“Hell, everyone made money last year,” several prospective clients said to me in 2010. In fact, I always hear that after a good year. The implication those folks were making was that our mutual fund skills really didn’t mean very much, because, I guess, we just floated along a rushing, rising river.
Which leads me to a discussion of “relative” vs. “absolute” performance. Some years the markets go up, some years they go down. The important question that needs to be asked is how did you (or your advisor) do in comparison to an appropriate benchmark?
If the S&P 500 Index goes down 10% but your stock accounts go down only 8%, you can reasonably say you did 20% better than the market. Conversely, if the S&P gained 26.5% (as it did in 2009) but your account gained 37.4% (as our Diversified Growth portfolio did that year, after all fees) then you can say you did better than the market. (Past performance does not guarantee future results. This example is not indicative of Weber Asset Management’s long term performance and is used for illustrative purposes only.)
Sometimes you will hear about “absolute” performance. This way of looking at investments is concerned only with the raw numbers, up or down, i.e. “What did I end up with?”
Some advisors say they care only about absolute performance and indeed, their arguments are compelling. After all, if the market stumbles badly, the fact that you lost less might be small comfort.
The problems come in the execution of that quest. To achieve good long-term absolute returns you or your advisor must be willing, in our view, to sacrifice good long-term performance. “No pain, no gain” works for both body building and investments. In other words, to say “I don’t want to risk losing money,” means “I won’t move out on the risk spectrum.” Almost always, over many years, investors who stay conservative reap less than those who accept a higher level of risk. That’s why stocks and stock mutual funds, over the long term, have returned more than bonds and bond mutual funds.
Here at Weber Asset Management we continue to advocate for superior relative returns based on each investor’s appropriate risk level.