The Normalcy Behind ‘Abnormal Returns’

October 10, 2017

Tadas ViskantasTadas Viskanta (@abnormalreturns) is founder of Abnormal Returns and has been its editor since its 2005 inception. The site is one of the top investment news aggregators on Twitter, with its daily links newsletter and Viskanta’s blogs. He is also the author of Abnormal Returns: Winning Strategies from the Frontlines of the Investment Blogosphere. Viskanta is an instructor of finance at Butler University and holds an MBA from the University of Chicago.

ETF.com: I've been wanting to interview you, not necessarily about ETFs, but about your site’s investment DNA, which seems similar to what we have at ETF.com. When did you start AbnormalReturns.com, and why?

Tadas Viskanta: In 2005, I got started in the financial blogosphere when it was just kind of getting up and running. Prior to that, I had written a book proposal on hedge funds and had been trying to market that, and was unsuccessful. But I still felt the desire and need to write on the topic involved. And so I started Abnormal Returns in 2005 and have kept going at it ever since.

ETF.com: I'm not familiar with it back in 2005. Has it been a main aggregate of financial stories from the start? Or was that something that evolved?

Viskanta: It certainly has evolved. When I first started it, I thought I was going to be much more of an active, opinionated blogger. I quickly realized that didn’t suit me or my personality or my skill set.

But the site evolved quickly. I would go to write something, and I would see that somebody else had already written on that, and had probably written it better than I could have. So it felt more honest to just link to what somebody else was saying. That's been the ethos ever since.

ETF.com: And just for people who aren’t familiar, you put out a morning roundup of links in a free email newsletter and on Twitter. And you also still write blogs.

Viskanta: I have a daily link which goes out right around lunchtime [East Coast] every day. There’s also usually every day a specialty link-fest on topics like ETFs and personal finance and things like that.

With my blog posts, it’s not something I'm plotting. I'm not looking for ideas. They really just come to me and I feel the need to, in a certain respect, get them off my chest. I might go a couple of weeks without writing a stand-alone blog post, and then write two or three in quick succession. There's really no rhyme or reason to it.

ETF.com: Do you consider yourself an investor, a journalist or both?

Viskanta: I'm definitely not a journalist. I've never claimed that. I don’t think that would be fair to people who are true journalists. I started off as an investor, and am still an investor. My viewpoint is from the perspective of an investor, and investors in general.

And I've never claimed for the site to be anything other than stuff that I find interesting. I don’t claim it to be some sort of comprehensive look at the world. I don’t feel the need to include things simply for the purpose of including them. It’s really stuff I find interesting. It may not be something I agree with, but it’s something that I hopefully find interesting.

I don’t really view it as a news site either. I hope the things I'm linking to and highlighting are things that have value a day later, a week later, maybe a month or a year later. I'm not trying to follow breaking news. There are certainly plenty of sources for that. I’m trying to offer little bit more of the bigger picture.

 

ETF.com: In terms of investing, is it fair to characterize you as more of an index investor rather than an active investor? Or am I mischaracterizing that, in terms of the philosophy behind the site?

Viskanta: No, I think that’s true. But that’s also a function of both a personal evolution, and an evolution in the markets.

I’ve been investing for almost three decades now. And like a lot of people, when I started off, I wouldn’t say I was hyperactive, but certainly an active trader and investor in any number of different types of instruments. As I've gotten older, I’ve learned more about the markets and I have a longer time horizon, I’ve become less active, and discovered that a lower-cost approach suits me and my personality much better.

But that runs in parallel with what's been happening in the markets as well. I've gone from a world where your only option was buying individual stocks or active mutual funds, and now we’re in a world where you have a palette of instruments that is almost unlimited.

I don’t know how you keep track of it, but it used to be easier to follow the new ETF offerings and issuance. Now it’s nearly impossible for me to keep up. I keep finding funds I've never heard of. And I think, how did I miss that?

The world has changed, and there’s some interaction between my background and market changes behind the site. In the end, there are a couple of different purposes. One is just saving people time. And two is hopefully highlighting some things they might have missed. If I get an “atta boy” email from a reader, it’s usually on one of those two topics.

ETF.com: What are you thinking about now and about the future of investing?

Viskanta: Bitcoin is one of those things I keep linking to, and keep reading about, and keep listening. I should say bitcoin in the broader cryptocurrency idea is what I’m thinking about.

I wrote a post talking about how I own $100 in bitcoin, just to keep me engaged in it, and try to wrap my head around it, which I have to admit I haven't done yet. I really can't come up with a definitive sort of thesis on it, other than I think the technology is interesting. But from an investment perspective, it’s still really challenging to me.

When and if we have bitcoin futures and crypto-index fund ETFs that may follow, it’s all fascinating to me. But I don’t have a really strong feeling about where it’s all going to end up.

I wrote a post maybe six months ago, “Keeping ETFs Weird.” What I continue to find fascinating about ETFs is that it’s really this relatively open opportunity for not only existing firms but startup firms to put their ideas out there into practice.

Oftentimes, you and I have probably seen funds where we think, there's no way this thing is going to fly. And it doesn’t. And the opposite may be the case, where you say, this thing has no chance. And of course it ends up with $500 million in assets after a year.

So you just don’t know. And you don’t know until it’s out there, and people have an opportunity to interact with it.

Other than having access and cost advantages, this ongoing real-life tournament of investment ideas may be one of the most attractive features of the ETF marketplace, and what keeps it interesting and vital and a fascinating thing to study.

Contact Drew Voros at dvoros@etf.com

 

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