Editors' pick: Originally published March 21.
Kevin O'Leary, who many know from "Shark Tank" and as a contributor to CNBC, likes to draw analogies between his money and his children. During these stretches, he speaks in childlike voices, and sometimes refers to himself in the third person as "Daddy;" it's all very folksy or strange, depending on your personal perspective.
However, I grant O'Leary this, there is one thing identical about your children and your money: No one will care about either as much as you do.
This seems particularly relevant to point out now as last week saw the latest of what seems like an endless list of high-profile hedge fund manager blowups. I'm of course referring to Bill Ackman and his Valeant Pharmaceuticals position. The drama continued Monday and the story seems to get stranger or more nuanced by the day.
Valeant (VRX) traded over $200-per-share last year but was changing hands well below $30 Friday. Ackman is already on record as saying he wishes he had taken some profits before the fall, confirming that he is, in fact, human.
Ackman claims to have a plan for Valeant but those words must now ring a little shallow to his investors. Make no mistake, Ackman's reputation and some of his own personal fortune is on the line here, but the lion's-share of losses are being endured by folks you and I will never know: his investors.
One wonders how Ackman would be handling this situation if it was his money alone tied into Valeant. Ackman is also notoriously short Herbalife which hasn't exactly gone his way either. For the pleasure of dealing with these high-profile misses, Pershing Square investors enjoy the very special privilege of paying 2% of their assets right up front annually plus 20% of any gains. What an honor.
To be honest, I've never understood why anyone would agree to such onerous fees today. It's entirely possible that someone as well known as Ackman charges his investors even more in fees but the "two and 20" model is typical of many hedge funds, at least for now.
It's just the latest example of why you are the best steward of your own money. I understand how some may not have the time or interest to select stocks on their own, but with the plethora of low cost index funds and ETF's available to investors today, paying such a large price right up front for folks you barely know in most cases seems a little silly.
An S&P 500 index fund yields around 2% currently. After paying close to nothing in expense fees, you're over 350 basis points in outperformance on a hedge fund even before any stocks have been selected.
Typically hedge funds are lauded for outperforming in market downturns despite the fact that, as far as we can tell, few do.
In single stock selection, retail investors also have an advantage over these funds: We can move in and out of our positions without the market batting an eyelash. A large fund like Pershing takes weeks to accumulate enough stock to build a meaningful position at various prices. Likewise, it's quite complicated to unwind a oversized long.
Ackman inserted himself onto the Valiant board Monday and the CEO left. One wonders if its due to fiduciary responsibility to his investors or to soothe his own ego. If you don't invest with him, you need not need to worry finding out.
Despite some obvious advantages, taking ownership of one's own investments can still be daunting. After all, it's nice to have someone to blame if things don't work out the way the way we plan. "It's not my fault, that guy had a good track record." I get it, believe me.
But remember, no fund manager, or fund of funds manager, knows your financial situation better then you. They don't know your tax situation for any particular year. They don't know your retirement needs, They know they need to deliver quarterly results to attract more assets, longer term results be damned.
I know what you're thinking, what about all these terms I hear like "risk-adjusted return", "Delta", "Alpha" and what in the world does "whiskey, tango, foxtrot" mean? (This.) Wall Street likes to use these terms in attempt to intimidate average people. It's akin to using "YAC" in front of a casual football fan. Most people can tell who a good football player is, they don't need to know how far he runs after someone touches him on the shoulder. The same goes for this Wall Street crap.
The truth is, compounding dividends in a cost-efficient index fund that receives regular contributions is going to outperform most money managers. They know this. Doing your own work keeps you engaged, able to avoid the daily noise and empowers you to stick to your plan, not an egomaniac on some crusade.
Educate yourself, make your own decisions and spend as much time on your portfolio as you do your fantasy football team. No one cares about it as much as you do.