ACTIONABLE ADVICE FOR FINANCIAL ADVISORS: Newsletters and Commentaries Focused on Investment Strategy

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2014-07-29 Larry Summers' Sleepless Nights by Michael Edesess (Article)

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers has said that a new book, House of Debt, is "likely to be the most important economics book of 2014." It's authors argued that the causes of the Great Recession have been misdiagnosed and, therefore, the solutions - many of which were designed by Summers - were inadequate.

2014-06-24 Is the Equity Premium Getting Smaller? by Michael Edesess (Article)

An estimate of the expected return on equities in excess of the risk-free rate seems to be anybody's guess. It would be nice to have a sound theory that tells us how to estimate it.

2014-06-17 A Simple Explanation for DALBAR's Misleading Results by Michael Edesess, Kwok L. Tsui, Carol Fabbri, and George Peacock (Article)

For a number of years, DALBAR has been publishing a report that purports to show that investors make bad decisions and, as a result, their investments underperform the market by several percentage points. It has captured headlines for years, perpetuating the myth that individual investors invest poorly, and therefore they do much worse than the market average. There's just one thing, the DALBAR result is wrong.

2014-06-03 What's Wrong with Extreme Inequality? by Michael Edesess (Article)

It is common practice to use a single figure - GDP - as the definitive measure of progress. But does it really measure progress or wellbeing? In a recent book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality, Princeton economist Angus Deaton measures wellbeing on a multidimensional scale. Deaton turns a sharp focus on health, wealth and inequality in the distribution of those amenities. Some wealth inequality is inevitable and helps growth, he contends, but at extreme levels - which the U.S. may be approaching - it becomes counterproductive.

2014-05-06 The Book that will Reshape the Study of Economics by Michael Edesess (Article)

It’s incredibly rare to see a work ascend to the status of a classic almost instantaneously following its publication. Such a work is Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It is almost certain that its impact will last for decades. A century hence, it may be a cornerstone of economic and political debate and discussion, much as those of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek are today.

2014-04-22 Does Rebalancing Reduce Risk? by Michael Edesess (Article)

In a previous article I asked whether rebalancing increases return, as the term "rebalancing bonus" implies. I concluded that it does not. In this article I ask whether it is a tool for reducing risk. The answer depends on whether you believe that the standard deviation of long-term returns is the appropriate measure of risk. This article will show why it often is not.

2014-04-15 Does Rebalancing Really Pay Off?? by Michael Edesess (Article)

No investment advice is more universally offered than the advice - originally posited by William Bernstein - to rebalance your portfolio. Yet, the evidence that this practice is beneficial is shockingly meager.

2014-03-25 The Takeaways from the Latest Fama-French Research by Michael Edesess (Article)

The latest Fama-French research expands their three-factor model with the addition of two new factors: profitability and investment. My question is whether this work provides any information that can be of practical value to advisors or investors. After careful evaluation of their paper, I conclude that the answer is no.

2014-02-11 Are Returns of Intermediate Bond Funds Persistent? by Michael Edesess (Article)

In the search for skillful managers, the most valued characteristic is persistence -- the ability of a manager to achieve superior returns consistently over time. Finding such managers is critical for fixed-income allocations, since the theoretical basis for indexing is weaker than it is for equities. Our study found, however, that persistence is elusive among a large sample of taxable bond funds.

2014-02-04 The Albatross of MPT Thinking by Michael Edesess (Article)

The January/February issue of the Financial Analysts Journal includes an article titled "My Top 10 Peeves" by Clifford Asness, who was trained in modern portfolio theory (MPT) and its underlying assumptions. Many of Asness’ peeves are directed at people who depart from the MPT worldview. In discussing his peeves, I will offer counter-arguments and explain why I think the MPT perspective is flawed.

2014-01-14 What Have We Learned from the Financial Crisis? by Michael Edesess (Article)

Why do we need yet another discussion of the 2007-09 financial crisis and its aftermath? That question is asked and answered by Alan S. Blinder in his new book, After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead. Blinder provides new details about this harrowing chapter in our financial history and valuable insights about the effectiveness of potential regulatory policies.

2013-12-24 How Much Should We Pay to Emit Carbon? by Michael Edesess (Article)

Many consider emissions of greenhouse gases to be what economists call a ’negative externality,’ meaning that they are likely to impose a cost on society through climate change and ocean acidification. The cost of that externality should, in principle, be borne by the emitters, who should pay a price to emit. But what should that price be?

2013-12-03 Why Does the U.S. Have High-Cost Low-Quality Healthcare? by Michael Edesess and Kwok L. Tsui (Article)

The U.S. has worse mortality rates than virtually all other developed nations, and yet it spends twice as much per capita on health care. How on earth has the U.S. racked up such an appallingly bad health-care record, and what is the solution? A recent edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association identified many of the problems but was not persuasive in prescribing a cure.

2013-11-05 Combating Climate Change - And Responding to Skeptics by Michael Edesess (Article)

The climate-change threat is real, even if it is only a matter of probabilities. What action we should take, and how action should be brought about, are knotty problems. Harvard Business School’s Business and Environment Initiative (BEI) says they can be attacked with a business approach.

2013-10-22 How Many Monkeys Does it Take to Find a Successful Strategy? by Michael Edesess and Kwok L. Tsui (Article)

Give a monkey enough darts and she will eventually hit the bulls-eye on a dartboard. We wouldn’t dare consider that monkey an expert dart thrower, but investment professionals have been using essentially that same logic to assert that their strategies ? often called “smart betas” ? will outperform the market. New research exposes the faulty mathematics upon which such claims are based.

2013-09-24 William Bernstein ? “Stocks for the Long Run” by Michael Edesess (Article)

William Bernstein’s reading of history is that if you want to build a nest egg and protect against the “four horsemen” that threaten it over the long term, the best thing to do is invest in a globally diversified stock portfolio.

2013-09-10 Why DFA’s New Research is Flawed by Michael Edesess (Article)

DFA is a company with a laudable history, founded on solid principles and a valuable product concept. From its launch, the investment firm identified and filled a need at low cost to the client, based on elementary but sound theory and simple, compelling, transparent empirical research. It later increased its value to clients by pioneering passive trading strategies. I admire its founders and their accomplishments. But I am afraid the company has succumbed to a dreadful descent into scientism.

2013-09-10 Did Steve Jobs Really Build That? by Michael Edesess (Article)

The conventional wisdom is that only the private sector can marshal the entrepreneurial energy to create innovation and growth, while government can do little more than shift around the wealth that the private sector creates. But is that really true?

2013-09-03 Did Steve Jobs Really Build That? by Michael Edesess (Article)

The conventional wisdom is that only the private sector can marshal the entrepreneurial energy to create innovation and growth, while government can do little more than shift around the wealth that the private sector creates. But is that really true?

2013-08-13 A Better Way to Measure Systemic Risk by Michael Edesess (Article)

The economics profession has faced harsh criticism since the financial crisis of 2007-09 ? not least from its own members?for relying on mathematical models that failed to foresee the crisis and in some cases abetted its onset. Is the criticism justified, and what can be done about it?

2013-06-25 The Great Debate on Inequality: Stiglitz versus Krugman by Michael Edesess (Article)

Economics Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz is the chief alarmist warning that income and wealth inequality in the U.S. is a very serious threat to the economy. So it comes as a surprise that his fellow Nobelist Paul Krugman ? Stiglitz’s intellectual comrade-in-arms ? disagrees with him. Their disagreement goes to the heart of today’s economic problem.

2013-05-28 Is Austerity a Bad Idea? by Michael Edesess (Article)

There are strong arguments for and against both austerity and Keynesianism. However, some recent writings should make us remember to question the terms of the argument itself. While evidence-based economics is important, it can also mislead.

2013-04-30 Electric Vehicles: The Devil is in the Battery by Michael Edesess (Article)

Electric cars are part of the vision of a clean energy society, in which Americans would use few fossil fuels, emit limited greenhouse gases and depend less on foreign sources of energy. Will that vision be realized ? and are electric cars even necessarily part of that vision? Are electric cars environmentally friendly? Are they an economical means of transportation now? How likely are they to capture the market in the coming years?

2013-04-16 Will Germany Lead the World’s Energy Revolution? by Michael Edesess (Article)

Germany’s energy plans lie between Scylla and Charybdis: fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide emissions on the one hand and potentially catastrophic nuclear energy on the other. With strong motivation to avoid both, Germany has been left with only one alternative. The direction of energy policy in the U.S. ? and the rest of the world ? may rest on whether Germany succeeds in its ambitious plan to embrace renewable sources.

2013-03-12 America?s Criminal Crony Capitalism by Michael Edesess (Article)

Charles Ferguson believes that every prosecutorial tool at our disposal should be used to indict, fine severely, and imprison those whose transgressions contributed to the recent financial crisis ? not just their companies, but the executives as individuals.

2013-02-05 How Much Should the US Spend on Healthcare? by Michael Edesess (Article)

How much of GDP should be devoted to healthcare? And how high should the government-provided safety net be? Only after those questions are answered can the issue of how to change government policy be addressed ? if indeed it needs to be changed at all.

2013-01-08 Energy and the End of Growth by Michael Edesess (Article)

Is economic growth coming to an end? That's been a hot topic of discussion, thanks to a paper by Robert J. Gordon. It had a simple but striking thesis: 'There was virtually no growth before 1750, and thus there is no guarantee that growth will continue indefinitely.' But before 1750 there were no fossil fuels either. Only once humans tapped the large deposits of coal and oil did economic growth truly awaken. The history of economic growth is, so far, the history of fossil fuels. This causes us to wonder whether economic growth will end when it is no longer powered by fossil fuels.

2012-12-04 Nate Silver's Message for Financial Advisors by Ben Huebscher and Michael Edesess (Article)

By now you are likely aware that Nate Silver of the New York Times correctly predicted the results for all 50 states (plus DC) in this year's presidential election and all but two Senate races. Silver's predictive capabilities across a range of disciplines have made him a near-deity among those whose livelihood depends on accurate forecasting - from poker players to counter-terrorism units. It's clear why: His methods work - at least in some cases. And their strengths and limitations carry important lessons for financial advisors.

2012-10-23 Understanding the Central Issue behind Entitlements by Michael Edesess (Article)

How should our government assure that its citizens have enough to get by - enough food, enough shelter, good enough health, etc.? It is easy to forget that today's fiercest political battles ultimately revolve around this simple question.

2012-09-18 Campaign Rhetoric and Our Energy Future by Michael Edesess (Article)

At their respective conventions, both President Obama and Mitt Romney spoke to a centrally important topic for America and the world: energy. Their positions ? political posturing aside ? are broadly similar. But rather than a coherent, sustainable vision for the energy future of the United States, both men's rhetoric reflected the usual exercise in political base-touching, apple pie-polishing, and third-rail avoidance. And two important, perhaps crucial, pieces of the energy puzzle were hardly mentioned at all.

2012-08-28 Who Benefits from High-Speed Trading? by Michael Edesess (Article)

Speed is a virtue in most competitive pursuits; the combination of speed and accuracy is almost always the ultimate advantage. No one knows this better than the purveyors of high-speed trading technology, who have profited mightily -not only by executing rapid-fire algorithmic trades, but also by exploiting the arcane rules that govern the stock exchanges. But at whose expense are they profiting, and how long is their advantage likely to persist?

2012-08-07 Why Hedge Funds Destroy Investor Wealth by Michael Edesess (Article)

If all the money that's ever been invested in hedge funds had been put in Treasury bills instead, the results would have been twice as good. So claims Simon Lack - a former JPMorgan executive whose job was once to help steer billions into hedge funds - in his recent book, The Hedge Fund Mirage: The Illusion of Big Money and Why It's Too Good to Be True. You'd think hedge fund advocates would immediately pounce on this and refute it; but it's irrefutable.

2012-07-31 The False Promise of Gold as an Inflation Hedge by Michael Edesess (Article)

If you were a time traveler, hopping from one point in history 2,000 years forward or back, you'd best carry with you - if your time machine will allow it - a small stash of gold. Gold has been an effective hedge against inflation over the very, very long term. But that's about all it's good for. The other common reasons for owning gold - in particular, to use as a short-term or even a long-term hedge against inflation - are baseless.

2012-07-17 Can you Beat SPIAs with Long-Term Bonds? by Michael Edesess (Article)

While single-premium income annuities (SPIAs) guarantee a specific income as long as the purchaser lives, their rates of return generally compare unfavorably with long-term bonds over normal life expectancies. This makes SPIAs look like the inferior investment, notwithstanding their value as longevity insurance. But considering the low level of interest rates and the potential for future volatility, SPIAs are still a good choice for many retirees.

2012-07-03 Bond Funds: You Get What You Don't Pay For by Michael Edesess (Article)

Innumerable studies have shown that it's well-nigh impossible to beat the averages consistently investing in equity funds. But what about bonds? Bonds, after all, have more structure - perhaps there are ways an expert fund manager could exploit that structure and gain an edge over other investors. Is it possible to predict how well a bond fund will perform relative to other funds?

2012-06-12 The End of Economics by Michael Edesess (Article)

If Australian economist Steve Keen's book, Debunking Economics, doesn't end, once and for all, the terminally convoluted discourse that afflicts mainstream economics, nothing will. Although the book's purpose is to show that neoclassical economics is all bunk, however, it is also, remarkably, as good an introduction to neoclassical economics as any you're likely to find.

2012-05-15 An Attack on Paul Krugman by Michael Edesess (Article)

A foundational principle of modern economics is that the creation of credit leads to economic growth. That precept underlies need for quantitative easing, and it is central to the question of what role monetary policy can and should play in stimulating a faster recovery from the Great Recession. It is also the subject of a debate between one of the world's most prominent economic scholars, Paul Krugman, and a feisty Australian economist, Steve Keen.

2012-04-10 HBS Research: The Role of Business in Society by Michael Edesess (Article)

Many people believe that society needs to change for market capitalism to be sustainable - and it turns out a surprising number of business leaders are among them. That's the finding of a recent series of forums, organized by three Harvard Business School professors. Based on these discussions, the HBS professors advance a bold proposal - that business itself - not government, or even public-spirited nonprofits - should lead the charge to make the necessary changes to our capitalist system.

2012-03-20 Jeremy Grantham: This Time is Different by Michael Edesess (Article)

Jeremy Grantham is a paradox. A man who has said many times, 'This time it's different are the four most dangerous words in the English language,' is now saying - loud and clear - this time it really is different.

2012-03-13 Europe Needs a Good Crisis by Michael Edesess (Article)

When it comes to economies in general and financial crises in particular, it's remarkable how little we actually understand. While global financial actors struggle to restructure Greece's debt and to avoid contagion throughout Europe's periphery, we should recall the lessons of the Asian-Russian crisis 15 years ago. As the writings of Joseph Stiglitz and Martin Wolf remind us - and those events illustrate - crises are part of an evolutionary process, and the afflicted economies often emerge with surprising vigor.

2012-02-28 Globalization: Its Saboteurs and Its Chicken Littles by Michael Edesess (Article)

The word 'globalization' provokes both excitement and fear. The excitement has sold millions of Tom Friedman books and turned a drab annual business conference, the World Economic Forum, into one of the hottest events of the year. It is front-and-center in recent tensions between the U.S. and China, and makes the European Union's economic crisis a concern for the whole world. Should we fear or embrace globalization?

2012-01-03 How Top Execs Game Retirement Plans by Michael Edesess (Article)

Corporate executives and employee-benefits consultants have engineered a cascade of arcane methods to deprive ordinary retirees of benefits they thought they were promised, in order to fatten corporate profits and the benefit packages of top executives. That is the harsh message of Wall Street Journal reporter Ellen E. Schultz's meticulously-researched book, Retirement Heist.

2011-12-13 Did Congress Cash In on Insider Stock Trading? by Michael Edesess (Article)

Are members of Congress profiting from insider information on companies their legislation affects, or is something more complicated - and less nefarious - going on? Those who watched the November 13 segment on 60 Minutes that accused members of Congress of insider trading are outraged at these public servants' behavior. But that outrage should be aimed at 60 Minutes itself, along with Peter Schweizer, whose new book, Throw Them All Out, provided the misleading data that was the basis for the broadcast.

2011-12-06 The Unspoken Truth about Hedge Funds by Michael Edesess (Article)

The popularity of the endowment model among advisors has been driven by the belief that hedge funds have produced positive risk-adjusted returns. But the basis for that notion has been statistics gleaned from hedge fund databases, and new research shows returns from those databases are even more upwardly biased than previously thought; the supposed alpha never really existed.

2011-11-29 Do You Really Understand Rates of Return? Using them to look backward - and forward by Michael Edesess (Article)

The basic quantitative building block for professional judgments about investment performance is the rate of return. How well do we really understand it? And how can we use past rates to assess the prospects for future performance? You may be surprised to learn that 'expected return' may not be what you think.

2011-11-01 The Small Cap Falsehood by Michael Edesess (Article)

The supposed outperformance of small cap stocks is a foundational precept on which many respected asset managers have staked their expertise over the years ? foremost among them, Dimensional Fund Advisors. A growing body of research, however, shows no such advantage for the last 30 years and, now, a new study seems to have proven that the supposed small-cap advantage may have never existed in the first place.

2011-10-11 Thomas Friedman's View of the Future of the US by Michael Edesess (Article)

Andy Rooney once said, 'It's just amazing how long this country has been going to hell without ever having got there.' Our country's roughly 30-year march to perdition is the subject of Thomas Friedman's and Michael Mandelbaum's new book, That Used to Be Us. Rooney may still be right, though - the authors identify, albeit not all that convincingly, a path to salvation.

2011-09-13 An Uncritical Glorification of Hedge Funds by Michael Edesess (Article)

Sebastian Mallaby's book, More Money than God, sheds some light on interesting events in hedge fund history and is strewn with a few valuable insights. Mostly, though, it is a work of serial hagiography. It seems designed to attract worshipers like those who drive by celebrity homes in Beverly Hills.

2011-08-09 Does Government Intervention in Financial Markets Slow Economic Growth? by Michael Edesess (Article)

As we saw with the Dodd-Frank legislation and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the question underlying the debate over financial regulation is whether it stifles economic growth. Leo F. Goodstadt's book, Reluctant Regulators, provides useful insights from the experiences of Hong Kong and China. It also causes us to ponder whether our measurement of economic growth is fundamentally flawed.

2011-07-05 No More Stupid Forecasts! by Michael Edesess (Article)

Dan Gardner's book Future Babble takes the sport of expert prediction apart piece by piece, showing why it's phony, why people still pay close attention to it and why people (including the experts themselves) continue to believe in it. Along the way, the author fills his pages with enough interesting information and anecdotes to keep us reading with pleasure.

2011-06-14 What Fama and French?s Latest Research Doesn?t Tell Us by Michael Edesess (Article)

With the high name recognition and respect that the team of Eugene Fama and Kenneth French enjoys in the world of finance, anything they publish warrants attention. Their latest offering, Size, Value, and Momentum in International Stock Returns, offers some interesting data on global equity performance. But they fail to offer any insights that explain the reasons behind their findings.

2011-05-24 The WikiLeaks of the Economics Profession by Michael Edesess (Article)

What Caused the Financial Crisis presents the most comprehensive account I have seen of the regulations that, when considered as a whole, have incentivized unprecedented self-delusion and risk-taking in the subprime mortgage market. To put it in a manner that financial advisors will understand, the book shows that the policies and regulations greatly increased the Sharpe ratio of the financial industry - they increased the return for taking risk.

2011-04-26 Ethics Among Thieves by Michael Edesess (Article)

'Inside Job' is a thoroughgoing indictment of the financial industry that has its virtues but relies on some unsavory vices. On the one hand, through interviews, congressional testimony, and other video, the film exposes cronyism, corrupt ethics, and excessive power at the core of the financial industry. On the other, the movie at times unfortunately feels more like a polemic than a hard-hitting, fact-finding investigative reporting piece.

2011-04-05 A Close Look at the PIMCO-Met Life Retirement Strategy A Marriage Made in Investment Heaven? by Michael Edesess (Article)

If you embrace their recently announced co-marketing strategy, when you're relatively young you use PIMCO's Real Income Funds for stable income in the near term. When you're older Met Life's Longevity Income Guarantee kicks in and takes it from there. You're set with secure income for life. We examine these products more closely and analyze whether they are good deals, either separately or together.

2011-03-08 The Clued-in, the Clueless, the Oblivious and the Conflicted by Michael Edesess (Article)

I?ve now read perhaps 10 books about the financial crisis. Maybe I?m a junkie, but each has given me new information or a fresh way of looking at events. 'All the Devils Are Here' offers a treasure trove of information about company behavior during the crisis, notably Fannie and Freddie, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Countrywide, and Ameriquest.

2011-01-25 Beyond the Efficient Market Hypothesis by Michael Edesess (Article)

John Cassidy's 2009 book, "How Markets Fail," drives the final nail in the coffin of the Efficient Market Hypothesis. Well, perhaps the penultimate nail - as I'll explain. It is the most compelling argument I have read that we need a new and improved theory of markets, a theory that subsumes the efficient market hypothesis, much as Einstein's relativity theory subsumed Newtonian physics.

2010-12-06 The Dangers of Rebalancing by Michael Edesess (Article)

Every portfolio should be rebalanced to its targeted asset allocation, we are taught. Indeed, there may be no other precept as routinely and studiously practiced among financial advisors. But does rebalancing either increase expected return or reduce risk? If so, why? The answers to those questions reveal that it may be prudent to rebalance, but not for the reasons you think.

2010-10-26 An Exceptional Resource for Asset Allocation by Michael Edesess (Article)

Roger C. Gibson's fine and exemplary book, Asset Allocation: Balancing Financial Risk, Fourth Edition, shows that character and conscience-based counseling still exist, even in the financial profession. It is still possible for advisors to look out for their clients' long-term interests.

2010-09-07 A Modest Proposal to the SEC by Michael Edesess (Article)

The SEC is now considering reforming how 12b-1 fees are currently charged, how they would be set in the future, and how they will be disclosed to fund purchasers. In this guest contribution, Michael Edesess offers an alternative, radical proposal, should the SEC's reforms not be adopted.

2010-07-20 Martin Leibowitz? Failed Defense of the Endowment Model by Michael Edesess (Article)

The latest book from Martin Leibowitz, one of the most respected thinkers in the investment industry, attempts to justify the endowment model of investing. As Michael Edesess writes in this review, Leibowitz's defense is highly problematic, and that should concern any advisor utilizing a Yale-like strategy.

2010-07-13 Nouriel Roubini on Crisis Economics by Michael Edesess (Article)

There's good reason why Nouriel Roubini has been dubbed Dr. Doom. After reading his book co-authored with Stephen Mihm, Crisis Economics, one might despair for our economic system. Roubini makes the recent crisis seem inevitable, hard to stop, and very hard to keep from happening again.

2010-05-04 The Quants by Michael Edesess (Article)

In his review of the new book, The Quants, Michael Edesess says its author, Scott Patterson, mistakenly glorifies the accomplishments of the supposed quantitative "geniuses" on Wall Street. Those quantitative analysts are not disciplined for their lack of rigor and, as a result, produce results that are not justified by the underlying mathematics or by common sense.

2010-04-06 A Review of "The Big Short" by Michael Lewis by Michael Edesess (Article)

"The Big Short" tackles the financial meltdown as seen by four relatively minor, but colorful players. (Minor means running only hundreds of millions, not billions.) All of them were voices in the wilderness, writes Michael Edesess, our reviewer. All of them bet heavily against the subprime real estate bubble that, for a while, fueled huge gains.

2009-10-13 Luck vs. Skill in Mutual Fund Alpha Estimates by Michael Edesess (Article)

A long-standing research thread has shown that professionally-managed portfolio returns strongly resemble a random walk about the market average. This is interpreted to mean that professional money managers cannot predictably beat the market. A new study by Eugene Fama and Kenneth French uses a novel statistical approach to add evidence to that record- but with an important caveat.


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