Active funds: frequent underperformance, higher expenses and underrated risks

The scale of passive funds is growing. Passive funds now account for 32.5% of US assets managed in mutual and exchange traded funds. According to data from Morningstar, $223.1 billion outflowed from actively managed funds; meanwhile, passive funds saw inflows of $418.6 billion in 2015.

For the year 2015, 66.1% of large-cap managers, 56.8% of mid-cap funds and 72.2% of small-cap managers underperformed their relevant S&P US benchmarks. Over long time periods, 82.1% of large-cap funds and 88.4 % of small-cap managers fail to match their benchmarks. Of all the 678 domestic equity funds in the top quartile for performance over the year to September 2013, only 4.3% stayed in the top quartile by the end of September 2015. This means very low persistency. 

There are two ways to earn higher returns: to find an excellent manager or an unbeaten strategy or to reduce the cost. It is proven that the former is easier said than done. On average, active funds will roughly match the index before fees; that means that after fees, most of them will lose to the index. Style Research’s survey provided evidence for it. Among 425 global equity funds, 31% of them outperformed the MSCI World. Without taking any costs into account, however, 59% of representative samples beat the index. That is to say, 28% of funds charged too much to maintain the beat-the index performance.

For those that do manage to outperform, size can become a problem. Strong performance attracts more money and larger funds find it much harder to beat the market. A research by Stambaugh found that the scale also affects performance and that a more skilled large fund can underperform a less skilled small fund.

Is there no end to liquidity?

Central banks have flooded financial markets with liquidity since 2008.

But not all central banks and banks implemented QE policies immediately. UK and US led QE activities because their economies were heavily dependent on financial system.

The initiate intention is to stabilize financial markets and provide liquidity so banks will not fail. But I thought the priority was to support aggregate demand.

This causes some divergence between monetary policy and fiscal policy. In the United States, they deployed aggressive monetary policy action to support sustainable growth and to minimize financial market instability. The divergence arises from various government’s claim to reform tax for corporates, infrastructure spending and investment plans. This causes a disjoint between monetary and fiscal policy.

This leads to credit market explosion. In US, Fed’s balance sheet is now close to 25% of GDP. The case of Japan is even more unimaginable. Credit markets have doubled over the past 10 years. This is a rational response to liquidity and low rates.

The chart above shows that the structure of bond markets has changed. Bonds are now increasingly held by mutual funds and other types of funds. This means less market making. This also means most funds have now acclimatized to high liquidity situations.

The key concern is the impact on these investors when rates eventually increase?

Will they systematically face more volatility? Will there be sufficient liquidity to unwind? Aggressive monetary policies can create asset bubbles. This is especially so in equity and credit markets.

Based on basic Keynesian models, the governments of the world should support policies that increase aggregate demand. An example is investing in infrastructure projects that will increase spending. I am worried if the only plan is to continue increasing liquidity.

Today, I closed down my online tailoring site at

About 6 years ago, I had the idea that we could simplify the process of tailoring from measurements to designing. I found the best tailor in Malaysia and put together a website for this purpose. Users could see the design their shirt and see a prototype on screen. They could measure themselves. I provided a guide.

Growth was always weak. The site was built on PHP and JQuery. Making changes on the site was difficult. I understand code, but I am not a professional developer. After paying for development and all expenses, it became tougher to break even.

It was tough to trade off margins for growth. These were some practical challenges and I intend for this post to record some of these.

First, it was difficult to keep track of the fabric that was still in stock. The tailor would run out of fabric from time to time and I had to switch fabric pictures. It created a lot of pain for customers each time I email them to inform them ofstock outs.

Second, after considering logistics costs, the margins were too thin. We often underestimate cross border (Singapore-Malaysia) logistics costs. Customers don’t always see this.

Third, I was bad at marketing our services. I paid Facebook dollars, ran twitter and all major social media accounts. I spoke to friends. The highest conversation was word of mouth.

I had emotional moments when I was frustrated with coding issues and software problems. I reminded myself that I was a minimalist. I turned this pipe of problems off today. It was always painful to kill a project. Dealing with sunk cost mentality was painful. 

Today, I channel the time and effort saved on this project to getting better rest and to other ideas.

Productivity tips: Keep a notebook for all ideas and delegate extensively

Time is a crucial asset that you cannot regain once you’ve lost it

Say “no” to requests that don’t move you forward. Steve Jobs himself declared “Focusing is about saying no.” So don’t be afraid to be ruthless when it comes to tasks that aren’t relevant to your goals.

Nobody can be the best at absolutely everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses, so put your time into the things that you’re good at. The Pareto principle tells us that 80 percent of our results stem from only 20 percent of our actions. So, find that 20 percent that you’re brilliant at, and give it all your attention!

Delegate what can be delegated and work on the rest in a planned manner

Delegation begins with a few questions that require an honest response. How valuable is your task? Are you the only one that could do it well? If not, how could you make the process faster? If you have a task on your hands that isn’t urgent or is something you can’t do so well, it’s time to delegate.

The first of these may come as a surprise: stop using to-do lists. Think about it – half the items tend to stay incomplete, which leaves you with a daunting list of errands and nothing more than extra stress.
Meetings should be reduced to those that are absolutely crucial.

A notebook and a healthy rhythm are two simple but vital tools for your productivity

Paper notebooks are one of the most valuable tools for anyone aspiring to organizational excellence.

A notebook gives you a place to jot down advice, ideas, questions and conversations that come your way. This is a vital process that allows you to make and maintain plans.

Another strategy to keep your energy levels stable is starting the day right. Morning routines that make room for “me-time” can lift your productivity from the outset.

Billionaires often stress the obstacles that meetings pose to focus and workflow, and recommend limiting meetings to a bare minimum. The athletes, on the other hand, emphasize the importance of scheduling.

Rigid routine, particularly in the morning, is a popular strategy to combat an overloaded schedule. Many entrepreneurs considered multitasking as something to avoid, as it simply isn’t effective.

Stop getting cheated - Trading Courses

Trading is active work. It requires you to inspect the stock based on technical or fundamental analysis. Investing should be passive in nature, allow the stock to work when you are resting.

I understand it is tough to read through thousand words essays for trading nuggets. Here are some that I thought you might be interested to read.

Don’t act on impulse. Act based on a system.

From a period of dullness and inactivity, watch for and prepare to follow a move in the direction in which volume increases.

Primary Rule: Limit losses and ride profits, irrespective of all other rules.

Minimize the size of your position when market position is not certain.

Seldom take a position in the direction of an immediately preceding three-day move. Wait for a one-day reversal. This is known as swing trading.

When you take a position, feel free to use price orders. In closing a position, use market orders.

A move followed by a sideways range often precedes another move of almost equal extent in the same direction as the original move. Generally, when the second move from the sideways range has run its course, a counter move approaching the sideways range may be expected.

Watch for volume climax, especially after a long move. After volume spike, it’s time to go.

Enter a position when it breaks out of a base with significant volume.

Exit the position after the stock loses the initial volume for more than 10 days, or exit the next day after a long bearish bar with good volume.

In this channel, I aim to share trading tips for free. There are just too many fraudulent courses that charge thousands of dollars for simple public knowledge that can be attained by just reading books. I’m giving the public a free option, hoping that they can stop paying for useless materials, data, platforms and courses.

I would also like to urge the public to invest in passive funds.

We frequently see reports of how actively managed funds continue to underperform their market benchmarks. In fact, Financial Times have published many articles showing this. 9 out of 10 active funds under perform benchmark. In another report, FT shares 86% of active equity funds under perform.

This is an important conclusion. If we know that most actively managed funds do not beat the market, you should invest in the market cheaply. After all, passively managed funds have the lowest costs and now, the highest returns over time.

There is a book I would like to introduce to you. John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard wrote a few books and this is one of them that will help your investment mentality. I have some simple fund selection rules that will help you.

Investing is not trading

Trading is active work. It requires you to inspect the stock based on technical or fundamental analysis. Investing should be passive in nature, allow the stock to work when you are resting.

We frequently see reports of how actively managed funds continue to under perform their market benchmarks. In fact, Financial Times have published many articles showing this. 9 out of 10 active funds under perform benchmark. In another report, FT shares 86% of active equity funds under perform.

This is an important conclusion. If we know that most actively managed funds do not beat the market, you should invest in the market cheaply. After all, passively managed funds have the lowest costs and now, the highest returns over time.

There is a book I would like to introduce to you. John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard wrote a few books and this is one of them that will help your investment mentality. I have some simple fund selection rules that will help you.

  • Select lowest cost passive funds. ETFs are usually good choices. But there are risks. So make sure you buy cash based ETFs
  • Broad diversification — the more diversified you are, the better you have managed your risk. I urge you to read some of these well published articles and the short book written by John Bogle.

The next decade in 2020

Data management is the new skill set
Data is the new raw material. Left untreated, data is useless. Today, we can process data using big data technologies like Spark and Hadoop. These are the new skills of 2020. Data can be used to create new industries and disrupt existing ones.

Data and Cloud will take many jobs away
Cloud computer has enabled robots to replace manual labor. Robots can learn from stored experiences. Humans must learn by themselves. Robots do not. Experience can be uploaded.

A study by University of Oxford found that 47 percent of all US jobs are at great risk of being done by robots in the next two decades. Within 2 – 3 years, Uber vehicles will be driverless.

Robots can service more people at lower prices and can work all the time. Humans are expensive to hire, fall sick and sometimes cheap. Savings from implementing robots will likely go to MNCs that make them. Government must step in and redistribution income.

You will live longer
Cancer is the result of mutated DNA, which malfunctions, failing to stop the growth of unhealthy cells. A new blood sample test known as a liquid biopsy lets technicians identify even the smallest pieces of cancer DNA in a blood sample. This makes it possible to discover a tumor that’s 1 percent the size of those an MRI can find.

This means more cases can be detected at stage 1 cancer. Ovarian cancers have a 95-percent cure rate when in stage 1. Present technology tends to detect such cancers at stage 3 or 4, when chances of curing the patient are just 5 percent.

Mobile penetration has increased by so much. For example, Kenya’s mobile penetration rate during the first quarter of the 2015-16 financial year has hit 88%, with 37.8million subscribers making use of mobile services. In Indonesia it is estimated that the smart phone penetration rate will reach about 43,2% by 2017, whereas in Sub-Saharan Africa the penetration rate reached 44% in 2015, with 386million unique subscribers and SIM connections. It is estimated that the rate will reach about 49% by 2020. In Latin America, examples of poor or small countries such as Haiti, Venezuela and Honduras, have coverage levels of 75% or less. Cuba has no mobile broadband coverage at all.

Across the developing world, the number of people who are able to access the internet through mobile phones reached 2.5 billion in 2015, which is a significant growth compared to 870 million users in 2010. The mobile internet penetration has reached 40% of the population over developing countries, showing threefold increase for the period of 2010-2015. It is expected that until 2020, an additional number of 1.3 billion people in the developing world will be able to access mobile internet, augmenting the total number of users to 3.8 billion users, accounting for just fewer than 60% of the population.

Because most people have mobile connection, it is now possible to offer medical care over mobile phones in areas where the ratios of doctor to population are less than 1%.

Your financial world will change
Payments will also increasingly be disrupted by technology. Today, most retail payments still route through card associations. There is no way banks and merchants will continue to tolerate scheme fees when other technologies allow direct to wallet payments. In short, the role of schemes and in some cases, even banks, may be diminished. There is a lot of literature on this, so we won’t elaborate on this point.

Top 5 areas that will change in the next decade
The world will change rapidly. Below, I list down 5 areas which I think will transform global population in the next 5 to 10 years.

1. Machine learning
Your phone will start predicting what you want to say. You can relive chatting with your dead relatives or loved ones. Al Bots can record how your loved ones reply and and start emulating them. Machines will be able themselves as humans.

  • Bypass banking and payments verification process
  • Weaken network defense
  • Impose as a social media identity
  • Smarter devices that can interact like a human being

2. Augmented reality
There will be huge implications on learning. Kids can use AR to experience the world. AR is now expensive and inaccessible- battery life, cost of machine and data. In the near future, when sense of smell can be replicated, AR will replace a % of travel.

3. Gene-editing 
You will be able to pay and upgrade your genes. Want to have enhanced performance? Want to reduce cancer rates? Pay a few million dollars, wait in queue and have your genes mapped and edited.

4. Wireless power
Pods will beam enough power to devices. There will be minimum downtime. Battery wastes and charging pains will be a thing of the past. Imagine never having to charge your phone.

How to get ready for change?
Your past experiences will be less important compared to your ability to learn rapidly. Nimbleness will become a core survival tactic for the individual and a firm.

Manage your anger to steer clear of trouble

Anger is an emotion that is unusual. Under the influence of anger, people are prone to committing violence or to raising their voice. Often, people regret their actions they take when they are angry. A perpetual state of anger can lead to high blood pressure.

Calm yourself down when you get angry. Your body will send you some signals. You make start breathing faster, blushing or get more tensed up. To calm yourself down, you must distract yourself for a few minutes. Rage is expensive.

If you don’t control your behavior when you are in a rage, you should get into fights and quarrels. Many people commit crimes because of the moment of rage. Often these rage moments last only 5 to 10 minutes.

In addition to managing your own temper, it is clear that people will try to pick a fight with you. When that happens you can choose to react or you can calm down and walk away for a while. How you react determines the outcome of the conflict. Learn this – always walk away first.

Stress from anger creates health problems. We won’t address health from diet and exercise in this article. But we can deal with stress from anger. Always handle stress carefully. You can do that by avoiding conflict. Walk away and always give factual inputs. Tell people how you feel when they are in a receptive mode.

Sleeping is a good way to tackle anger. Sleeping calms your mind and body. Having sufficient sleep in the night is crucial to better anger management.

I have been a victim of bad anger management. I brood over matters and definitely don’t always hold back criticism of my own work or my colleagues’ work in my previous role in a Fintech start up. Many believe that “openness” is the way to making progress. Yes it is. But openness and tactfulness must come hand in hand.

Never allow anger to get the better of you. Don’t believe that you can control yourself when you are in a rage. Do not even allow the rage to develop.

Here are some good articles that you can read about anger management

1. How to control your anger. You can control your anger, and you have a responsibility to do so," says clinical psychologist Isabel Clarke, a specialist in anger management.

2. Controlling anger before it controls you. Anger is a completely normal, usually healthy, human emotion. But when it gets out of control and turns destructive, it can lead to problems—problems at work, in your personal relationships, and in the overall quality of your life.

3. Anger Management. Anger is a perfectly normal human emotion and, when dealt with appropriately, can even be considered a healthy emotion.

Lessons on hiring I have learnt from my personal experiences

Forming a great team is crucial. I learnt that bitterly. It is impossible to do things by myself. I’m limited by my personal capacity. Outsourcing stable processes is so important for scaling your project.
I often judge people based on intuition. That’s a huge mistake. Rather than judge people, match people’s skills to job tasks you need. Putting the right skills/talent to the right job instantly increases the performance by multiple folds.
I don’t think there are exceptional talents that excel in everything that they do. I believe that most people are great in a few areas. Some are good at writing and researching, some are good at checking and detecting errors. Some are good at giving ideas whereas some others are great at keeping time and being punctual.
The CV is rather useless in terms of providing great insights on the potential colleague. At best, it tells you a list of jobs he/she worked on. We need to fit different characters to different jobs. If you want to restructure the firm, you need a new leader. The existing leader can never restructure the firm himself – he is embedded in the system. It’s very hard for him to tear apart the relationships he built. It’s much cheaper to change a leader.
I think the first step to hiring is deciding on the firm structure. Do you want a team that is punctual on submissions? Do you prefer a team that is managed strictly on project management tools? I prefer these management methods! The opposite is to get a team less structured – less emphasis on abiding by specific timeline and deliverables. The next step is to hire the right type of characters.
Experience can sometimes be overrated. An intelligent worker will learn from mentorship and from doing and reading. Hiring a cheaper intelligent worker is better than hiring purely for experience in the long term. Because intelligence is hard to detect, sometimes experience adds value.
Interaction with the potential colleague is almost always the best way to assessing them. I would take out intuition from decision making process. I would allow this potential colleague to meet with the existing team. If he is able to interact well with them, that’s a plus. Next, I would ask behavioral questions. Amazon is good with these types of interviews. I have personally been interviewed by Amazon – they ask 5 to 8 behavioral questions. Probe them with other questions when the candidate is sharing his experiences.
Hiring is a 50-50% exercise. Even though you can do your best to assess the colleague, it turns out that 50% of the time you will be wrong. You should react by letting the person go respectfully. In bigger firms, there may be other positions for the person to rotate to. For small teams, it is important to recruit slow and let off misfits fast.

Applying Kanban on personal work and life

The Kanban method has greatly improved my productivity
Kanban is a very famous framework which is used by software teams that practice agile software development. Kanban methodology is more than 50 years old.
In the late 1940s Kanban was developed by Toyota Production System (TPS) to streamline production. The company began optimizing its engineering processes in the same way as the supermarkets were using to stock their shelves. Supermarkets stock products which are enough in order to meet consumer demand, which advances the flow between the supermarket and the consumer. As inventory levels match consumption patterns, the supermarket gains significant efficiency in inventory management by decreasing the amount of excess stock it must hold at any given team. At the same time, the supermarket is able to ensure that a specific product that a customer may need is at stock at any given time.
Toyota used the same system to the floors of its factory, aiming to improve the huge inventory levels with the actual consumption of materials. In order to be able to know capacity levels in real-time on the factory floor (as well as to the suppliers), workers would pass a card, or "kanban", between teams. For example, when some materials that were being used on the production line finished, a “kanban” was forwarded to the warehouse of the company, which included the necessary material, the amount needed etc. Then the warehouse would have new materials, they would send them to the factory floor, and after that they would send their “kanban” to the supplier. The supplier would also have the specific material available, so as it can be sent over to the warehouse. The signaling technology of this process has been improved since then, but the "just in time" (JIT) manufacturing process still exists.
The system worked extremely well, allowing Toyota to reduce production costs while maintaining a high level of quality. Later, Kanban became a staple at all business schools.
We can apply Kanban principles on personal life
First, you need to visualize all your projects and processes on a board. You can do it electronically or on a physical board. I recommend using a PM tool like Asana or Trello. This helps you simultaneously monitor everything you need to do and easily ascertain your next task. Instead of juggling several tasks, you are now clear on the next bottleneck. This is similar to Scrum Sprint development theory.
Second, you need to keep your WIP to a minimum. Don’t put too many things in WIP. It will stress you up. The whole point of Kanban is to increase productivity by tackling what is necessary, one thing at a point of time.
Keep 3 categories of tasks:
1. WIP (Doing it),
2. KIV (Wait to do),
3. Done. Visualize how each task move from one category to another.
Limit your to do list to only things that are important
Decide aggressively which tasks should be in KIV for whatever reasons and focus on moving WIP to done. Drop, delegate and dismiss things that are not important.
Kanban helps you by tracking your activities and mastering your time. Kanban is always giving you feedback about your decisions and work, you’ll know well in advance if something needs changing.

Loss aversion can impact your retirement planning

A big number of investors deal with deep fear of risk and little loss tolerance

Investors tend to become too emotional. Emotions affect investments badly. Assume stock price moved down by 2% in a day. The drop of 2% might cause anxiety in investors who have disproportionate fear of losses. They might suffer from sleeplessness or simply sell the stock in the same day regardless of their intended portfolio time horizon.

Behavioural finance involves considering investors’ long-term preferences for risk and return. Investors may be affected by emotional responses and behavioural distortions. Someone who is highly risk averse can consider forgoing a bit percentage of market returns to buy insurance. For example, he can own a portfolio of 60% bonds and 40% equities just to make sure his portfolio is not as volatile as others who could be holding onto 70% equities. Of course, the investor who holds lesser equities will quite likely have lesser portfolio value in the long term (20 to 30 years).

The industry’s traditional approach has essentially been to deliver “optimal” portfolios which are built on taking for granted that the investor will be constantly and totally rational. This approach imposes a huge emotional and practical obstacle on investors. They are required to tolerate the ups and downs of the investing cycle and see through the longer term horizon. Some investors simply cannot put up with that.

By ignoring the significant role of emotions during the investment journey, investors turn out to be uncomfortable with traditional portfolio solutions 

This can lead to poor decision making and lower performance. When investors strive for rational perfection in their portfolios, they become more likely to make emotionally driven decisions.

They may pay too much attention to the short term, forgetting the longer term horizon.

Investors may overreact to market movements in the short term

Investors may invest in “familiar” assets, firms in their region. They feel safer holding shares of companies that they are familiar with and believe they can manage these risks better.

They may buy when everything is bullish. Emotionally, they feel comfortable following the herd. 

They may also sell when everyone is bearish, in times of extreme fear.

Some risk adverse investors may hold their money in cash, incurring high opportunity costs.

On average, all these behaviours drag down our long-term returns.

By simply taking less risk you can buy easily and naturally emotional insurance, but at what cost? 

However this also reduces long-term returns, often in a dramatic way. When they get to choose many will prefer not to invest at all, rather than investing on a mathematically perfect portfolio, just because the first choice makes them feel more comfortable. They leave their wealth sitting in cash.

An investor with large amounts of wealth in cash is, in fact, purchasing emotional comfort at a very high premium. By not investing, a moderate-risk investor in a globally diversified portfolio is missing out on long-term annualised returns above what you’d get from holding cash (averaged over many years) of about 4–5% per year—a huge amount to forgo because investing feels too uncomfortable!

Unlike the traditional industry, I don’t believe this purchase of emotional comfort is irrational. Emotional comfort is important and necessary, but it’s very expensive. Although there are occasions of people who may need more emotional comfort compared to others, what is clear is that no one has to pay 5% of their wealth every year to get a little rest.

Invest in low-cost passive funds to ensure emotional comfort and wealth

For all those reasons described above people should invest on cost-effective passive funds, that can provide them both with emotional comfort and wealth at the same time. The links below illustrate the reasons why somebody should invest in passive funds and how he/she can do it efficiently:

1. Passive funds are a better choice than active funds, since more than 84% of U.S. active funds underperformed the S&P 500 over the year. From a long-term view, over the past ten years, more than 98% of active funds failed to beat their benchmarks.

2. Investing like an idiot, but earning like a Pro. Investing in low fees index funds is the only way to retire in peace. After years of research it has been reported that low fees are "the most proven predictor of future fund returns". In other words, the cheaper the costs, the better the fund is likely to perform and the more money you're likely to make.

3. Stop getting cheated - Trading Courses. Passively managed funds have the lowest costs and now, the highest returns over time.

Useful rules for getting the most out of reading

Reading is the fastest way to soak in knowledge and others’ life experiences. Imagine a billionaire who has achieved almost everything. He puts away his business concerns to read a book, hoping to tell his stories, successes and failures. Would you not read it? It takes 1 week to absorb the wisdom he shared in the book. Then there are scientists and economists who publish their findings and applications in different sectors of lives. Should you not right them?

Here are a few rules you can follow to help you maximize the benefits of reading:

1 Curate your sources of reading. Most sources are rubbish. Scan their headlines. That’s sufficient. Don’t spend your time reading CNBC, CNN or even BBC most of the time. Go straight to deeper commentaries on FT, Economist or sector specific journals. Read a lot from top writers on Medium. You will be surprised how many CEOs and successful business people blog on Medium.

2 Use social media for news breakouts, not for learning. Twitter will teach you close to nothing. But Twitter will be the fastest channel to tell you the latest news. I think Facebook is relatively useless. Why would you want to know what happened to your friends? I like Quora. It’s the best way to waste away your time. At least you learn something new/exotic from another part of the world.

3 Books are the most curate form of reading. Read a lot of book reviews. Don’t read to enjoy the writing style. Read to learn. Book reviews will tell you the main points of the book (80%) in under 5% of the time to read the entire book. I read at least 5 book reviews on Blinkist a week. For those titles that seem to deserve a little more time (like Think Fast and Slow), I read the entire book.

4 Journals are also great. I read CFA journals. That’s why I keep up with financial news. CNBC tells me too much for nothing. I used to like Readers’ Digest. But it is now a horrible service apart from the jokes.

In summary, read books, read journals. Record your learnings on Evernote. Reread what you have learnt. And have an amazing life.


















对身边的人别太心软,"鱼和熊掌不可得兼" 不能只是说说而已,别妄想做个兼顾一切的老好人。