Zweig: Cheaper Share Prices Can Be an Illusion

When ETF shares appear to be trading at a discount to the index of stocks they hold, according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal by columnist Jason Zweig, “the apparent bargain is an illusion.” “Stock indexes, and by extension the funds that are based on them, are averages,” writes Zweig, adding, “Investment regulators say that fund companies are free to calculate and report an average valuation any way they wish, so long as it doesn’t mislead or deceive investors. So you should pay attention to how these funds report valuations.” Zweig cites examples of firms and the […]

Jason Zweig: Prepare Rather Than Worry About Increased Volatility

The low volatility currently seen in the market is causing concern for many portfolio managers, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jason Zweig. Zweig says many investors share the view of portfolio manager Brian Singer of William Blair & Co. who argues: “The global market’s ongoing low volatility should be unsettling for investors.” And, while Zweig conceded that the VIX (CBOE Volatility Index) is “brushing lows set nearly a quarter-century ago,” he’s not convinced that the worry is warranted. He points out that the VIX is only about 30-years old and that stocks have “fluctuated in a […]

Zweig Talks Color and Investor Behavior

New research shows that color can have a significant influence on investor behavior, writes Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article. According to Zweig, researchers have found that “seeing red has a drastic effect on how people view investments.” One part of the research, says Zweig, shows that when investors looked at charts of stocks in the S&P 500 index with falling prices and predicted how the shares would perform in the subsequent six months, “those who saw charts in red, rather than black, projected significantly lower returns.” The findings, says Zweig, supports economist Richard Thaler’s theory that […]

Zweig: The Challenge of a Smaller Stock Pool

For stock pickers, choosing among a smaller universe of stocks is much more difficult, writes Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Zweig cites data from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business showing that the number of publicly traded equities has dropped from 7,355 in 1997 to the current level of less than 3,600. The decreased number of stocks, writes Zweig, is attributable to regulatory tape (that makes it tougher for smaller companies to go public), the large sums of venture-capital funding available (so smaller companies can stay private for longer periods of time), and the increase […]

Small Companies on the Decline, says Zweig

The number of publicly-traded companies has declined by half over the past two decades, with most of the decrease attributed to the smallest companies, writes Jason Zweig in last week’s Wall Street Journal. Zweig questions, however, whether this is making it more difficult for “stock pickers to beat the market and for investors to forecast future returns from past data,” an assertion the columnist made in an earlier article. Zweig cites comments from AQR partner Ronen Israel: “That part of the universe is so small that it doesn’t really affect most portfolio managers because they can’t invest there anyway.” Israel […]

Zweig: Overseas Stock Investment Could Have Significant U.S. Exposure

A new study in the Financial Analysts Journal finds that investors can improve returns by buying international equities based on where they do most of their business rather than where they are headquartered. This according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jason Zweig. Zweig offers several examples including Infosys, the second-largest holding company in many India funds, which does “more than 60% of its total sales in North America and only 3% in its home country.” He cites comments by Murray Stahl, chairman of investment firm Horizon Kinetics, who says, “Decades ago, more companies did the bulk of their […]

Jason Zweig: Use Simple Tests Before Investing in a Quant Fund

In a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig offers some tips on how an investor can devise his own quant strategy. “Perhaps it is cheaper to learn from the quants than to hire them,” he argues. Zweig shares findings of a Duke University group of researchers that found, during the period from 1996 to 2014, “systematic funds (which describe themselves with such words as ‘algorithmic’, ‘computer-driven’, or ‘statistical’) performed about the same as traditional ‘discretionary’ funds that claim to use human judgement to pick holdings.” The complex algorithms used by many of Wall Street’s quants, Zweig suggests, […]

“Superstocks” Like Amazon are Hard to Find

Scoring a winning stock such as Amazon is exceedingly hard to do, writes Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article. While it might not be useless to try, Zweig argues, “many investors are going about it the wrong way.” Zweig explains that, from 1926 through 2015, Amazon was one of the mere 30 stocks (out of 25,782 publicly traded companies) that accounted for one-third of the cumulative wealth created by the U.S. stock market. He cites data provided by finance professor Hendrik Bessembinder (of Arizona State University) showing that only 0.33% of all companies in the U.S. stock […]

Jason Zweig Says Active Managers Also Underperform in Down Markets

Although the data continues to show that stock pickers have underperformed the market, writes Jason Zweig in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “active managers insist that they will make a comeback.” The article cites data provided this month by Bank of America Merrill Lynch that shows “63% of active fund managers investing in large U.S. stocks outperformed their benchmarks in April, the best since February 2015.” Active managers, writes Zweig, claim that the pricey market has made it difficult to pick winners, but that they will “prove their worth again when the market finally goes down.” However, he argues […]

Jason Zweig on Potential Quantitative Model Crisis

A Ph.D. in Economics and former senior risk manager for Bridgewater Associates, Richard Bookstaber argues that while human judgment along with quantitative modeling can lead to better results than either alone, “when humans put blind faith in quantitative models, that’s dangerous.” This according to Jason Zweig in this month’s Wall Street Journal. The article discusses Bookstaber’s new book, The End of Theory, in which the author argues that computers and mathematical models perform well when drawing from historical data on the assumption that “variables will behave in the future the way they did in the past.” However, Zweig writes, “a […]

Zweig: Emerging Markets Look Good, But Don’t Rush In

Funds are pouring into emerging market funds, with one-twelfth of total holdings having come in over the past 90 days, writes Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal. Presumably, he says, the heavy inflow is in “hot pursuit of high recent returns” (the asset class is up 12.4% this year). While participating in these funds is a good idea, Zweig says, investors should be careful not to rush in. “These stocks aren’t so much absolutely cheap as relatively cheap,” he argues. According to Chris Brightman, chief investment officer at Research Affiliates, emerging markets are “half the price” of U.S. stocks. […]

WSJ’s Jason Zweig on American Capitalism

The notion of capitalism as a mechanism in which “fat and happy” companies become acquisition targets is changing, writes Jason Zweig in last week’s Wall Street Journal. Zweig cites new research that shows “U.S. companies are moving toward a winner-take-all system in which giants get stronger, not weaker, as they grow.” A few “superstar firms,” he says, have evolved to dominate and crowd out competitors. Twenty years ago, he writes, the U.S. had more than 7,000 public companies, and today there are fewer than 4,000. Between 1997 and 2014, for example, Zweig says that the real estate sector has seen […]

Zweig: Guard Against Following the Herd

Given the market’s currently stretched valuations, optimistic investors should be on their guard, says Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal. Zweig discusses new findings that show how the confidence of others can influence an individual’s decision-making to a larger degree than their own can. According to a recent report in the Journal of Neuroscience, there is a particular region of the human brain that monitors how positive other people are about their choices, writes Zweig. Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, a psychologist and leader of the study (conducted at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom) explains, “The human brain has […]

Zweig Says Fees Should be Linked to Performance

The practice by many fund managers of charging flat fees to clients regardless of their performance isn’t fair to investors, says Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal. The tides are changing, he says, but not quickly enough. Federal law allows a mutual fund to raise fees when it outperforms, but only if it lowers fees by the same amount should it underperform (a so-called “fulcrum fee”). However, Zweig writes, this isn’t the norm, and Warren Buffett seems to agree—in an email to Zweig, the Oracle said he plans on “writing extensively about fees” in his widely-anticipated letter to Berkshire […]

Jason Zweig on Investing Fact Versus Fiction

The human mind seeks to “confirm its pre-existing beliefs while ignoring warning signs that we might be wrong,” writes Jason Zweig of The Wall Street Journal. He uses the example of the surprise Trump win to illustrate how people avoid admitting that they were wrong. “If it requires fibbing to ourselves,” writes Zweig, “so be it.” Psychologists define the brain’s tendencies using the terms confirmation bias and hindsight bias. The first drives us to find support for our pre-conceived notions, and the second compels us to believe that, once an outcome is known, we knew it was coming. Zweig writes, […]