Investor Behavior Matters: One Trillion Votes and Counting


Earlier this month, Jason Zweig wrote an insightful article about Target Date Funds (TDF), which in the last year surpassed the one trillion-dollar mark in assets under management. In the piece, he provided some background on these instruments and how they have been perceived in the market. He concluded by describing the current equity exposure across some of the prominent TDF providers.

BehaviorGap-1Out of all the observations in the short article, the most relevant for advisors are those around investor behavior. Zweig notes that TDFs are “built around a couple of simple but powerful ideas.” The first is the blended return of stocks and bonds in the portfolio, which buffers the drop in volatile equity markets such as in December 2018 and reduces the focus on the worst performers (in this case, equities). The second is the automated (i.e. systematic or “baked in the cake”) nature of these funds, which makes portfolio updates seamlessly.

The result, according to Zweig and his research, is that investors are less likely to pull their investments during turbulent periods in the market, with late 2018 and 2008 as the examples. In fact, T. Rowe Price Group reported that 401(k) investors pulled money from their TDFs at a quarter of the rate of conventional funds during the financial crisis.  

This data is huge for advisors. If a practice can buffer against volatility in a systematic way, then investors remain more content and more likely to stay on track. Content clients put less strain on the practice and keep retention rates high.

Unfortunately, the data shows that TDFs are strikingly like conventional funds in terms of how they manage risk, despite their portfolio diversification and glide-path adjustments. For example, according to Morningstar, Fidelity’s target funds in 2005 had 58% of their assets in stocks for investors only a decade away from retirement and 20% in stocks for those 10 years into retirement. For the pre-retirement investors using the 2015 TDF, this meant a 44% drawdown of their account value on March 9, 2009…ouch. 

Now here’s the scary part, Zweig notes that those same funds a decade away from retirement have responded to the long-running bull market by upping their equity allocations to 67% today! Arguably worse is that those 10 years into retirement, and thus less resistant to drawdowns, have an average equity allocation of 34%. The graph below illustrates.

Glidepath

This increased exposure to historically riskier equity instruments leaves TDFs more susceptible to the next prolonged bear market than ever before. We at Blueprint believe this model is inadequate for many investors, particularly those so close to, or in retirement. Whether a total portfolio solution, a core allocation surrounded by specialty satellite allocations, or a tactical sleeve to complement a traditional portfolio, Blueprint’s process is designed to support the same good behaviors as TDFs in our partnering advisors’ clients, keeping them on target no matter the environment. Advisors can leverage Blueprint’s process and still maintain total transparency in all respects, especially portfolio construction and the asset allocation glide-path.

So, it seems that while TDFs have provided a marginal benefit in terms of investor behavior, the mainstream investment industry is undercutting this through greed and return-chasing in the seemingly endless bull market. I fear this will end badly for many well-intentioned people. TDFs encouraging good investor behavior through the implementation of simple ideas is a great development, but it raises an important question. Will it be enough to overcome the emotion of another large, sustained decline in the equity markets? Only time will tell.

 

For more thoughts on ways to evolve your investment approach and reduce the impact of  human behavior on investment decisions, visit www.blueprintip.com.

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Past performance is not indicative of future results. The material above has been provided for informational purposes only, and is not intended as legal or investment advice or a recommendation of any particular security or strategy. The investment strategy and themes discussed herein may be unsuitable for investors depending on their specific investment objectives and financial situation. Information obtained from third-party sources is believed to be reliable though its accuracy is not guaranteed, and Blueprint Investment Partners makes no representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information, which should not be used as the basis of any investment decision. Information contained on third party websites that Blueprint Investment Partners LLC (“Blueprint”) may link to are not reviewed in their entirety for accuracy and Blueprint assumes no liability for the information contained on these websites. Opinions expressed in this commentary reflect subjective judgments of the author based on conditions at the time of writing and are subject to change without notice. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission from Blueprint.  For more information about Blueprint Investment Partners, including our Form ADV Part 2A Brochure, please visit https://adviserinfo.sec.gov or contact us at (800) 704-6913

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