Evidence is Beating Advertising

I mentioned earlier that the internet itself disrupted bad active management, rendering it no longer a viable business model.

The flows data year-to-date bear this out quite visibly, according to Bloomberg’s Eric Balchunas:

This demonstrates that evidence-based investing is winning out over multi-million dollar marketing programs.

The web spreads the evidence like a virus and minds are changed one by one. Belief in the old ways falters month after month. Hard data trumps feelings and superstitions. Investors gradually come around to the “cost matters” hypothesis and portfolios are rearranged accordingly. Professional advisors stagger over the Fiduciary border and leave their old baggage on the ground as they cross.

The realization that how one acts is more important than manager selection shines through like a ray of sunlight. Once it hits your face, it’s hard to turn away, to turn back.

A mass awareness of the effects of fees, taxes and trading costs begins to take center stage when decisions are being made.

Dalbar studies, SPIVA updates, dollar-weighted performance charts and articles about the behavioral failures of the Masters ricochet back and forth between email inboxes and social media accounts. Blog posts from the enlightened or the disabused descend as though from the sky above, alighting on the shoulders of millions, whispering directly into their ears.

Apathy about alpha rolls over the town like lava, melting the old passions away and leaving a cooled, calculated mood in its wake. “I get it now. What I’ve been pursuing all these years takes a heavy toll and may not even exist in a usable form.”

Even within the hedge fund flows, there is something interesting going on – the outflows have slowed somewhat as quantitative funds (the evidence-based alternative to traditional long/short, macro, etc) actually take in net new money. People are willing to pay for performance (or the potential thereof) but only in the presence of a mathematical explanation for why it ought to be possible (probable?). Storytelling and pedigree are less alluring now.

The idea of turning information asymmetry into outperformance, the alchemy of finance as Soros calls it, is a less popular one than “Look, just get me through this.” Investors have traded in what hasn’t historically worked for them with what historically would have worked, had they known earlier. It started slowly, and then all at once.

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“Alchemy, however, is a chaste prostitute, who has many lovers but disappoints all and grants her favors to none. She transforms the haughty into fools, the rich into paupers, the philosophers into dolts, and the deceived into loquacious deceivers …”

– Johannes Trithemius

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