happens

Larry Swedroe 29:17
when governments run fiscal deficits. They don't want to increase taxes to offset the spending. And so how does it get paid for it gets paid for through inflation, but they're already gone often from their office. They're retired because inflation comes later.

Andrew Stotz 29:39
Yeah, so that's one of the benefits of emerging markets, too, is that they don't have the luxury of being able to print a huge amount of money and not cause a dramatic depreciation in their currency. So they're being checked by free market forces.

Larry Swedroe 29:54
They still do it. That's why you see Argentina. Turkey headed Evaluate it, you know, that doesn't prevent them. If the politics takes over, you get far left wing populist governments, then that's the inevitable end.

Andrew Stotz 30:11
Yeah. That we added another mistake, which was number 27, which is do you focus on pre tax returns? And maybe we could just talk briefly about that. I know that there's two ways to look at this. The first way is, say, for the average investor. This problem, as you've mentioned, to me, is kind of solved because now we have ETFs. But of course, there's still plenty of people doing active and trying to invest in active and that tax issue is still an issue. But maybe you could tell us just a little bit about what you discuss in this. Yeah. Well, the research

Larry Swedroe 30:42
shows, of course, that active managers aren't dumb. In fact, on average, they're smart, and they generate gross alpha. The problem is that in their stock picking and you know, market timing efforts, but the problem is that their costs far exceed their ability to generate alpha for a whole variety of reasons we discussed and I wrote about in my book, The Incredible Shrinking alpha. So just an example. This is a little bit oldest study that was done. I think it was Russ warmers who did it. He found the average stock picking fund added value with their picks by like 80 basis points. But their expense ratio was about 80 basis points. The trading costs was 70. That cost of holding cash which underperforms and of course, we were in an era when cash was paying something which it is once again, right? cost them money. And so they underperformed by over 1% a year. So investors, even though they may have identified a manager with stock picking skills will underperforming appropriate benchmarks anyway. But the sad part is that taxes for the average taxable investor is by far often the biggest expense that they face. In fact, there was a fellow named Ted Aronson, who was considered one of the great active value investors and managers for a long time, built up as tiny business to over 25 billion, I think. And he was asked the run any taxable accounts. So we refuse to accept them, even though we've been asked, because our hurdle for active management is so high, that adding the burden of taxes makes it quoting him virtually insurmountable. Unfortunately, the market caught up with him in the 20. And boom, his fun crash, and he shut it down, because almost all the investors had fled. So even his ability to generate alpha had disappeared, as the market have become more efficient.

Andrew Stotz 33:00
And just for people that don't understand ETFs, how is it that an ETF is able to reduce the tax burden on the individual investor.

Larry Swedroe 33:13
So this is a bit complex subject, but ETFs, what happens is when you're trading them, they're done through, if you go to sell them, right, someone has to buy them, they take it and they now destroy the you know, redeem those shares, and sell it in the marketplace. So they've got to sell those shares, when they go to buy one, if they're honest, they can create those just by buying the stock. So that's called the creation and redemption process. When they sell the shares, they can allocate the individuals tax slots, and they give the lowest basis stocks, lowest cost basis stocks, to what are called approved traders who aren't taxable and they don't care. So that's how they wash if you will, the capital gains treatment. So typically lease for the index and type low turnover funds. They hardly ever distribute much in the way of capital gains. But that's almost all of that money is passive or systematic index and Tidemark. There was some active funds, but most of them are passive. So here's a study that was done. Both covered a 10 year period, they looked at 71 funds that were that were alive in that period, and the impact of taxes, and they found that 15 of the funds had outperform on a pre tax basis, and five did so on an after tax basis. There was one period that was studied Morningstar looked at Just a five year period. Now, the longer the period, the bigger the impact of taxes becomes, in this period of five years, the average fund gained 92%, before taxes and 72%, after it lost a stunning 22%, or the returns over that short five year period. So you can see how high the costs can be. And the danger becomes things like you can have a bad year in a fun after, let's say, some good years. Now the funds going and now investors panic and sell because they're chasing performance. And so what is the fund have to do? And they got to sell stock to raise the cash. Yep. So what do they do, they're realizing capital gains, you get your fund is down 20%. And you get handed a 10% return of your capital, which is now tax. You can see you know, you see a lot of that and like last year.

Andrew Stotz 36:06
So, so going back to like, how does a person you know, protect themselves you had a thrown

Larry Swedroe 36:12
act of funds in taxable accounts, period, just don't do it. Unless, you know, you're using an ETF, then it might be, you know, okay, although I would tell you, you're betting against the odds anyway, unless the expense ratio is comparable to a passive strategy. Now you've minimized the hurdle. Because if the costs are comparable, then you only have the issuer trading costs. And of course, I would avoid a fund that had a huge amount of assets, because now it's going to look like the market. Or if it's going to concentrate, then it's going to big trading costs, because it's trading huge dollars in a small number of stock, secure, and everyone knows what they own. And when they see them coming in selling, the market is going to move against them.

Andrew Stotz 37:02
And when you talk before about different providers, whether that's Vanguard and dimensional or advantageous or I think you've talked about AQR in the past, or you think is, is what they're doing, are they funds? Are they ETFs? Are they both? And how do we

Larry Swedroe 37:17
depends on the fund family and what we're talking about. So a lot of what AQ quad does, is long, short strategies, and people only hold them in taxable, sorry, in tax advantaged accounts. They also run SMA accounts, so separately managed accounts. And they do some really interesting stuff, which I've written about where they lever up strategy. So instead of being 100%, long, they may be 150%, or 200%, long, and 100%. Short. So they go long value in short growth, instead of being just long value. Now, you know, with certainty, if you're long shot two different factors, you're going to have losses, right somewhere. So they're constantly harvesting losses. And so that can really have a huge impact, and be making the fun of your assets, much more tax efficient. And a cloud somebody, let's say, Andrew, you ran it, and you sold it for 10 million bucks, and you got this big capital gain. If when you sell those shares, you need losses, to help offset that. If you just sold a long only fund, you may never get it. But if you use this strategy, it's throwing off big losses. And we've helped clients literally save millions of dollars a year through that strategy. But now most of the fund families are converting, like dimensional is done there. And there are mutual funds into ETFs, or at least making a version of that available. Right now I'd rather own the mutual fund if it's in my IRA, because I don't pay any bid offer spreads. So you don't have the transactions costs.

Andrew Stotz 39:17
Right in the bid offer spreads are being paid in the ETF every

Larry Swedroe 39:21
time you buy and sell. And you know, it's not here's the mistake that people make while we're on that. They think that that's the only costs well, when you're buying your odds are great, you're going to be paying above the nav and when you're selling it'll be below the nav because the high frequency traders will be on the other side and they'll pick you off and that's just the way it goes. Well now you hope the spreads are narrow which depending upon the fund if it's trading the large cap s&p stocks the bid offer spreads over now, but when you get into things Like emerging markets or small value, the spreads can be wider and significant. So you don't want to own an ETF. You want to own a mutual fund. But, you know, if you have the option, now you want a hold. If you've got it in an IRA, you have money in your IRA, you can allocate to equities, then I would on the mutual fund, not the ETF. The ETF is for taxable accounts, really only.

Andrew Stotz 40:29
Well, amazing how much stuff we went through, we talked about, you know, looking at proper benchmarks and understanding the manipulations that are going on there, and how you can figure out yourself, what's the what what has the right exposure to the to the factor that you want, like such a small value. And now we've talked about, you know, we previously talked about the different costs related to investing. We talked in prior ones about operating costs, like management fees, and trading costs, and the cost of cash. And now we've talked about the cost of taxes, which, as you said, can oftentimes end up being one of the biggest costs of all. So I just think we should stop right there, because that's a lot to digest for the listeners. And Larry, I just want to thank you, again for another great discussion to help us create, grow and protect our wealth. And for listeners out there who want to keep up with all that Larry's doing. Follow him on Twitter, you will not be disappointed or follow him on LinkedIn. This is your worst podcast hose Andrew Stotz, saying, Larry's got one last word to put in Go for it.

Larry Swedroe 41:38
Yeah, I just wanted to let you know for your listeners. I wrote a piece last year about this time, called lies, damn lies and performance benchmarks. So you could probably find that on advisor perspectives, or just Google it. Add my name to it. It shows an example how, for example, institutional investors lie about their, their their benchmarks and create things that they look good to their constituents. Yes,

Andrew Stotz 42:13
I think I've found it on advisor perspectives and I'll show notes so that we can go there and learn more, a font of wisdom. I'm gonna wrap up by saying, I'll see you on the upside.


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About the show & host, Andrew Stotz

Welcome to My Worst Investment Ever podcast hosted by Your Worst Podcast Host, Andrew Stotz, where you will hear stories of loss to keep you winning. In our community, we know that to win in investing you must take the risk, but to win big, you’ve got to reduce it.

Your Worst Podcast Host, Andrew Stotz, Ph.D., CFA, is also the CEO of A. Stotz Investment Research and A. Stotz Academy, which helps people create, grow, measure, and protect their wealth.

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