Slow Down, Rise Above the Noise and Find Your Own Way
“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” – George Orwell, 1984
I read a fascinating article in New York magazine about what happens when a lie hits your brain. It wasn’t new information—Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert presented his findings more than 20 years ago—but it was new to me. And it just may be more important now than ever.
What Gilbert proposed was that our brains are forced to do some stunning acrobatics whenever we hear a lie. First, the lie is told. And when that happens, our brains have to accept that information as true to understand and make sense of it. That means that even if we know something is a lie, in that first critical moment, our brains tells us the information is true. Thankfully, we’re usually able to take the next step, which is to certify mentally whether the information is true—or not. According to Gilbert, the challenge is that the first step of mental processing is easy and effortless. The second? Not so much. It takes time and energy. Which means if we become distracted or overloaded, it’s all too easy for us to never take that second step. Suddenly, something we knew to be a lie begins to sound more and more reasonable. In fact, in a more recent study, researchers tested this hypothesis, asking people to repeat the phrase “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth.” After repeating it enough times, the participants started to believe the statement to be true. Why? Their brains just took the easier route to closing the loop on processing new information. Scary, but true.
I’m embarrassed to say that I can think of too many examples in my own life when I’ve done the same thing. You probably can too. Every one of us is guilty. But in our defense, it’s not our fault. As humans, we all have a limit to our “cognitive load”—or how much our brains can process at one time. When we’re hit with a constant stream of information, our brains reach that limit, and we’re no longer able to take that important second step of mental certification. And, boy, is that cognitive load being challenged lately! Every day we’re inundated with noise on every topic. Television. Radio. Newspapers. Magazines. Facebook. Twitter. Every outlet is screaming for us to pay attention, and whether it’s the media or our friends flooding our brains with information, we’re spending an incredible amount of time trying to discern facts from “alternative truths.” The result: our brains are overloaded… and downright exhausted.
As an advisor, my mission is to help my clients rise above the noise to make careful, thoughtful financial decisions. In this environment, it isn’t easy! The media and everyone’s well-meaning friends are overflowing with information. Unfortunately, some of that information can be misleading. For example, the media has focused on the market indices for years. As a result, so do investors—even if they know that the fact that the Dow hit 20,000 yesterday has nothing to do with their long-term financial outlook. But for the media, this magic number is an easy target. They can report on it. They can speculate on it. They can create headline-grabbing sound bites about it. The result: a whole lot of noise that carries about as much importance as reporting on the path of a rollercoaster when all that matters (really!) is where the ride ends.
What’s the solution? We need to lessen our cognitive load. We need to slow down the noise, slow down our brains, and regain our mental strength. For me, that means turning off the television and the radio. I’m able to slow down and think more clearly when I read written information rather than listening to “talking heads.” This is true in finance and every aspect of my life. And when that doesn’t work? I meditate. (For more on how our brains can inhibit or ensure our own happiness, check out Daniel Gilbert’s bestseller, Stumbling on Happiness.)
Whenever I feel challenged by the noisy world around me, I remember Viktor Frankl’s famous quote: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Perhaps by taking the time to slow down and rise above the noise, we can each make that choice and, indeed, choose our own way.
Building a Better Index With Strategic Beta
Written by: Yazann Romahi, Chief Investment Officer of Quantitative Beta Strategies and Lead Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan Diversified Return International Equity ETF at J.P. Morgan Asset Management
With the global economy warming up, but political uncertainty remaining a constant, it’s more important than ever for investors to position their global portfolios to navigate long-term market volatility. That’s where the power of diversification comes in, says Yazann Romahi, Chief Investment Officer of Quantitative Beta Strategies at J.P. Morgan Asset Management and Lead Portfolio Manager of JPMorgan Diversified Return International Equity ETF (JPIN).
Not all diversified portfolios are alike
In their search for diversification, many investors turn to passive index ETFs, which track a market cap-weighted index. But these funds aren’t always the most effective way to steer a steady course through volatile markets—and there are two key reasons why.
First, traditional market cap-weighted indices are actually less diversified than investors may think. For example, in the S&P 500, the top 10% of stocks account for half the volatility of the index. Within sectors, while you might assume that sector risk is distributed across the ten major sectors fairly evenly, it is a surprise to many that at any point in time, one sector can be as high as 50% of the risk.
Second, cap-weighted indices come with some inherent weaknesses, including exposure to unrewarded risk concentrations and overvalued securities. So, while these indices provide investors with exposure to the equity risk premium and long-term capital growth, as is the case with any other investment, investors can also experience painful downturns, which increase volatility and reduce long-term performance. For investors seeking equity exposure with broader diversification—and potentially lower volatility—strategic beta indices may be better positioned to deliver the goods.
How do we define strategic beta?
Strategic beta refers to a growing group of indices and the investment products that track them. Most of these indices ultimately aim to enhance returns or reduce risk relative to a traditional market cap-weighted benchmark.
Building on decades of proven research and insights, J.P. Morgan’s strategic beta ETFs track diversified factor indices designed to capture most of the market upside, while providing less volatility in down markets compared to a market cap-weighted index. Rather than constructing an index based on market capitalization—with the largest regions, sectors and companies representing the largest portion of the index—our strategic beta indices aim to allocate based on maximizing diversification along every dimension—sectors, regions and factors. The index therefore seeks to improve risk-adjusted returns by tackling the overexposure to risk concentrations and overvalued securities that come as part of the package with traditional passive index investing.
So, how do you build a better index?
As one of just a few ETF providers that combine alternatively-weighted and factor-oriented indices, our disciplined index methodology is designed to target better risk-adjusted returns through a two-step process.
First, we seek to maximize diversification across the risk dimension. This essentially means that we look to ensure risk is more evenly spread across regions and sectors, which balances the index’s inherent concentrations. As uncontrolled risk concentrations are unlikely to be rewarded over the longer term, we believe investors should strive for maximum diversification when constructing a core equity exposure.
Second, we seek to maximize diversification across the return dimension. Research shows that there are a number of sources of equity returns beyond growth itself. These include risk exposures such as value, size, momentum and quality (or low volatility). When creating a diversified factor index in partnership with FTSE Russell, we seek to build up the constituents with exposure to these factors. We therefore select securities through a bottom-up stock filter, scoring each company based on a combination of these return factors to determine whether it is included in the index. These factors provide access to a broader, more diversifying source of equity returns as they inherently deliver low correlation to one another, providing diversification in the return dimension.
So, whereas traditional passive indices allow market cap to dictate allocations, the diversified factor index seeks to ensure that we minimize concentration to any source of risk—whether it be region, sector or source of return.
How are you currently weighted versus the market cap-weighted index, and how have your under- and over-weights enhanced risk-return profiles?
Crucially, our weightings don’t reflect specific views on sectors or regions and are instead, by design, the point of maximal diversification. It is important to remember that market cap-weighted indices typically carry a lot of concentration risk—for example, at various points in time, a single sector can explain half the risk of the index when left unmanaged. At the moment, three sectors explain two-thirds of the risk of the FTSE Developed ex-NA Index—these being financials, consumer goods and industrials. In contrast, the FTSE Developed ex-NA Diversified Factor Index—or strategic beta index, which JPMorgan Diversified Return International Equity ETF (JPIN) tracks—is explicitly designed to maintain balance and therefore these sector allocations range from 8% to 12%. In the short term, any concentrated portfolio can of course outperform a more diversified one, if the concentrated bet paid off.
Investing wholly in a single stock may outperform over short-term periods. At other times, it may significantly underperform an index. However, it is well understood that an investor is better off diversifying across lots of stocks for better risk-adjusted long-term gains. The same applies here. From a pure return perspective, if financials, for example, account for half of a cap-weighted index in terms of market cap and have a strong run over the short term, of course, this index would outperform over this period. Over the long run, however, it is fairly uncontroversial to suggest that the more broadly diversified index could achieve better risk-adjusted returns.
Seeking a smoother ride in international equity markets?
For investors targeting enhanced diversification through a core international equity portfolio, JPMorgan Diversified Return International Equity ETF (JPIN) targets lower volatility by tracking an index that more evenly distributes risk, enabling them to get invested—and stay invested.
Learn more about JPIN and J.P. Morgan’s suite of strategic beta ETFs here.
Call 1-844-4JPM-ETF or visit www.jpmorganetfs.com to obtain a prospectus. Carefully consider the investment objectives and risks as well as charges and expenses of the ETF before investing. The summary and full prospectuses contain this and other information about the ETF. Read them carefully before investing.
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