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The Importance of Time and Patience

PERSPECTIVES: Research proves that time, patience and dividends will pay investors handsomely over the long-run

Robert Davies, 18 June, 2012 | 2:20PM

From time to time, Morningstar publishes articles from third party contributors under our "Perspectives" banner. Here, Robert Davies from Fundamental Tracker Investment Management discusses how time and passive management plays a critical role in wealth creation. 

Geologists took years to fully appreciate just how important time was in moulding our landscape. Darwin too was a pioneer in understanding the significance of deep time in allowing life forms to evolve and adapt to their environments. There is another arena where time is important: it is in the world of investing.

In the short term people focus on changes in capital values, whether these are shares, indices, bonds or foreign currencies.   Yet what is clear from all studies of investing over the long term by researchers such as Professor Elroy Dimson of the London Business School, Professor Jeremy Siegel of Wharton and the team at Barclays is that the single most important factor is dividends.

A simple demonstration of that comes from this year’s Barclays Equity Gilt Study. It quotes the example of a mythical investor who invested £100 into UK equities in 1945. If he had taken and spent all the dividends he had received over that period his investment would have grown to £7,401 in capital terms alone by the end of 2011.    Alternatively, if this investor had been sagacious enough to reinvest those dividends his pot would have risen to £131,469 in the same period.

Despite this many investors still try and capture the volatile returns from the oscillations in capital values of shares as they dance tantalisingly on our screens.  Some do very well over short periods of time, usually when the whole asset class is rising and the incoming tide of valuations lifts all ships.

Chasing these capital values is time consuming and hard work. Moreover, the more managers chase these ethereal returns the more it increases the volatility of the fund.  In a piece of research that seems counter-intuitive,  researchers Nardin Baker and Robert Haugen demonstrate that in fact high volatility funds (high beta in the jargon) actually generate lower returns than low volatility funds. In contrast to accepted wisdom it seems that boring low beta stocks that don’t bounce around much give higher returns than the high beta stocks that leap about in the style of Tigger, the cartoon character from Winnie the Pooh.

The problem of course is that holding low beta stocks and waiting for the dividends to roll in is rather boring. It doesn’t satisfy the desire for managers to react to each piece of news that comes down the wire and do something.

Clearly, the message from these studies is that managers should do as little as possible. That means a low portfolio turnover ratio. Despite all the research no one is really sure which stocks will suddenly pay a special dividend like Johnson Matthey (JMAT). So it makes sense to hold most of the stocks in the selected universe. If cash flow is more important than capital values the weightings of each holding should be determined by reference to the size of the dividends that companies pay out. Finally, the fund should be structured so that it can take advantage of volatility. That way it can benefit when traders see profit warnings from large retailers or other news flow that impacts capital values in the short term. Adding to holdings when prices are depressed by sentiment is an excellent way of exploiting the volatility created by others and using it to reduce your own.

Deep time is a difficult concept for intermediaries to sell because it implies inactivity. In practice the less a manager interacts with the shares he owns, the better.  A fund should be the cleanest, simplest conduit between the investor and the assets it holds. As long as the fund holds those stocks according to these principles, deep time and dividends should do the rest of the work.

This article was provided by Fundamental Tracker Investment Management. The views contained herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Morningstar.

If you are interested in Morningstar featuring your content on our website, please email submissions to UKEditorial@morningstar.com.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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