Editor’s Note: Research Magazine and AdvisorOne contributor Ron DeLegge published (originally on ETFGuide) a strongly worded critique of Vanguard founder John Bogle’s dim view of ETFs, found below. The letter provoked an equally robust reply from Bogle. DeLegge tells AdvisorOne he plans a further response to Bogle’s rebuttal.
Everyone has heard about love at first sight. But what about hate at first sight? The latter describes John Bogle’s long-lasting hate affair with exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Mr. Bogle is a well-known figure. He’s the founder and retired CEO of the Vanguard Group, which manages around $2 trillion in assets. He’s also the man who launched the first retail index mutual fund in the U.S. back in 1975.
But he can’t—or doesn’t want to—understand ETFs.
I know this firsthand, because I’ve had the privilege of interviewing Bogle several times on my weekly radio program. And in every single instance, he’s made it a point to demonize ETFs—even broadly diversified ones with expense ratios lower than index mutual funds.
In a series of excellent interviews with Matt Nesto of Yahoo! Finance, Bogle once again took aim at ETFs, saying “they’re no way to invest.” Let’s analyze a few key points of why John Bogle is dead wrong about the ETFs.
A 2012 research piece from Vanguard itself refutes Bogle’s theory that ETFs are converting the investing public into day traders.
Joel Dickson, one of the study’s authors and a principal in the Vanguard Investment Strategy Group, said, “Our individual investor data show that the majority of both traditional mutual fund and ETF investments are held in a prudent, buy-and-hold manner.”
The study, titled “ETFs: For the Better or Bettor?” analyzed more than 3.2 million transactions in more than 500,000 positions held in traditional mutual fund and ETF share classes of four different Vanguard index funds from 2007 through 2011.
Why does Bogle conveniently ignore Vanguard’s very own ETF research whenever he discusses ETFs? Is it because the data disagrees with his hyper-radical views? Or is it because the analysis on 3.2 million accounts is not adequately rigorous?
ETFs ‘Tempt People to Trade’
Among Bogle’s chief contentions against ETFs is that they tempt people to trade, therefore, they shouldn’t exist. The same faulty reasoning probably applies to other areas of life.
For example, what about modern-day transportation? Should we return to the era of horses and buggies because people are tempted to drive too fast? Who’s causing all of these automobile accidents, anyway? Is it cars? Or is it drivers? Only a cave person with a prehistoric mentality would blame the misapplication of clear-cut advancements like automobiles and ETFs on the products themselves versus error-prone individuals.
The fact that ETFs offer intraday liquidity is not a design flaw. What’s wrong with the transparency of letting people buy or sell at real-time market prices versus unknown net asset value prices? Isn’t locking up customers’ money in a mutual fund until the end of the day the real tyranny?