Tag Archives: Diamonds Trust

Making the Case for Index Funds

Investing is long term. Speculation is short term.

Can you watch the market every day? If not, you should invest, rather than speculate. Without a doubt indexing is the way to invest. The crash of 2008 has not only highlighted the risk of owning single stocks, but also exposed the dirty underbelly of actively managed mutual funds.

Going for the index avoids getting stuck with the stocks that might be left behind. If you believe in the concept of diversification, then single stock risk is just too huge of a risk to take. And while you might be able to buy 20 stocks and build out a nice portfolio, one bad stock can wipe out 5% of your portfolio and two bad stocks decimate the fund. (Get it? Decimate? Remove 10%. Ok, moving on. …)

If you want to own financials, 30 are better than two stocks. If the two financials you owned last year were Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, you, my friend, have completely lost your portfolio of financials, and maybe your entire portfolio. Buying an index fund tracking the financial sector of the S&P 500, such as the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF), gives you 80 stocks, about 11% of the S&P 500. You can get more exposure to one narrow niche of the market and diversification at the same time, hence less risky. Sure, the financials took a hit, but considering most of them are still in business, you still have some of your investment.

So, single stock risk is out if you’re not buying for dividends. But what about actively managed mutual funds? The whole point of the actively managed fund is to give you, the investor, alpha, those extra percentage points of return that comes from the fund manager’s skill and intellect. The financial crisis has shown how hard it is to find true alpha.

It’s pretty much common knowledge these days that only about 20% of active fund managers beat the major market benchmarks. Considering many active funds are essentially index fund copycats, you will never beat the market with their huge management fees. Fund managers counter that even if they don’t beat the market going up, they at least have the ability to post narrower losses on the way down, because they can sell off the worst performing sectors while the index can’t. I think a little bit of research will show they are also posting returns worse that the indexes on the loss side as well.

And even those that don’t post worse losses, is a 35% loss that much of an improvement over a 37% loss?

So, if you eliminate single stock purchases and actively managed funds, deductive reasoning says you must go with the index. Of course, this mostly applies to U.S. equities. In some markets, such as emerging markets, a smart manager might have some market knowledge that hasn’t disseminated widely, but in the U.S. that kind of information gets spread around pretty quickly.

Indexes can be volatile and risky. If the stock market falls, an index tracking the stock market will fall. However, with the index fund you can rest in the knowledge you matched the market and didn’t do worse than most of the market.

If you really want a lesson, John Bogle, the inventor of the index mutual fund, explains why indexing is better than stock picking in “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing.” Essentially, Bogle says you can maximize returns and lower risk by not buying single stocks but mutual funds. Followers of Bogle have written a book called “BogleHeads” which expands on this theme.

Now in a shameless plug for myself, my book ETFs for the Long Run takes Bogle’s argument one step further. I agree with Bogle that indexing is the way to invest. Bogle likes the mutual fund structure, but I think Exchange Traded Funds are the mutual fund for the 21st century. In the book, I explain indexing, the advantages of buying mutual funds instead of single stocks and then why ETFs are better than mutual funds. The key reasons being they are cheaper, more tax efficient, more transparent and more flexible. I also explain how to buy and sell ETFs and how to use them to build a portfolio.

Since you don’t know what sector of the market will rise, you should own a broad market index, such as the Vanguard 500 mutual fund, (VFINX), or buy an ETF such as the SPDR, (SPY), or the iShares S&P 500 Index (IVV). The Diamonds Trust (DIA) tracks the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the PowerShares QQQ (QQQQ) follows the technology heavy Nasdaq 100 index. The Vanguard Total Bond Market (BND) is a broad bond index.

Then you break it down into sector specific indexes that you want to follow.

Finally, you need to watch fees. ETFs typically charge smaller expense ratios than mutual funds. However, if you are dollar cost averaging, which in this market is the only way to go, the ETF’s commission will significantly eat into your returns if you invest less than $1,000 a pop. If you are investing less than $1,000 a pop, then go with a no-load index fund. Buying an index fund with a load is like paying for your own security in a gated community. It’s a waste of money.

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Qubes Celebrate 10th Birthday

The Qubes, one of the most famous ETFs in the world, celebrated its 10-year anniversary yesterday.

The PowerShares QQQ (QQQQ), formerly known as the Nasdaq 100 Index Tracking Stock, hit the market March 10, 1999, in what remains the biggest most successful launch of a single U.S. ETF. Today, it is one of the most actively traded securities in the world.

“It is the most traded security in shares and dollar volume over the last ten years,” says John Jacobs, executive vice president of NASDAQ OMX Global Index Group and the man who created the fund.

While it currently trades on the NASDAQ Stock Market, originally it launched on the American Stock Exchange with the ticker symbol QQQ. This gave the ETF, then called a tracking stock, the nicknames of the “QQQ”, the “Triple Q” and the “Qubes.”

Launched at the height of the Internet stock market bubble, the Qubes fed the investing public’s desire for an easy to trade instrument that held the fastest growing stocks in the world. The NASDAQ 100 index holds the 100 largest non-financial stocks listed on the NASDAQ. That’s a lot of technology, biotechnology and retail.

It’s first day, it traded 2.6 million shares, 53 percent more than the record set two years earlier by the DIAmond Trust (DIA), the first ETF to track the Dow Jones Industrial Average. After just two hours, the NASDAQ 100 ETF, blew away the DIAmond’s first-day total volume of 1.7 shares. Within two weeks, it had traded 30 million shares. At the end of 2000, the Qubes held more than $6 billion in assets. A little more than two months later, on its first anniversary, the Qubes held more than $12 billion.

For a while, it surpassed the assets and daily volume of the first ETF, the Standard & Poor’s Depositary Receipts, or SPDR Trust, (SPY). Yesterday, it held $10.26 billion in assets.

“The Qubes stellar rise signaled to Wall Street that exchange-traded funds were not just a one-hit wonder. It showed potential sponsors there was a market for these products if the index was right.” (For more on the birth of the Qubes, the history of the ETF industry, and why the NYSE refused to let this ETF use the single “Q” ticker symbol, grab a copy of ETFs for the Long Run.) A little more than a year later, Barclays Global Investors launched its iShares family of ETFs. By the end of 2000, there would be 55 iShares.

Ironically, on the Qubes’ first anniversary, March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ Composite Index, which tracks every stock on the NASDAQ, hit its all-time high of 5048.62. The Qubes posted a 12-month return of 125%. The next trading session, the Internet bubble popped, sending the entire stock market into a two-year decline.

On the tenth anniversary, the Nasdaq soared 89.64 points, or 7.1%, to 1358.28, and the ETF jumped $1.59, or 6.2% to $27.33 on volume of 175 million shares. Did the excitement over the Qubes anniversary spark a huge rally in the market? Don’t laugh so quickly. Currently, the NASDAQ-100 Index is the basis for more than 900 products in 34 countries with about $490 billion dollars in notional value tied to it. To date, the index has traded more than 600 million futures contracts with a notional value of more than $25 trillion. Options experts SchaeffersResearch.com says the Qubes saw call buying activity early yesterday.

Of course, Citigroup (C), one of the country’s largest banks, did raise its head from its deathbed to say it was doing very well the first two months of the year, sparking a huge rally in the financial sector. The Dow Jones Industrial Averaged surged 5.8% to 6926 and the S&P 500 leapt 6.4% to 720.

Invesco PowerShares bought the NASDAQ’s ETF business in 2006. It changed the name of the ETF to the PowerShares QQQ in honor of what most people called the fund. However, the ticker has changed to QQQQ because it trades on the NASDAQ Stock Market, which uses four letters in its tickers. The NASDAQ says its market share of U.S. ETFs is more than any other U.S. exchange. In January 2009, volume grew 22% year-over-year to 655 million shares.

The NASDAQ OMX Global Index Group, a unit of the NASDAQ’s parent company, the NASDAQ OMX Group, remains a global leader in creating and licensing strategy indexes. Its most recent being the Government Relief Index and the European Government Relief Index, which include companies currently being bailed out by their governments.