Investment choices have consequences

Some investors have strong beliefs and preferences when it comes to picking stocks. Dr Benjamin Holdsworth outlines why taking such a position can have trade-offs.

Investing is all about trade-offs. Each choice made is paired with an implicit decision not to do some alternative: the ‘opportunity cost’. 

For example, by investing solely in a basket of UK companies, one accepts the risk of losing out if the UK market struggles relative to the rest of the world, and vice-versa. 

An investment portfolio could be constructed to reflect other preferences, such as the appetite to have exposure to certain companies or industries, adopt a specific level of equity or fixed income risk, or attempt to adjust the average fee paid to managers, to name a few. 

Choices come with consequences and such trade-offs can be at the detriment to long-term investment returns

Recently, one industry study looked specifically at the preferences of younger investors coming to market. The conclusion stated that ‘The younger generation want things they are passionate about, that they can engage with, that resonate with their particular desires and preferences, whatever those may be.’

The study’s data suggested that younger investors have tended to invest in companies they feel strongly about, a standout theme being the electric car industry at present through firms such as Tesla and NIO. 

One industry expert at investment research company Morning­star went on to say: ‘The younger generation will not be happy in a multi-asset balanced 60/40 portfolio, sitting alongside another million other investors that are profiled exactly the same way.’

Concentrated portfolio

The challenge is that preferences naturally come with their own trade-offs. This is crucial to remember. 

To avoid a traditional balanced portfolio and instead own a portfolio of ‘clean energy’ firms, perhaps with electric cars, wind turbines and solar energy as themes, one must accept that they own a highly concentrated portfolio of stocks with low levels of diversification, large sector biases and more than likely, with high management costs. 

This will probably negatively impact returns in the medium to longer term.

The aim of this article is not to suggest that these preferences are wrong. 

In fact, investors may benefit from an ‘emotional dividend’ to compensate investors and make the trade-offs worthwhile. 

This emotional dividend, however, is rewarded at the cost of actual investment returns and investors may not realise the magnitude of this cost.

A key pillar of our investment philosophy at Cavendish Medical is to accept that capital markets do a good job of pricing securities and therefore markets are difficult to beat. 

Trade-offs demonstrated

The table on the right demonstrates this belief by comparing a simple two-fund developed equity and bond portfolio against the cohort of managers running ‘balanced’ portfolios. Each of the other managers in the chart will have had their own preferences, which evidently come with consequences.

The trade-offs are well demonstrated in the chart below. In the last ten years, a traditional 60/40 portfolio (highlighted in green), which is weighted 60% equities and 40% bonds, holds up exceptionally well. 

Multi-asset peer group performance – ten years to July 2021

Only three of the 116 funds in the sample provided a superior return to this ‘balanced’ portfolio, that is without accounting for any funds that may have closed in the last decade. 

Investors who wish to express their preferences in portfolios should be aware they are at a high risk of market underperformance. Instead, sticking to sound, well-researched investment principles is key to a successful outcome.

Dr Benjamin Holdsworth (right) is a director of Cavendish Medical, specialist financial planners helping consultants in private practice and the NHS

The content of this article is for inform­ation only and must not be considered as financial advice. Cavendish Medical always recommends that you seek independent financial advice before making any financial decisions.
Levels, bases of and reliefs from taxation may be subject to change and their value depends on the individual circumstances of the investor. The value of investments and the income from them can fluctuate and investors may get back less than the amount invested.