Saturday, August 5, 2017

Common Sense Investing

I found a lot to like about the The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns by John C. Bogle. Mr. Bogle was the founder of The Vanguard Group and is famous for creating the world’s first index mutual fund in 1975, the Vanguard 500 Index Fund.
The logic of his index fund was to invest in a large number of stocks, all the stocks comprising the S&P 500, to make money from the combination of their growth and dividends. This is a departure from the more common view of investing in undervalued stocks to make money from an increase in their stock value.

Bogle makes a convincing argument that the best way to get the value from the stock market is to invest in all the stocks by buying mutual funds based on indexes of the market that invest in all the stocks.

The author points out that the real net income from stock investments is the investments’ gain minus the cost of the investments. The costs are relatively easy to determine in the case of retail brokers charging for a stock trade when buying or selling  stocks. However, the costs are much more complicated for mutual funds because, in addition to the cost of the trade, in many cases there is an annual incentive sales fee for the broker for up to five years (up to 1.5% a year according to the author). I had no idea that there were hidden sales fees in addition to the purchase fee charged by the brokers. In addition to annual fees, most mutual funds typically have additional management fees of 2 to 3%. In comparison, index funds have low management fees (often .4% or lower) with no hidden sales fees.

What is more disturbing is that 99% of mutual funds significantly underperform the S&P 500 index. When the excessive costs combined with the underperformance of mutual funds are compared to S&P index funds, the long term income differences are shocking. The net return after taxes of $10,000 invested in an indexed fund from 1980 to 2005 would have been $76,200 versus $16,700 for other mutual funds (for those mutual funds that survived). This represents 456% more net income to the investor with far less risk.

If you are one of the 85% of investors who let their broker "manage" their assets, Bogle’s book may keep you awake at night. To sleep better, I switched to low cost, low risk index funds. 

The author’s perspective is unique since he invented the very first indexed funds. It is a little like reading Thomas Edison's thoughts about the light bulb. Bogle knows the issues and history of investing in indexes versus other types of mutual funds.

This "common sense investing" book was easy to read and easy to understand. I highly recommend it to anyone wanting their investments to produce more income with less risk.  Five Stars and hats off to the founder of index investing.