John Authers at the Financial Times writes about a survey carried out Harvard, Columbia and NYU academics looking at the investment behavior of the ultra wealthy retail investor. They look at the period from 2000-2009, monitoring the buys, sells and holds of 115 wealthy investors with an average net worth of $90 million.
Of all the conclusions they had come to, the most interesting one is that despite all of their high-cost advisors and celebrity fund managers (there were 450 investment managers working with the families in the study) and access to the best of everything available, they still managed to lose MORE money than the market during the recent crisis.
People are people, in the end, and no one is safe from the swiftness with which overconfidence turns to panic.
The fascinating question, however, is how they behaved under the extreme stress of the 2008 financial crisis. And they did not show up well. This was one time when rebalancing would have been a great strategy, because it would have forced them to buy stocks near their bottom in the dark months after the Lehman bankruptcy.
But on average, the stock in wealthy investors’ portfolios tended to fall by more than the market during the crisis, meaning they had suspended their regular rebalancings and had instead sold even more stock. Some may have been forced to do this by calls from private equity funds for more money, which their investors were obliged to provide during the worst of the crisis.
The median wealthy investor had just as much in cash in mid-2009 as in mid-2007. There was no great move to take evasive action in the months before the disaster unfolded.
No one who’s worked on The Street for a few cycles is really surprised by this, even if it does continue to fascinate.
Everybody gets killed sometimes. First Class on the Titanic is still on the Titanic, after all. Being locked up in illiquid nonsense and suspending correct behavior like rebalancing will certainly wreck even the smartest, most resource-rich investor when the storm comes.