Shoebox design has not changed much in 50 years. Shoeboxes are still the same shape, made of the same flimsy cardboard and hold one pair of shoes. The color and lid design do vary among companies, but it’s not a big deal for shoe buyers. We’re only interested in what’s inside the box.
The expansion of exchange-traded products (ETPs), which include exchange-traded funds (ETFs), has provided investors and advisers with more choices over the years. As of March 31, 2015, “The global ETF/ETP industry had 5,669 ETFs/ETPs, with 10,961 listings, from 247 providers listed on 63 exchanges in 51 countries,” according to data compiled by ETFGI.com.
This diverse product mix has helped push down costs across the fund industry and provided better access to previously clumsy asset classes such as commodities. This is a good attribute.
As the ETP market expanded, some companies began promoting the idea that an all-ETP portfolio was a better approach to investing than all mutual funds or a combination of both. This message even spawned an entire industry devoted to the all-ETP portfolio.
The rise of Internet-based “robo advisors” such as Wealthfront and Betterment are gaining momentum and assets by promoting model portfolios using only ETPs. In addition, nearly every wire house brokerage firm now has its own model ETP portfolio program.
Open The Box
I see the all-ETP portfolio as the wrong approach to investing.
It’s like buying shoes based on how the shoebox is constructed rather than the quality of what’s inside. We should give more thought to the risk exposures we’re seeking to put in a portfolio and the different ways of accessing those exposures than deciding to go with all-ETPs first and limiting ourselves to only those products.
Find The Right Fit
My portfolio-construction strategy starts from a macro view.
After determining the overall risk level using a broad asset allocation approach, I seek the unique risk within each asset class to provide an expected future risk premium and to potentially offset other risks in a diversified portfolio. An analysis of the fundamental differences within asset classes is at the essence of this work. Correlation analysis helps make this determination. My book, “All About Asset Allocation,” outlines this approach.
The next step is to analyze the indexes that track each asset class that I’m seeking. Many different types of indexes have been introduced in recent years and that has made this analysis more complex. It’s best to have a simple model to work from. My analysis starts with the broadest capitalization-weighted index I can find. This provides the purest form of market risk, or beta.