Oct

5

 GS just launched a smart-beta product which I believe is their first proprietary ETF.

They are charging only 9 basis points for the GSLC <equity> etf!!!

It's a large cap etf, rebalanced quarterly based on their scoring of value, momentum, quality, and volatility. A quick look has them underweight the largest 40 S&P names except for Gild, HD, CVS and WMT. Interestingly, they don't hold any GS — probably due to regulatory issues.

If anyone knows of a backtest of their index, I'd be interested in examining it. Without historical data, it's difficult to understand the attraction versus competitors (except their fees are extremely low and so they've undercut Wisdomtree and other smart beta products). Perhaps their inhouse brokers will sell this as an alternative to the S&P?

Ed Stewart writes: 

Have you continued to look at this product? at 9 basis points it seems like a reasonable core holding. I'm curious what the turnover will be given the rebalancing rules. I assume GS will make the money on servicing the fund such as trading, stock lending, etc vs. the direct fees.

anonymous adds: 

Ed,

There are a number of similar products out there (so-called "Smart Beta") which charge between 9 and 20 basis points. So the management fees are only slightly more expensive than S&P or Russell Index Funds. I would argue that the Smart Beta products are themselves "index funds" — but they are tracking a different index! I think this discussion is very important and provocative. I'll provide my two cents below:

Rather than focus on a 5 or 10 basis point savings, I would focus on assessing the probability that one (or more) of these smart beta strategies (of whatever flavor) will outperform the S&P over the next 3, 5, 10 years. When you commit to one of these things in a taxable account, you also need to consider the tax effects of selling early/switching to another fund — as the capital gains taxes can really hurt your long term performance. And you need to consider the chance that the ETF is liquidated for some reason, because that will trigger taxes too. You also need to consider the chance of upward fee drift. For example, GS priced their fund at 15 bp in the prospectus, but lowered the fee to 9 BP on the offering. AQR is also cutting their prices. But at some point, there must be consolidation among these many fund complexes, and after that happens, they will surely start to raise prices — since the tax consequences of switching make the assets very sticky.

BUT FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THESE MECHANICAL THINGS:

The academic literature for the anamolies which these smart beta funds exploit is, I believe, compelling. But equally compelling is the fact that their outperformance versus the S&P has been in secular decline. I did some back of the envelope calculations and found that the average annual excess performance for the past 15 years > 10 years > 5 years. That is, the market has woken up to the anamolies and with the advent of these low cost/smart beta funds, it's plausible that you'll see decreasing, if any, outperformance in the future. Cliff Asness at AQR recently wrote an essay on this subject. See: https://www.aqr.com/cliffs-perspective/how-can-a-strategy-still-work-if-everyone-knows-about-it

HOW DO I THINK ABOUT THIS?

I think the right way to pick one of these funds is to understand one's own temperament and market beliefs. It's during bear markets and periods of underperformance that one's temperament is revealed and it's critical to be able to stay with these smart beta products during 1, 3 and 5 year periods of underperformance (however you define "underperfomance"). For example, do you love the "hot" stocks? Would you own Facebook/Amazon/Netflix regardless of valuation? Then the momentum strategy is the right choice. But if you like to own "quality" and feel comfortable with less sexy things (Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, etc) , then you the Quality anamoly is your right choice. Do you like to be a contrarian? Then the "value" portfolios might make more sense. And if you think you are a trading genius, then you want to move around these different things as you predict the next flavor of the month.

If you put a small amount of long term capital into each of these funds, what's the probability of outperforming/underperforming the S&P on a compounded total return basis? I honestly don't know. But I'd guess that at any given moment — with a X month lookback — one of these smart beta funds will look really good — and one of these smart beta funds will look really bad. And therefore, it's no different from picking a stock or a fund manager or a sector. And consistently doing that is very difficult. 


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