John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard and champion of index funds, marked 65 years in the financial services industry with a special video webcast on Wednesday, talking about his career and evolution of the mutual fund industry and offering investment advice for the long-term.
The format was a Q&A with Rebecca Katz, head of Vanguard’s corporate marketing and communications, who mainly fielded questions that viewers had sent via the webcast or Twitter.
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Bogle, 87, recalled that when he started in the business in 1951, the mutual industry had assets of $2 billion, turnover of assets was typically 25% a year, redemptions were about 8% on average, meaning the average holding period for investments was 12.5 years, and the weighted average expense ratio was about 60 basis points.
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Now, said Bogle, Vanguard alone has $3 trillion in assets, the average asset turnover for the industry is 250%, average redemptions are 25%, meaning the average holding period is four years, and the average expense ratio is 88 basis points, up nearly 50%.
“When you multiply the higher fee rate to $16 trillion, it’s a bonanza for the fund industry,” said Bogle. He bemoaned an industry that is now “owned by financial conglomerates [which] used to be run by money managers.”
Forty of the 50 fund companies are owned by financial conglomerates and they serve two masters: the conglomerates’ shareholders and the fund investors, said Bogle. “No man can serve two masters,” said Bogle. “The one that gets the love is the person who owns the management company. The others get what’s left.”
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Get ready for low returns. During his 65 years in the business – Bogle started in 1951 at the Wellington Fund, the predecessor of Vanguard, in 1951 and founded Vanguard in 1974 – stocks gained an average 12% annually, said Bogle.
“That is just not going to happen” now or in the near future, said Bogle. He expects stocks will return “closer to 4%” because of current high valuations – about 22 times earnings when the norm is 16 — and 10-year bond yields, typically above 5.5%, will stay near 2% (they’re currently 1.6%). “We’ll be lucky to get a 4% to 5% return from balanced portfolios for the next 10 years,” said Bogle.
He explained that the reason for these expected low returns is the same reason the market can deliver high returns: the earnings power of corporations. “If dividend yields are lower, reinvestment returns will be lower.”
Still, Bogle said this ho-hum forecast is no reason for investors to get nervous. “Relax,” said Bogle. “The one thing that guarantees an asset value of zero is not investing at all.”
But low returns mean fees matter more, stressed the creator of the first U.S. stock index fund. “Once you get yields at this range – stocks at 2% and bonds 2.5% – what really matters is cost,” said Bogle. “If a stock fund is yielding 2% and has a 1.5% expense ratio you’ll just get half of 1%.”
He implored investors to know how much yield they’re getting and how much expenses they’re paying. “If a fund is taking three-quarters of a percent in yield and putting it in its own pocket, don’t go there.”