Calling all conscientious advisors: Dalbar’s latest investor behavior study shows — for the 21st time actually — that investors are their own worst enemies and that good advisors who step up and manage investor behavior can be their best friends.
The Boston-based consulting firm just released its famous Qualitative Analysis of Investor Behavior (QAIB) study, now in its 21st annual edition, and it once again exposes a wide gap between investment returns — the return of a benchmark index — and the much smaller returns that mutual fund investors actually captured.
So, for example, the S&P 500 delivered returns of 13.69% in 2014 but the average equity mutual fund investor brought home returns of just 5.5%, leaving an 8.19-point margin on the table, as it were.
The performance gap was proportionately starker in the case of bond investors. The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index ended 2014 up 5.97%, more than 5 times the 1.16% clocked by the average fixed-income mutual fund investor.
Long-term returns exhibit the same pattern, albeit on a compounded basis. The S&P 500 returned an average of 9.85% per year compared with the 5.19% average annual return of stock fund investors through the 20 years ending December 31, 2014.
Dalbar has always pinned the performance gap to bad investor behavior — such as selling in panic and buying amid the elevated prices accompanying investor euphoria; clearly, gaps of this size result from more than the fact that actual products (vs. indexes) have associated fees.
But the financial services consulting firm usually mines the data for unique insights each year, and its current study draws a line between ill-timed trading and what Dalbar calls “maximum impact events.”
So, looking at cumulative 30-year data, advisors will be unsurprised to find that the months exhibiting the most acute underperformance coincided with market meltdowns or turning points.
The worst gap occurred in October 2008 when the S&P 500 lost 16.8% but investors lost 24.21%, leaving a gap of -7.41 points.
While the report provides numerous insights and conclusions about and for investors, ThinkAdvisor contacted Dalbar president and CEO Lou Harvey to ask about the key lessons advisors can extract from decades of analysis of unremitting investor missteps.
His overriding conclusion:
“We all need a hand to hold at some point,” he says, and it is specifically the advisor’s hand that is needed to restrain investors from acting imprudently during maximum impact events.
Since it is known that these events will occur, even if their timing of course is not known, it is incumbent on good advisors to prepare for them.
Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, by preparation Harvey does not at all mean through prior investor education, which he regards as wholly inadequate to addressing the fear felt in real-time when a maximum impact event is occurring.
Rather, the advisor must plan in advance to have calming messages for clients and to deliver them the day, or day after, the triggering event. The messages must be delivered when the fear is being felt, they must relate directly to the event triggering the fear and they must assure recovery.