Monday, January 5, 2009

Benchmark Bullsh*t

Q: What do you call an investment manager who substantially outperformed his benchmark in 2008?

A: a big loser.  

In most of the past years, your manager would crow about his performance if he beat his benchmark at all.  And if he exceeded it by 100bp or more, he would beat his chest with pride.

So last year the S&P 500, the most common benchmark, was down by about 40%.  How do you feel if you were down 30%?  Happy?

I recall a conversation with a portfolio manager several years ago:

Me:  What do you think about XYZ?
PM:  We hate it.  It's a lousy company in a poor end market.  Bad management, an overlevered balance sheet, and selling at an unsustainable valuation.
Me:  Well, I notice that you own about a million shares.
PM:  Yes.  But we're underweight relative to our benchmark.

Forget about your benchmark.  Buy stock in high quality companies with good future prospects and attractive current valutions.  Maybe you will underperform next quarter.  But in the long run you'll make an attractive return.

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