Investor Resources

As a client of Sparrows Capital, you will be benefitting from an approach rooted in evidence-based research.

We are committed to applying techniques derived from robust academic studies for the benefit of our clients and would like you to have a clear understanding of the principles that we stand by.

Investor Education

Our investment philosophy reflects the objective lessons of over a century of investment history, applied systematically and unemotionally.

Analysis of the data reveals five key findings:

• return is a function of risk

• certain risks attract a persistent premium

• stock picking and market timing seldom add value

• costs matter

• it is critical to remain invested across the full cycle.

These findings dictate our investment style, which can be summarised as:

Evidence Based

Strategic

Risk Based

Factor Based

Cost Efficient

In this educational section you will find an explanation of each of these styles and their relevance to portfolio construction. We also provide access to learning resources in the form of Academic Papers, Sparrows Capital White Papers and Recommended Books. Please do get in touch if you would like to discuss any of this in more detail.

Evidence Based Investing

EBI is effectively the real-world manifestation of Modern Portfolio Theory, an investment approach envisioned by Nobel Economic prize-winners. Investing often relies on a deeply embedded set of assumptions. In many instances this accepted wisdom is not supported by objective analysis. We have access to market data covering 100 years of investment history, and a wealth of robust academic studies. Important lessons and conclusions can be derived from these studies and applied to investment processes. These insights can help identify and avoid the pitfalls which often erode portfolio performance.

Long run market performance

Portfolio performance is primarily a function of Strategic Asset Allocation, and more specifically the extent to which the investor chooses to be invested in equities, as opposed to fixed income or cash. The SAA is responsible for up to 94% of portfolio returns, and is the most important element of the investment process.

 

See: Does Asset Allocation Policy Explain 40, 90 or 100 Percent of Performance? Roger G. Ibbotson and Paul D. Kaplan, Financial Analyst Journal

Strategic Investing

The evidence shows that Alpha is elusive, that very few asset managers possess the requisite skills to generate added value through stock picking or market timing, and that those managers that do add value tend to do so over a limited period of time (and tend to absorb the lion’s share of that value in fees).

Strategic investing eschews the concept of active management, at least in relation to the core liquid portfolio, and focuses on delivering the market return (beta) corresponding to a given risk profile across the full market cycle. The approach uses highly efficient ETFs and Index Funds to deliver market returns with minimal friction. The portfolio is regularly rebalanced back to its original risk allocation, but there is no subjective attempt to anticipate market moves via tactical overlays.

Delivering the market return

Strategic Investing involves harvesting market returns (beta) across the cycle as efficiently as possible. There is no attempt to time markets or to pick stocks. This objective approach avoids many of the behavioural biases which so often erode portfolio performance.

 

 

 

Risk Based Investing

It is estimated that an investor’s strategic asset allocation explains some 94% of portfolio returns. This means that the allocation of risk across asset classes and across geographies is quite simply the most important decision in the investment process.

Risk based investing focuses on the individual investor’s risk tolerance and financial capacity to assess the appropriate level of portfolio risk. Importantly, risk is never dialled up in order to meet an investment objective; if the appropriate risk allocation is not capable of meeting the desired outcome, then either the objective must be reassessed, or the invested amount must be increased through additional savings or transfer.

Risk is the primary driver of returns

Long-run return is a function of risk, but risk is associated with volatility. Calibration of a strategic asset allocation to the investor’s risk profile is critical: too little risk and the portfolio will disappoint over the long term; too much risk and the investor will succumb to psychological pressures during market swings, eroding long term performance.

Factor Based Investing

Certain identifiable risk factors are rewarded with a persistent risk premium by the market. These risk premia have been recognised by academic research for many decades. Rewarded risk factors include:

  • Size
  • Value
  • Low Volatility
  • Momentum

 

Incorporating strategic exposure to specific risk factors or to combinations of risk factors can enhance a portfolio’s expected risk-adjusted returns across the cycle.

A selective approach to market beta

The market has historically awarded a persistent risk / return premium  to certain risk categories. A factor-based approach favours these categories with a view to improving portfolio performance across the cycle relative to traditional index benchmarks.

Cost Efficient Investing

The costs of investing can be substantial, and comprise investment management charges, fund charges, custody and transaction costs. A major benefit of strategic investing is its use of ultra low cost investment vehicles, including ETFs and Index Funds.

Compounded costs can erode a substantial part of your portfolio’s long term returns. Across your whole investment portfolio you need to have a clear picture what you are paying for and how the added value compensates for the additional costs.

Strategic investing involves low-cost instruments, and produces very low turnover rates, and focuses on delivering market returns as efficiently as possible.

Costs Matter

Management, custody, vehicle and transaction costs and fees are often intransparent, complex and substantial. It is critical to ensure that fees are appropriate for the service being provided, and that they are justified by the value added. The graph illustrates the effect of different fee levels on portfolio performance over a 7 year timeframe, underlining the outperformance hurdle required by active strategies just to cover their charges.

Diversification

By allocating across the entire liquid universe and by using broad market ETFs and index funds, Strategic investing delivers the benefits of multi-layered diversification.

Diversification is the closest thing to a free lunch an investor can find in the financial markets. Diversification allows reduction portfolio risk without sacrificing long term expected return.

There are a few dimensions to diversification, notably:

  • Asset classes
  • Geographies
  • Securities
  • Factors

 

Strategic investing also provides you with the benefit of strategy diversification and  access to uncorrelated investment approaches.

Eliminate idiosyncratic risk

Diversification acts to distill the risks down to the targeted systemic market risk, without reducing expected portfolio returns. This improves the portfolio expected risk / reward profile (expressed as the Sharpe Ratio).

FAQ

Why are traditionally “active” funds using traditionally “passive” products like ETFs?

A genuinely passive investment approach involves an objective, rules based approach to markets, the building blocks for which are passive ETFs and Index Funds. At the same time many active market participants adopt a hybrid approach, and express active macro views using efficient passive instruments. In doing so, these participants are foregoing one potential source of alpha, stock selection, and are focusing their effort on extracting outperformance (alpha) through market timing. This style relies on subjective decisions and manager skill, and is therefore not a passive approach, although it is often presented and marketed as such.

What is the role of tactical asset allocation?

Tactical asset allocation is another euphemism for a strategy which attempts to extract outperformance (alpha) through market timing, by identifying asset classes which are overbought (or oversold) and decreasing (or increasing) portfolio exposure to such asset classes. Empirical studies demonstrate that the vast majority of managers consistently fail to add value through tactical allocation, and indeed tend to destroy value through such decisions. A genuine passive strategy does not involve tactical allocation.

With over 1,500 ETFs listed in Europe alone, how does an investor know which one to choose?

The passive universe contains not only ETFs but also index funds. Portfolio construction should begin with a high level risk allocation process focussed on the investor. This should then be expressed as a benchmark in the form of a granular set of indices representing the relevant investable universe. The ETFs tracking the benchmark indices must then be screened for methodology, tracking error, liquidity, costs, tax efficiency, structure and counterparty risk.

Why pay a manager to select index funds and ETFs? Can’t anyone do it?

If the intention is to select a single product, then an investor can indeed self-select on the basis of product sponsor and cost. But single products tend to focus on large cap companies in major market, and they fail to address the full investable universe, the full market. This approach also  forgoes the benefit of applying factor tilts to the portfolio (see below). Employing an adviser also improves discipline, facilitates consistent rebalancing, reduces an investor’s behavioural bias and reduces the tendency to make ill-timed subjective decisions.

Should all of your portfolio be in ETFs and passively managed?

We advocate a core / satellite approach, with the core portfolio invested passively with a view to harvesting market returns (beta) as efficiently as possible. This can be complemented by a number of specialist satellite products / strategies intended to capture alpha or to access other risk premia (examples might be private equity or real estate holdings). It is important that the investor fully understand why and how each satellite strategy will add value, and that their performance is rigorously reassessed on a regular basis.

How do you know when you should rebalance?

The primary purpose of rebalancing is to ensure consistency of portfolio risk. As with all aspects of a passive strategy, rebalancing must be carried out objectively in accordance with pre-defined rules. Much work has been done to identify optimal rebalancing frequencies, thresholds and timing, but ultimately the most important component of a rebalancing process is discipline.

What is factor investing?

Academic studies have revealed that certain sub-sections of the market have persistently experienced higher returns than the broader market. Factor investing tilts the portfolio, again using a rules-based approach, towards these rewarded risk factors. The resulting strategy remains focused on harvesting market returns (beta), but the components of the market are weighted toward persistently rewarded factors (selective beta).

How do you diversify?

Modern portfolio theory relies on a multi-asset class approach to ensure multi-layered diversification. We advocate liquid, global, multi-asset portfolios comprising ETFs and index funds which, in turn, ensure maximum diversification within each investment layer.

If everyone is rushing into passive investing, what is the future for asset management and hedge funds?

The emergence of highly efficient passive investments is forcing active managers to up their game substantially. Managers with low active share (including closet indexers) will be competitively forced to lower fees and increase efficiency; we are already seeing related merger activity as this industry looks to consolidate and achieve economies of scale and scope. Smaller active managers will be forced to increase active share and focus on genuine consistent alpha production in order to justify fees and remain viable. We expect the industry to be smaller and more competitive in the future.

Is passive investing a fad in a rising market? What happens when markets fall?

Passive investing has been practiced since the 1970s and has stood the test of the global financial crisis. By definition, an investment designed to replicate the market return will efficiently track markets downwards as well as upwards, but the important question is whether this outcome will be better or worse than that of a managed investment in the same conditions. Our analysis shows that managers succumb to the same behavioural biases which are known to damage the performance of individual investors in turbulent markets, and that attempts to protect a portfolio from volatility tend to significantly destroy value across the cycle.

Latest Posts

  • Press/Video, Recommended Books,

    Financial Market History

    July 24, 2017

    Co-edited by David Chambers and Elroy Dimson. A recent project funded by the CFA Institute Research Foundation was the writing and publication of Financial Market History: Reflections on the Past for Investors Today. Financial Times senior...

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    Transparency Task Force seeks progressive asset managers

    July 7, 2017

    The Transparency Task Force (TTF) has launched an exclusive new community for progressive asset managers. The purpose of the community is to facilitate collaboration between asset managers that have a more enlightened and progressive approach....

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – June 2017

    June 5, 2017

    Evidence based portfolio design Can passive become the new active? Yariv Haim reviews lessons learned from active and passive investment approaches, and proposes an enhanced evidence-based portfolio design on the basis of his findings.

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    Swedroe: Top Firms Fail To Beat Passive

    April 26, 2017

    Another intriguing article from Larry Swedroe. Larry compares the performance of two of the top US active investment firms,  SEI and Russell, to the rules-based performance of the equivalent fund from Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA)....

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    Sparrows Capital appoints Raymond Backreedy to its senior management team.

    April 25, 2017

    Raymond will be responsible for investment policy and for portfolio design and management. He will also be providing risk oversight. His experience of constructing and managing rules-based multi asset portfolios will further broaden the wealth of...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – April 2017

    April 20, 2017

    Mark Northway looks at the rise of populist movements and the growing prominence of political risks.

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    SPIVA Survey Continues Passive Winning Streak

    April 19, 2017

    Larry Swedroe: The SPIVA Scorecards provide powerful evidence on the persistent failure of active management’s ability to generate alpha

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    How today’s two biggest investment fads are setting up the next crash

    April 4, 2017

    John Stepek makes a strong point about the extension of duration in the sector which can magnify any correction in the Fixed Income markets. Low interest rates are further addressed in our 2016 white paper...

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    A clinical test of the 5 most popular Smart Beta factors

    March 13, 2017

    The FT's John Authers looks at the 458 claimed factor sightings, and effectively dismisses most as snake oil. "If treated like new drugs, most would never be cleared for sale to the public"​ He goes on...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – March 2017

    March 9, 2017

    The Bet! Mark Northway reviews Warren Buffett’s illuminating annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s shareholders.

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – December 2016

    December 31, 2016

      Mark Northway delves into the FCA Asset Management Market Study and discovers that the regulator's findings represent a welcome vindication of Sparrows Capital's beliefs and philosophy.

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – November 2016

    November 30, 2016

    Most investors know that their portfolio should be diversified, but don’t understand what that really means, or why. Investors often misunderstand—and therefore misapply—the concept. That can leave them with more risk than necessary, or with...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – September 2016

    September 30, 2016

    Coming back from their holiday, the Johnson family was disappointed. Their summer house had been under renovation for the past 6 months, and although it was supposed to be ready three weeks ago, they hadn’t...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – August 2015

    August 30, 2016

    When panic selling hits a market, or even worse when a market is shut down for a long period of time to deal with a crisis or market dislocation events, we should always be monitoring...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – June 2016

    June 30, 2016

    It has been two years since we opened the doors at Sparrows Capital. During this time we have looked to build a constructive dialogue to earn your trust and to form the basis of a...

    Read More
  • Sparrows Papers, White Papers,

    To Beta or Not To Beta – White Paper

    June 22, 2016

    On March 25th 2016 the Financial Times published an article entitled “Smart beta not quite as clever as marketed”. The full article can be found at: http://on.ft.com/1pLRBle . The author, John Authers, raises questions in...

    Read More
  • Press/Video,

    Spreading its wings – Sparrows Capital on bringing its investment approach to more families

    June 17, 2016

    Article published on thewealthnet

    Read More
  • Sparrows Papers, White Papers,

    Investing in a Zero Interest Rate World – A White Paper

    May 31, 2016

    Fahd Rachidy explores the theoretical and practical implications of the current low / zero rate interest environment What is fixed income pricing telling us about market expectations for asset prices? We are truly in uncharted...

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – March 2016

    March 31, 2016

    John had come to the clear conclusion that he would be better off with a passive investment manager. He would have someone focused entirely on his needs, not on gambling his money on risky speculation....

    Read More
  • Newsletters, Sparrows Papers,

    Bird’s Eye View – January 2016

    January 30, 2016

    Months later John was still reading and trying to understand what the Efficient Market Hypothesis was, and what is an asset allocation. He now knew that ETF selection requires an assessment of the provider, methodology,...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    Triumph of the Optimists (Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh, & Mike Staunton)

    January 17, 2016

    Investors have too often extrapolated from recent experience. In the 1950s, who but the most rampant optimist would have dreamt that over the next fifty years the real return on equities would be 9% per...

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Factor Investing,

    Returns to buying winners and selling losers: implications for stock market efficiency

    January 17, 2015

    Jegadeesh N., and Titman S., 1993 “Returns to buying winners and selling losers: implications for stock market efficiency,” Journal of Finance, vol. 48 This paper documents that strategies which buy stocks that have performed well...

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Factor Investing,

    Common Risk Factors in the Returns on Stocks and Bonds

    January 17, 2015

    Fama E., and French K., 1993. “Common Risk Factors in the Returns on Stocks and Bonds”. Journal of Financial Economics, vol 33, no. 1, pages 3-56

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Factor Investing,

    The Strategic and Tactical Value of Commodity Futures

    January 17, 2015

    Erb C., and Harvey C., 2006, “The Strategic and Tactical Value of Commodity Futures”, Financial Analysts Journal, vol 62, no. 2, pages 69-97

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Passive Investing,

    UK mutual fund performance: Skill or luck?” Journal of Empirical Finance

    January 17, 2015

    Cuthbertson K., Nitzsche D., and O’Sullivan D., 2008, “UK mutual fund performance: Skill or luck?” Journal of Empirical Finance”, vol 15, no. 4, pages 613-63

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Passive Investing,

    Hedge Funds: Risk and Return

    January 17, 2015

    Burton G. Malkiel and Atanu Saha, 2005 “Hedge Funds: Risk and Return” Financial Analysts Journal, vol. 61, no. 6, pages 80-92

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Passive Investing,

    False Discoveries in Mutual Fund Performance: Measuring Luck in Estimated Alphas

    January 17, 2015

    Barras L., Scaillet O. & Wermers R., 2010. "False Discoveries in Mutual Fund Performance: Measuring Luck in Estimated Alphas," Journal of Finance, vol. 65, no. 1, pages 179-216

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    Policy Portfolios and Rebalancing Behavior

    January 17, 2015

    Leibowitz M.L., and Bova A., 2011, “Policy Portfolios and Rebalancing Behavior”, The Journal of Portfolio Management, vol. 37, no. 2, pages 60-71

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    Best Practices for Portfolio Rebalancing

    January 17, 2015

    Jaconetti C. M., Kinniry F.M., Zilbering Y., 2010, “Best Practices for Portfolio Rebalancing”, Vanguard Research

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    The Importance of Asset Allocation

    January 17, 2015

    Ibbotson R., 2010, “The Importance of Asset Allocation”, Financial Analysts Journal, vol. 66, no. 2, pages 18-20

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    Diversification Returns and Assets Contributions

    January 17, 2015

    Booth D. G., and Fama E., 1992 “Diversification Returns and Assets Contributions” Financial Analysts Journal, vol 48, no. 3, pages 26-32

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    Capital Market Equilibrium with Restricted Borrowing

    January 17, 2015

    Black F., 1972. “Capital Market Equilibrium with Restricted Borrowing.” Journal of Business, vol. 4, no. 3, pages 444–455

    Read More
  • Academic Papers, Modern Portfolio Theory,

    Diversification, Rebalancing, and the Geometric Mean Frontier

    January 17, 2015

    Bernstein W. J., and Wilkinson, D. J., 1997, “Diversification, Rebalancing, and the Geometric Mean Frontier”, unpublished paper

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    A Random Walk Down Wall Street (Burton G. Malkiel)

    January 17, 2015

    A Random Walk Down Wall Street has long been established as the first book to purchase when starting a portfolio. This new edition features fresh material on exchange-traded funds and investment opportunities in emerging markets;...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    The Great Mutual Fund Trap (Gregory Baer and Gary Gensler)

    January 17, 2015

    The Great Mutual Fund Trap shows that the average mutual fund consistently underperforms the market, and that strategies for picking above-average funds — everything from past performance to expert rankings — are useless. Picking individual...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)

    January 17, 2015

    In this newly revised and expanded edition of the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller, Dan Ariely refutes the common assumption that we behave in fundamentally rational ways. From drinking coffee to losing weight, from buying...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    Fooled by Randomness (Nassim Nocholas Taleb)

    January 17, 2015

    This book is about luck–or more precisely, about how we perceive and deal with luck in life and business. Set against the backdrop of the most conspicuous forum in which luck is mistaken for skill–the...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    All About Asset Allocation (Richard A. Ferri, CFA)

    January 17, 2015

    Trying to outwit the market is a bad gamble. If you're serious about investing for the long run, you have to take a no-nonsense, businesslike approach to your portfolio. In addition to covering all the...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    Value Averaging (Michael E. Edleson)

    January 17, 2015

    Michael Edleson first introduced his concept of value averaging to the world in an article written in 1988. He then wrote a book entitled Value Averaging in 1993, which has been nearly impossible to find—until...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    The Intelligent Asset Allocator (William Bernstein)

    January 10, 2015

    This book includes time-tested techniques - safe, simple, and proven effective - for building your own investment portfolio. "As its title suggest, Bill Bernstein's fine book honors the sensible principles of Benjamin Graham in the...

    Read More
  • Recommended Books,

    Asset Management (Andrew Ang)

    January 10, 2015

    Stocks and bonds? Real estate? Hedge funds? Private equity? If you think those are the things to focus on in building an investment portfolio, Andrew Ang has accumulated a body of research that will prove...

    Read More

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On occasion we include links to third parties on this website. Where we provide a link it does not mean that we endorse or approve that site’s policy towards visitor privacy. You should review their privacy policy before sending them any personal data.

Access to Information

In accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 you have the right to access any information that we hold relating to you. Please note that we reserve the right to charge a fee of £10 to cover costs incurred by us in providing you with the information.

Contacting Us

Please do not hesitate to contact us regarding any matter relating to this Privacy Policy at info@sparrowscapital.com.