Friday, May 16, 2014

We've moved!

To a new home: you can find us at 

BlogSpot, though a decent blog provider, has some limitations. We've wanted to move my blog to Word Press for some time. We hired someone to not only move my blog and John Simpson's blog, but also our website! This site will be dismantled at some point. Almost all of the blog history has been moved over to the new site, and no new postings will be placed here.

Hope to see you there!

The new address for my blog is

No need to be looking here going forward, as we're migrating. I won't begin blogging on the new site until I'm "given the go-ahead," and although most of the history has been ported, there are a few recent posts that still need to be, but we're almost there! But this new site is where I'll be going forward.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

GIPS Alert!!!

Our slightly delayed April newsletters are going out this week, and you'll notice the "lead story" deals with the suggested requirement for GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) firms to, in essence, register with the CFA Institute on an annual basis, and to share details about their firm. The online version has been posted, and is available for your purview. 

I want to mention that my comments have been significantly toned down, as the result of input from a half dozen colleagues (both within and without TSG) who, for the most part, suggested some modification in the wording (one said to use what I had, but I felt inclined to be a bit circumspect in my language).

Suffice it to say, I find the idea quite disturbing, and urge all compliant firms and verifiers to comment. Since they're asking for our opinion, we should be willing to share it. Whether you agree or disagree with my objections, you should be heard.

Monday, May 5, 2014

A novel way to learn about analysis

I'm sure that I'm not the only frequent traveler who has rituals when visiting certain cities. I was in London last week for the umpteenth time, where I made my standard pilgrimage to Jermyn Street and then to the wonderful bookstore, Hatchards, on Picadilly. As is often the case, I found a couple books to purchase, The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair being one. Note that the cover above isn't the same as mine; in fact, if you visit Amazon you'll see that the book, at least in America, isn't available yet; probably because it's written by Joël Dicker, a writer from Geneva, and published in London. 

To put this into perspective, the book numbers some 615 pages, and I managed to cover them in just a few days. While some of the writing is a bit tedious (I didn't care much for the dialogue between the "writer" (the main character of the book) and his mother, for example), for the most part it's a suspenseful and gripping novel that is difficult to put down. 

As I approached the end it occurred to me that this is a great book for analysts, any kind of analyst; that is, for folks who are expected to, well, conduct analysis: to investigate, research, unearth, discover. I include GIPS(R) verifiers in this group, too, since much of what we do is analysis.

I can't say much more without screaming "spoiler alert," and so will leave it at that. I don't read many novels, and only picked this one up because the cover information made it sound intriguing; I wasn't disappointed, and am sure you won't, either. It'll make for good summer reading, or spring reading, if you're ready to delve into it now (though you'll have to wait until the end of the month to get a copy, unless you're in or visiting London).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Aint technology grand?

I arrived in London this morning, the first leg of my first-ever circumnavigation of the globe (I will do a GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) verification here, and then onto New Zealand (via Hong Kong), where I'll do a consulting assignment, before heading home).

When I arrived, I Facetimed my wife on my iPad. This afternoon, we had our monthly "Think Tank," and I accessed it through my lap top and my hotel room's wireless network, and my PC's microphone. And now, I'm reading the Wall Street Journal via my iPad. There's much more going on here, too, but these are just three things which demonstrate the impact technology has had. Pretty cool, overall!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Let's put the end to the rumors ... yes, it's true!

The Spaulding Group is going into the 

jewelry business.

The rumors (rumours for our UK friends) have been circulating for months. Rarely does a day go by when one of us isn't asked "are you guys starting a jewelry line?"  

It makes us wonder, are our phones bugged, is the NSA on our tail, is Tiffany or Bulgari spying on us?

Well, we've gotten tired of avoiding all the questions, and so must confess that the answer is:


There, I've said it. Are you happy now?

We are going into the "bling" line, big time!

Both Patrick Fowler, our company's president, and Chris Spaulding, EVP, have urged me, dare I say, pleaded with me, repeatedly to keep it a secret, but I cannot any longer. I'm tired of dealing with the constant and continuous inquiries. I can't take it anymore. 

The stress is killing me! I'm tired of sleepless nights, trying to figure out the best way to respond. Ask my wife, she'll tell you of the endless rolling over, tossing and turning, that have been a standard nightly ritual for me for months. I'm tired of Jed Schneider's, John Simpson's, et al's constant pleading for us to acknowledge what many have suspected. They, like I, have been pestered by colleagues, clients, and even competitors! "What's up at TSG, I hear you're going to start a jewelry line." When we show up at a verification client, we don't hear "what's new with GIPS?," but rather, "is it true, is it true, are you going into jewelry???" 

Sorry,  but I can't take the stress, the strain, the subterfuge we've had to deploy to keep our biggest secret secret!

One of our dearest friends and clients, who participated in a review of the initial design, has been asking "when will it come, when can I get mine?" The NDA we made her sign is tearing her apart. Well, the wait is nearly over.
Our first creation, which will no doubt be a "hot seller," sought by all investment performance men and women who appreciate the finer things in life, will be unveiled at this year's PMAR conferences

And because the North American event precedes the European by only a month, we will ask the attendees to please be silent, so that their European counterparts aren't denied the chance to see first hand for themselves what we expect to be an award winning design. 

That's it. I've said it. But that's all I'll say until next month.

Mum's the word.

Sorry, Patrick and Chris, but I had no choice. Please forgive me, my weakness. I can't take keeping this secret secret any longer. Please forgive me. No wonder I had a difficult time in the army whenever we did survival training ... I'm weak at heart.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why geometric excess return? Yes, WHY?

When I'm presented with the same question in relatively short period of time, I suspect it's something I should opine about, even if I've done so before.

I was teaching our Fundamentals of Investment Performance Measurement class for an asset owner (large pension fund) recently, and was asked by a couple folks there what the benefits are of geometric excess return; it seems they have a UK manager who insists on presenting them their excess returns geometrically. They've attempted to understand why it's supposed to be better, but haven't had any luck.
Well, join the crowd!  

This week I received an email from the head of performance for a large institution, who also inquired into this subject.

Some, though not many, believe it's a better way to represent the manager's outperformance. The math for both methods is pretty simple:
If, for example, the portfolio's return is 7.00% and the benchmark's 5.00%, the arithmetic excess return is 2.00%, while the geometric's is 1.90 percent. 

We can also look at the differences by using money. If the portfolio began with $1 million, for example, the 7% return would add $70,000. Had the money been invested in the benchmark, it would have returned a profit of $50,000. If we subtract $50,000 from $70,000, we get $20,000; if we then divide this by what we began with ($1 million), we'd get our 2.00% excess return. Geometric, however, would have us divide the $20,000 by where we would have been, had we been in the benchmark (i.e., $1,050,000), which yields our 1.90% geometric excess return. 

To me, the one legitimate advantage of geometric is that it's proportionate. For example, if one manager beats his benchmark 50% to 49%, while another outperforms her benchmark 2% to 1%, arithmetic yields a 1.00% return for both. Geometric, however, would give us a 0.67% return for the first manager, and a 0.99% for the second. To me, this is a legitimate advantage; however, it isn't sufficient to overcome the challenges in understanding it, thus the almost universal preference for arithmetic.

The UK is the bastion for geometric excess return. Ironically, our research has shown that while the portfolio managers there prefer geometric (by roughly a two-to-one margin), their clients prefer arithmetic (by the same two-to-one margin). 

Geometric attribution is different from arithmetic because it reconciles to a geometric excess return. It's more complicated to execute and more difficult to discern and explain. And while I wouldn't argue for something simply because it's easy to explain, given that after many attempts, I've yet to see the true benefit of geometric, I remain solidly in the arithmetic camp.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A proposed GIPS change you MUST pay attention to

The CFA Institute is proposing to MANDATE, REQUIRE, COMPEL firms that claim compliance with the GIPS standards to submit information regarding their firm to them on an annual basis. 

To say the least, I am seriously concerned by this idea.

You can learn about it by going here. It's a fairly non-intuitive process to (a) get to the details behind what they propose and (b) to submit your thoughts. 

I will offer a fairly detailed explanation of what this is, as well as my candid views on it in this month's newsletters. Suffice it to say, I STRONGLY disapprove. 

An interview

I was very flattered when BI-SAM recently asked to interview me for their online newsletter. I'm the one who normally conducts interviews (for The Journal of Performance Measurement(r)), so it was nice to be on "the other side."

You can read the interview here.

I thank BI-SAM for this privilege honor.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A reason for performance measurement professionals to celebrate!

The Wall Street Journal posted the following yesterday:

Well, to me this is a reason for performance measurers to celebrate. 

Why?, you might ask: because:
we're mathematicians

Wikipedia defines a mathematician as "a person with an extensive knowledge of mathematics who uses this knowledge in their work, typically to solve mathematical problems. Mathematics is concerned with numbers, data, collection, quantity, structure, space, models and change." 

The reality also is that many of us in the field have degrees in math (or, as the British say, maths). My undergraduate degree is from Temple University and is in mathematics. My colleague, John Simpson, CIPM, holds a BS in Applied Mathematics from UCLA (he couldn't get into USC ... it's a sore subject ... don't go there). And my colleague, Jed Schneider received a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. (I guess because mine is in pure or theoretical math, I'm more like Sheldon Cooper, who decries those who work in the "applied" area, although I've adapted to the applied side (or, as Sheldon might call it, the "dark" side)). 

I suspect that no one in performance measurement "hates" or "dislikes" math; many, like John, Jed, and I like or even love math. Plus, I'm sure that many of us are here because it involves mathematics, equations, formulas, models, data, analysis, etc.

And so, to learn that it's seen in such a positive light is worth celebrating!

 For the full WSJ article, go here!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buddy, can you spare ... two minutes? Our "mini" survey won't even take THAT long! And yet, your views are highly desirable

We're wrapping up our "mini" GIPS® survey, but first want to hear from you! It's REALLY fast to do; we only ask four questions:

1. Your Name/ Company/ Title

2. Does your firm currently claim compliance with the GIPS® standards?

3. Do you want to see a guidance statement that will outline “sunset” provisions for various GIPS required disclosures, where “sunset” provisions refer to the minimum amount of time a disclosure would be required to be shown?

4. Do you favor new rules being introduced via Q&As? 

Oh, and we also give you a chance to 
comment further, if you wish:

5. Please enter any other comments, questions, or concerns you might have in the following box. 

That's it! Pretty simple, right? And so, please visit our survey site  right now, and take the two minutes (or less) to answer these simple questions. You'll have a chance to win a $25 Amex gift card, too!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

What performance measurers can learn from golf

I took most of this week off so that a friend of mine and I could go to the Masters golf tournament in August, GA. Our wives came along, though they stayed at our hotel location (in Savannah, GA) while we headed to yesterday's final practice round and par-3 tournament. It occurred to me that there is quite a parallel between golf and performance measurement.

Statistics mean a great deal. For example, golfers count their strokes, and they're used to determine how well one does against the course, as well as how one ranks against other players. This is how we measure the performance of the players.

There are essentially two benchmarks at work in golf: par (for each hole and for the course) and a peer group. While the former is a good judge relative to the course, it's the latter that determines victory in a tournament (along with whether a golfer even "makes the cut," and if he does, how much money he's awarded). Investment managers are typically judged vis-a-vis at least one, if not multiple, benchmarks.

Golf, like investing, has risks, though they tend to be a bit more obvious (e.g., bunkers and water hazards).

Golf has rules ... lots of rules. Performance measurement does, too, though they're not nearly as refined or extensive. Many of these rules are not well understood and require interpretation, for both golf and performance measurement.

One of my favorite golf movies is The Legend of Bagger Vance. And one of the most memorable lines is spoken by Hardy Greaves, in explaining why golf is the greatest game there is: "It's fun. It's hard and you stand out there on that green, green grass, and it's just you and the ball and there ain't nobody to beat up on but yourself; just like Mister Newnan keeps hittin' himself with the golf club every time he gets angry. He's broken his toe three times on account of it. It's the only game I know that you can call a penalty on yourself, if you're honest, which most people are. There just ain't no other game like it. ." [emphasis added]

We're supposed to call penalties on ourselves, yes? That is, when we make a mistake, we are to determine the materiality of the error and what course of action to take. 

I think we can take pride in where we stand today, though we can look upon golf as a way to move forward; to develop our rules a bit more, and to be willing and comfortable at calling a penalty on ourselves.

p.s., to avoid any confusion, we won't be at any more days of the tournament ... we purchased tickets for yesterday's event, but the cost for the remaining days is a bit beyond our budgets!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Understannding the rules, the conventions

This morning, I had to phone in a prescription refill to our pharmacy (CVS). They have an automated system that allows you to enter a number associated with the prescription, which makes the process pretty simple; simple up to one point, at least for me.

My wife is picking it up, and said she'd do so around noon. The pharmacy's automated attendant asked what time, and I entered "1200." It then asked if  this would be AM or PM. That's when I had to pause.

Recall that:
  • AM = from the Latin ante meridiem, meaning "before midday"
  • PM = post meridiem, "after midday"
[source: Wikipedia]

Since noon is THE meridian, it is neither ante nor post; it's just "meridian." Noon is 12:00 M. And so, I turned to my wife, who is less picky about such things, for help, and she said "PM." This worked, so the prescription will be ready at the appointed time.

However, 12:00 noon is definitely NOT PM; 12 midnight is. But, we (everyone but me and others who take this too seriously, actually) think of 12:00 midnight as AM. However, it isn't AM until one second after midnight.

Wikipedia offers the following: It is not always clear what times "12:00 a.m." and "12:00 p.m." denote. From the Latin words meridies (midday), ante (before) and post (after), the term ante meridiem (a.m.) means before midday and post meridiem (p.m.) means after midday. Since strictly speaking "noon" (midday) is neither before nor after itself, the terms a.m. and p.m. do not apply. However, since 12:01 p.m. is after noon, it is common to extend this usage for 12:00 p.m. to denote noon. That leaves 12:00 a.m. to be used for midnight at the beginning of the day, correctly, continuing to 12:01 a.m. that same day.

The 24 hour clock, which I became intimately familiar with in the army, makes this much simpler. Noon is 1200; midnight is 2400. We don't worry about "AM" or "PM." Midnight, being 2400 represents the end of a 24 hour day. One minute after midnight is not 2401; it's 0001. 

Sometimes our rules are confusing, sometimes they're just plain wrong, but we must conform, despite our objections, to doing so, in order to "get along" (or to get our prescriptions filled properly). 

In performance measurement we often deal with rules that make perfect sense, while at times we deal with ones that are not so clear. Sometimes, what appears confusing is only a reflection of our ignorance. This often happens when working with time-weighted returns, when there's a loss but we show a positive return: the typical and understandable response is "it doesn't make sense." And, it doesn't; until we get a better grasp of what is occurring. 

We can fight some of the rules, as I often attempt, or just give in. 

I am not the only one who has challenged the 12:00 noon is PM  convention; occasionally articles are offered on this subject, and these articles appear to only appeal to folks like myself. 

As a purest (I guess that's what I am), I also challenge calling a lectern a podium, or to suggest that "the lion's share" means "most" (it means "all"). But one can tire and frustrate others (such as my normally very patient wife) by being pedantic, so I will stop now. Hopefully my link to our profession is clear. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Dealing with denial

Yesterday's WSJ had a book review on The Unpersuadables,  by Will Storr. It isn't clear that I have much interest in the book, though the ideas summarized in the review are intriguing.

The reviewer, Michael Shermer, identifies some of the folks highlighted in Storr's book: unpersuadables, such as David Irving, who deny certain things that most agree with (in Irving's case, the Holocaust). Storr refers to these individuals as "enemies of science." 

It occurred to me that our industry has such individuals: who, despite overwhelming and objective evidence, refuse to give in. I'll touch very briefly on three.

The benefits of money-weighting 

There are some who simply don't see any role for money-weighting, save for its use with private equity managers. While they agree that we use time-weighting because the manager doesn't control cash flows, they fail to see the opposite: that we should use money-weighting in cases when managers do control cash flows

The only conclusion when debating one of these unpersuaders is that the logic for time-weighting is flawed: rather, that we should simply always use time-weighting! The problem arises, of course, with private equity: we are sometimes told that we use money-weighting then because these are illiquid securities whose values are difficult to discern.

It is frustrating, I can assure you, when devotees of money-weighting, such as myself, attempt to persuade one who simply has no desire to be persuaded.

The fallacy of the aggregate method   

I have, on more than a few occasions, demonstrated how the aggregate method is severely flawed as a composite return method. It can provide totally nonsensical results, and even violates the definition of the composite return in the GIPS(R) standards. 

But those who refuse to see this dare to suggest that this method is actually the best approach! I think in this case it's "I don't care what proof you have, we'll stick with this position and yell louder to make it sound right!"

The error in asset-weighted composite returns  

Staying with the GIPS (Global Investment Performance Standards) theme a bit more, let's consider the requirement to asset-weight composite returns. Many forget that this was a very hotly debated topic 20+ years ago, when the AIMR-PPS(R) was being unveiled. Two industry groups (the Investment Council Association of America (now the Investment Advisers Association) and the Investment Management Consultants' Association) argued for equal-weighting, but the framers of these standards refused to budge. At the time, I didn't give it much attention, and so (like most) was quite comfortable with the decision.

Now that we've been at this for over 22 years, many of us have concluded that asset-weighting serves no purpose, and provides a less-than-ideal metric to judge a manager's performance: the return is, by design, skewed in the direction of the larger accounts' performance. This return doesn't report how a manager did "on average." How does one even interpret what it means? All we know is that it leans towards the bigger accounts.

But try to get this requirement to be changed!

Making progress despite the presence of unpersuadables

We are not dealing with stupid people, as this clever quote by Mark Twain addresses.

Not at all. In the case of performance measurement, these unpersuadables are individuals of high intellect, who are simply unwilling or unable to be open to alternative views. 

Perhaps we could alter the caption a bit: Never argue with unpersuadables." It's really quite a waste of effort, and isn't much fun, either.

I hope and believe we can do better. Our little industry is still quite new. We've made loads of mistakes along the way: in some cases, we've righted them, while in other cases, we still have some work to do. But it's difficult to make progress when some (especially when they're in a position of authority) hold steadfast to positions that are, in reality, weak. 

I am not about to declare these unpersuadables "enemies of performance measurement." However, their refusal to be even the least bit open to change doesn't help.

The Catholic Church took a very long time to agree that the earth revolved around the sun; hopefully, we will see the acknowledgement of better ways in a more expeditious fashion.

I will close by quoting the late U.S. Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan who once observed that "everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts." 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A demonstration of superior risk management

Risk measurement is a challenge; risk management, even more so.

This video is a great demonstration of properly managing risks.

What can we learn from it? I think that we 
  • have the vision to be able to see when things aren't working out as planned or expected,
  • need to be able to assess our risks, 
  • have the proper training to know how to respond,
  • possess the requisite expertise to take the appropriate steps
  • have confidence that we can be successful.  
When it comes to investing, we know that we can do better in both the way we measure as well as manage risks. The "third M" of risk is "monitoring." Much more can be said, no doubt.

As for what occurred in the video, here is the accompanying text:

It involved an F-35 unintentional loop at takeoff.

A supremely well-trained US Navy pilot, ice running in his veins instead of blood, fully regains control of his $70 million, F-35 joint strike force fighter, after a problematic vertical take-off attempt.
The rear vertical thruster fires, which causes the problem. There's nothing about this the pilot enjoys. If he could have ejected at 100' upside down and lived, he would have. 

Looks like the afterburner kicks in while still vectored for vertical takeoff. Lockheed would call this a "software malfunction" and do a little more "regressive testing". This is a good demonstration of power-to-weight ratio of this aircraft! And talk about stability control... wow!

If he didn't come out of the loop wings-level, it probably would have been bad news; maybe taking some of the carrier with him! Add to this flying through your own exhaust, which can lead to equipment malfunctions, as in "flame out." 

The F-35 is single engine aircraft with vertical takeoff/landing capability, but it has the aerodynamics of a Steinway piano at zero airspeed. This is the most unbelievable piece of flying you will ever see in your life.

This guy's coolness saved a 70 million-dollar aircraft! On the other hand, he might not have had time to react to anything except just ride it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

GIPS' Sunset Rules and Q&As ... what do YOU think?

We are hosting a "mini" survey, and would like your thoughts, IF your firm claims compliance with the Global Investment Performance Standards.

There are really only two questions. It should take you only a minute or so to complete it!

The first deals with sunset rules.

The second is about the use of Q&As to establish rules.

As an incentive to participate, we will have a drawing for a $25 American Express gift card! 

The responses will be detailed here, as well as in our newsletters. Please visit our survey site, and submit your answers by April 21.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Which risk-free rate to use when investing in other countries?

A client sent us a question that I am a bit surprised hasn't been asked before: which country's risk-free rate should be used when investing across countries?

For example, if a US domiciled investor has a Japan-based asset, when we calculate the Sharpe ratio, should we use a US risk-free rate or one from Japan? Likewise, if we have a client in Japan for whom we've purchased assets in the UK, which country's risk-free rate should we employ?

In risk-adjusted return measures such as the Sharpe ratio, we use the risk-free return to derive the risk premium (portfolio return minus risk-free return). It's the premium the investor is entitled to, for taking on more risk.

If the portfolio manager picks a Japanese asset, presumably it's because they want to gain exposure to that market. And so, to me, the alternative risk-free asset would be one from Japan.

A challenge arises when we invest in a country (e.g., emerging market) where there is no risk-free asset. In these cases, I would think it reasonable to default to the risk-free asset of the investor's home country. These are views that I've come up with without the benefit of discussion with others, and so I am open to being corrected, enlightened, persuaded to adopt alternative ones.

This is an interesting topic, I believe, that is worthy of much discussion. This is the first time I've opined on it, and am curious what you think, so please offer your comments!

Friday, March 21, 2014

It's time for a Guidance Statement on Sunset Provisions

Recall that the GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) Executive Committee (EC) issued a "Q&A" that introduces a change to the Standards, allowing firms to remove disclosures of composite name changes after five years. 

During the recent EC open meeting call, I asked if it's possible to see additional GIPS requirements receive similar "sunset provisions." The response was, as one might have expected: "yes, of course it's possible." I would hope we could do better, though.

I remain of the opinion that Q&As are not the place where changes should be introduced. There's a clear precedence for them to be put forward for public comment. We know that President Barack Obama has been criticized and accused of bypassing congress, by making changes to laws (only time will tell if this is formally addressed); the EC's practice of using Q&As as a way to avoid putting new rules out for public scrutiny is one that I believe should cease, unless those very same Q&As are also put out for comment (which actually wouldn't be a good idea).

I received an email this week from a verification client asking if they can drop some of the disclosures which to them, and probably just about everyone on the planet, are no longer relevant. However, in the absence of an official change, they cannot. In an earlier post I suggested that since this change was introduced through a Q&A, perhaps the ability to make "judgment calls" applies everywhere, but prudence suggests that one should be circumspect about such actions.

Given that the EC has decided to cease the practice of quinquennially reviewing and introducing new versions of the Standards, one would think that time is available to take a serious look at all the required disclosures, and determine which, like composite name changes, can be permitted to disappear. A "Guidance Statement on Sunset Provisions" would be welcome by all, I believe.

We will shortly conduct a "mini survey" on these topics, to gain some insights into what others think.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When defining the word "benchmark," don't forget to include "confusing"

Of late, my colleagues and I have been involved in numerous conversations on the subject of benchmarks; in fact, I'm about to conduct a focused study for a client on their benchmark construction policies and procedures.

I conducted a GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) verification for a firm who occasionally uses benchmarks solely for "reference" purposes; this is quite common with hedge funds, that are "absolute" strategies, where no appropriate benchmark exists. And so, an index like the S&P 500 might be used. 

If we look at the definition of "benchmark" in the Standards' glossary we find:

At first blush, one would be inclined to believe that such a benchmark is sufficient, and fulfills the requirements of the Standards. Sadly, this definition is incomplete and therefore misleading, thus the confusion that can arise.

Within the corpus of the Standards we find:

THIS, to me, is a much better definition. Hopefully, in the 2020 or 2025 version, we'll see an expansion of it in the glossary.

And so, if the benchmark is solely for reference purposes, although it fulfills the definition, it fails to meet the requirements of this provision (i.e., I.5.A.1.e.), and the firm must include a disclosure, as required by:

and the "reference" benchmark should be flagged as "supplemental information."

Simple, right?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What triggers a benchmark rebalance?

We received an inquiry recently regarding the appropriateness to rebalance a benchmark when the portfolio has a 10% flow. I discussed this with my colleagues, and we were all a bit surprised by the question. Now, perhaps there are loads of firms that do this, and we're just not aware; or, the questioner was confusing rebalancing benchmarks with revaluing portfolios to calculate time-weighted returns (a common practice to revalue a portfolio when large flows occur). 

The benchmark represents the strategy. What should cause it to be rebalanced?

Well, let's consider the portfolio and benchmark at the start of investing. Let's make it really simple, and say that there are two asset classes, stocks and bonds, and that the strategy is to be 50/50 (i.e., 50% stocks, 50% bonds). Almost immediately, in response to market movements, both will drift from their initial allocation. And even though the strategy is 50/50, the portfolio may have a different one, based on tactical decisions of the manager; perhaps the manager decided to overweight stocks, so the portfolio begins at 60/40. 

And so, we see that they both drift. Let's project that stocks are doing much better than bonds, so that after a month the benchmark is 55/45 and the portfolio's at 65/35. Do we rebalance?

To rebalance the portfolio, the manager must sell some stocks (that appreciated) and put the money into bonds (which didn't do as well relative to stocks during this period). This trading is costly, yes?  Transaction costs (e.g., commissions) must be paid. A manager may elect to rebalance in order to reduce risk: while the portfolio benefited from the market, the farther away it goes from its initial target, the greater the portfolio's risk, should the market turn. And so, the manager may forgo further increases to the full amount currently sitting in stocks, in order to protect the portfolio from a jolt in the market. Some managers will allow the portfolio to continue to drift, however. Let's say that the manager does not, at this point, rebalance the portfolio; should they rebalance the benchmark?

Unlike rebalancing the portfolio, when we do this to the benchmark there is no cost; it's just making adjustments to the weights and calculating the appropriate return: no transactions are needed and no transaction costs are incurred. So, should the manager rebalance the benchmark?

There are at least two options:

#1 Since the portfolio is allowed to drift, to bring the benchmark back into alignment would create a situation where the portfolio is doing something the benchmark isn't allowed to do, and so perhaps it's gaining an advantage.

#2 HOWEVER, recall that benchmarks shouldn't include tactical decisions. In addition to an allocation that's different from the strategy, I'd say that to allow the allocation to drift (in response to the market) is also a tactical decision. Let's say that the equity portion continues to grow, and then BOOM, we get hit with a big market adjustment; the portfolio's return will drop. Well, if we allow the benchmark to drift, too, it will suffer from the same market downturn. But the benchmark is no longer the strategy, it's drifted away. And so, I would say that "best practice" would call for regular periodic rebalancing of the benchmark (most likely monthly), to ensure it remains representative of the strategy. 

And so, in answer to the question, "what triggers a benchmark rebalance," I would say time. 

Another component could be drift, right? The firm can establish a threshold that says if the benchmark's strategic allocation shifts by X% or more, it will be rebalanced. I'd think this would be fitting, too.

The benchmark is to align with the portfolio's strategy, and one would think that the rebalancing rules should be a component of the strategy: if it calls for quarterly rebalancing, then the benchmark should rebalance at the same point. If the manager decides to override the strategy and use a tactic to gain an advantage, then I would think the benchmark should continue with the strategy's  rules.

This is an area where I haven't done much dabbling, and so don't know what common practice is, or even if there is a "common practice," so am open to your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, etc. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The meaningfulness of statistical measures

When we conduct GIPS(R) verifications, it is not uncommon to see a footnote appear on a presentation where the number of accounts in the composite are five or fewer. The Global Investment Performance Standards do not require firms to disclose the number of accounts or dispersion if there are five or fewer accounts (at year or end or for the full year, respectfully), and most firms avoid doing it. Footnotes often include wording such as "statistical measures of internal dispersion are not considered meaningful and therefore not presented."

Not meaningful. What is meant by that? Statistically significant? Doubtful.

If there are six accounts present for the full year, is dispersion "meaningful"? Apparently, yes, though I believe statisticians would probably argue that they are not. For standard deviation to have value, we'd probably want 30 or more observations, which is a threshold that is well beyond what is permitted. 

Simply indicating "≤ 5" should suffice for number of accounts, and "n/a" for dispersion, though a footnote indicating that there were less than six accounts present for the full year will work, too.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A HUGE reason why performance attribution is critically important

I delivered a talk earlier this week for the CFA Society of St. Louis on performance attribution. One of the attendees asked "what's the point?" I.e., why should an asset manager be doing performance attribution? 

My initial response was "every party has a pooper, that's why we invited you," but then observed that this was actually a very good question. Why bother?

I explained that while it is a great tool to explain how a manager outperformed their benchmark, it can be even more beneficial to explain why they underperformed. No one wants to be told "I don't know," or to be given a vague excuse. If the manager can delineate the basis behind under-performance, it clearly and loudly communicates that the manager has their finger on the pulse; that they understand a great deal about their process and the market. 

We have spoken with several individuals who have testified to the benefits such reporting has, and how it has helped them retain clients that they may have lost had they not had such information at their disposal.

And so, it does matter ... a lot!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Contrasting "for" and "during" in your performance reporting

Although not common, I still occasionally run into situations like the following: a period is selected to report performance that extends beyond (at the start, end, or both) the actual period a portfolio or asset was being managed or held, and yet a return is produced, with no indication of the true period for which the return is being measured.

For example, a portfolio's inception date is October 20, 2013, and you're reporting the fourth quarter 2013 returns for all portfolios. This portfolio, along with every other one in the composite, has a return, with no flagging or footnote indicating that its true period is shorter. To me, this is a big problem.

We occasionally see this when we conduct GIPS(R) verifications, where a composite began after the start of the year (or ended before the end, or had a break within the year). We require our clients to have a footnote or some other indicator as to what the true reporting period is.

It occurred to me that in cases like this, we're reporting a return that occurred during the period, but it's definitely not for the period.

Imagine a prospective employee who shows you their resume that reflects a continuous employment history, with no breaks. You later find that they had been terminated from one job and that it took them six months to get a new one. To avoid the unseemly break, they decided to extend the termination date from the one job, and move the start date from the second job up a bit. And so, they're reporting on jobs that were held during the alleged period, but clearly not for the period. We would not look favorably upon such reporting, would we? Folks have been terminated for less.

Well, shouldn't performance reports be held to the same level of scrutiny? My belief is that if a portfolio, security, etc. doesn't exist for the full period, you either (a) report "n/a," or (b) report a return with an indicator that it's for a shorter period, and identify what that period is. To do otherwise would, in my view, provide invalid and misleading information.

Any thoughts?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Returns across weekends

A Linkedin colleague sent me a note about the idea of calculating returns across weekends. There really is no need to do this, except when the month-end date occurs on the weekend and you're accruing for income. The following paints four cases:

In Case #1, we calculate the return for each day, including the weekends, for the period Friday through Monday. In Case #2, we ignore the weekends, with the proviso that Monday's beginning value is Friday's ending value (just as Saturday's is in Case #1): we get the same return.

In Case #3 we take accruals into consideration and calculate returns for each of the four days. In Case #4 we ignore the weekends, with the understanding that (a) Monday's starting value is Friday's ending, and (b) that Monday's ending value includes the accruals that occurred over the weekend. We see we get the same returns.

If Saturday or Sunday is the start or end of the month, then we want to make sure we capture any accruals that would occur on Saturday and/or Sunday.

Ironically, I think systems that calculate monthly returns probably handle the month-end better than daily, since they inherently will ensure they capture all the accruals; for daily, unless you calculate every day, you need to do some extra work to make sure they're there. Your thoughts? Am I missing something?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

What does flying have to do with investment risk?

Chuck Yeagar is perhaps best known as the first pilot to officially go beyond the speed of sound. You may recall that he was portrayed by Sam Shepard in the movie, The Right Stuff. In his autobiography he wrote "all pilots take chances from time to time, but knowing -- not guessing -- what you can risk is often the critical difference between getting away with it or drilling a fifty-foot hole in mother earth."

The key point is knowing the risk that is being taken.

Leslie Rahl wrote“Risk is not bad.What is bad is risk that is mispriced, misunderstoodor unintended." Again, the key is to understand the risk that's being taken.

It's required that those who offer investment services properly acquaint their clients with the risks they will be subject to, so that there won't be any surprises or disappointments, should things not work out as planned.

Risk measurement is the most complicated aspect of performance measurement; enough hasn't been said about it, nor do we fully understand it, though we keep trying. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Announcing the first ever, "black tie optional" performance measurement conference

This year's Performance Measurement, Attribution & Risk (PMAR) conferences will be "black tie optional." A bit unusual, right? And so, why would we do this?

Well, the theme of the events is "the secret agents of performance measurement," and when we think "secret agent," Bond, James Bond, comes to mind. And when we think of Bond, we think of classy elegance and the iconic tuxedo.

My personal favorite Bond is Pierce Brosnan (who like most of the other 007s, was not English (he's Irish ... my, how did THAT slip by?)). 

We have no way of knowing, of course, how many of our attendees or speakers will adopt the dress of a classy British secret agent, but those who do will, no doubt, enhance the classiness of an already classy program. And of course, the "black tie optional" theme carries over to women, too, who may choose to adorn themselves in an appropriate garment befitting a "Bond girl" or a female secret agent attending a formal function.

But the "optional" will remain in force, meaning attendees may elect to go "business casual" or wear a business suit. 

While I would very much like to be wearing a tux by Brioni, which appears to have been Brosnan's preferred source of clothing, I'll make due with what I have.

The events, like all previous PMARs, will be educational, engaging, and edifying (three e's), plus lots of fun. 

For more information, please visit our official PMAR website. PMAR is unique in very many ways, and this year's will merely introduce yet another, and expectedly fun, form of uniqueness.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


I have been a fan of "synchronicity" for some time; it's essentially the belief that there are no such thing as coincidences; instead, things happen for a reason

Yesterday, I posted about Napoleon Hill. And earlier today I discovered this on Facebook:

It was posted by the Napoleon Hill Facebook page (which I'm a "fan" of). 

My friend and colleague, Debi Rossi, sent me an email last week with the following: "You have always inspired me to pursue further knowledge, as I am sure you have done so for many, many others." I was both honored and flattered to receive such a note.

That being said, it is my sincere hope that my recent accomplishment of obtaining a doctorate will inspire others to pursue similar goals. There are many folks much younger than I who think they may be too old to go back to school. Well, I don't believe so.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A word on education, from Napoleon Hill

Napoleon Hill wrote the classic, Think & Grow Rich. I am reading it for the umpteenth time, and came across the following which I think is important to consider:

Successful men*, in all callings, never stop acquiring specialized knowledge related to their major business, 
purpose, or profession.

I have attempted to live by this philosophy, and encourage you to do the same. There are many ways to accomplish this:
  1. Reading books: While there was a time when there were very few performance and risk books available, this is no longer the case. We have published several, as have others. You should strive to have a library you can rely upon.
  2. Reading articles: The Journal of Performance Measurement(R) the leading provider of articles on performance and risk, though other publications offer them, too. To keep up with the latest thinking, you should make an effort to review these publications.
  3. Training: The Spaulding Group offers training on performance measurement and risk, as do others. This is an excellent way to gain additional knowledge.
  4. Conferences: Our Performance Measurement, Attribution & Risk (PMAR) conferences are the leading performance conferences in the industry. We hope you choose to join us in Philadelphia (May) and/or London (June) to expand your knowledge and have a great time doing it.
  5. CIPM Program:  I'm not sure the program was intended to be a training vehicle, but it is. Many have found it to be a great way to acquire additional knowledge (as well as achieve the certification). As you may know, we offer both training and prep materials for the program.
A very long time ago I stumbled upon the term "life long learner," and decided this was a worthy pursuit. I think we all can benefit from striving to broaden our knowledge, especially in our chosen field of employment.

* Please excuse Napoleon's choice of words; this was written roughly 80 years ago. Today he would no doubt word it "men and women."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mission Accomplished!

My postings slowed down this week, because I was preparing for my doctoral dissertation defense, which occurred yesterday (despite the horrid weather we were having). I am pleased to announce that I was successful.

I have wanted to achieve this goal for nearly 30 years (since I was about 11; I've always been ambitious). The challenge was finding an institution that offered a part-time program. I learned that most PhD programs are only available to full-time students, and taking a few years off to pursue a doctorate is beyond most of our abilities, surely mine. After a discussion with someone at Drexel University, I learned that Case Western Reserve (Cleveland, OH) had a part-time program, so I began to pursue it. However, along the way I learned of the program at Pace University in NYC. Given its proximity to my home and office (roughly an hour away), the decision was an easy one. I should add that logistics wasn't the only reason I chose Pace; unlike Case Western, Pace afforded me the opportunity to have declared concentrations of finance and international economics.

Pace offers a Doctorate in Professional Studies (DPS). It is intended for business professionals who wish to obtain a "terminal degree" on a part-time basis. It was ideal for me, as it afforded the challenge, the instruction, and the opportunity I was seeking.

Its claim of being "rigorous" is one I can attest to. Roughly half the students who began the program with me dropped out, and of those who made it through the "ABD" (all but dissertation) phase, there remain a few who are still in pursuit of the ultimate goal (with, I suspect, at least one who has given up). 

My dissertation's title is The Predictability of Holdings-Based Residuals As a Result of Trading Volatility. I will shortly begin working on the first of at least two articles based on my research.

Someone posted this on Linkedin yesterday (being a fan of synchronicity, I found the timing interesting):

While we might prefer less graphic language, the point is a clear one. Many of us set goals in life, but some of these goals remain unfulfilled. I have learned that we can come up with many, many reasons (excuses?) why we can't do something; what we need is a strong enough why we must reason to achieve our goals. 

Today, there are other part-time doctoral programs. One of my business colleagues and friends is pursuing one through the International University. And I believe Oklahoma State has one, too. 

I can recommend Pace University's, since I just spent the past several years involved in it. It requires one full day each month on campus per semester for the first three years. Students are required to pick two areas to concentrate in (mine were Finance and International Economics), and must take three electives each, that are also held on campus (though students can pursue these at other institutions, provided they meet the school's requirements; for example, I completed one at Rutgers University). In addition to writing a dissertation (which must be scholarly, represent original research, and contribute to the profession), students must also pass both written and oral comprehensive exams ("comps") in both areas of concentration.

One of my great discoveries along the way was the advancements that have taken place with university libraries. Today, access to journal articles is "a breeze," as one can fairly easily track down material on line. In addition, the school has access to many databases (e.g., CRSP: Center for Research in Security Pricing), which can prove quite useful.

I am obviously quite proud and pleased at this moment, but I am also hopeful that others will be encouraged to pursue their goals. I am thankful for the support I received from my family and friends, and the faculty members who were willing to serve on my dissertation committee.

Note: a "terminal degree" is the highest academic degree in a given field of study.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Looking for a date? How about three?

We were recently contacted regarding the appropriate date to use for a fund's inception. This caused me to reflect a bit, and I thought I'd touch on this briefly. There are essentially three dates you may want to concern yourself with:
  • Inception Date: this is the date the account incepted (Wow, did I actually write that?). It is derived from the Latin inceptus, the past participle of incipere: to begin, undertake. And so, it's the beginning or start of the account. It is typically the date that the funds are first available to be managed.
  • Performance Start Date: this is the date that the manager begins to be tracked for performance. It may be sensitive to two things. First, the point at which enough funds are in the account so that the manager can execute his/her strategy. Funds sometimes come into a new account over several days, and so it may take some time to reach the minimum threshold or for the account to be "fully funded." It would arguably be unfair to start a track record if the account is not yet able to be invested as intended. The second factor could be the point at which the account is "fully invested." Depending on the liquidity of the market, this may take a single day or several months. It's not unusual to have a discussion with the client to agree upon what this date will be.
  • Composite Entrance Date: if the firm claims compliance with GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards), they must have a policy that specifies when accounts are added to composites. Some immediately add a new account, while others delay. Liquidity is typically a factor in determining how long the lag time will be.
It's important that the firm have policies in place to assist in determining what these dates will be for each account.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"They were simply outplayed"

It's probably not surprising that Sunday's Superbowl is still a topic of discussion.

I'm conducting a GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) verification this week, and this morning, when I went into the hotel's concierge lounge, I overheard two women who were watching a discussion about the game on the television. The Seahawks' Richard Sherman was explaining some of the reasons his team prevailed; apparently the women were unimpressed. One remarked, regarding the Broncos, that "they were simply outplayed."

While no one can argue with such an observation, it lacks the specificity that many like to see. I recall how the Philadelphia Eagles' defensive coordinator, Jim Johnson, was credited with the team's success against the then Atlanta Falcon's (now Eagles') Michael Vick in the NFC Championship game in advance of Superbowl XXXIX. "Monday (and even "Tuesday") morning quarterbacks" aren't typically satisfied with "they were simply outplayed." 

What insights can be shared that perhaps we weren't aware of? Did the team have a secret strategy to keep Peyton Manning in check (looked that way)?

Imagine if a portfolio manager were to explain why they failed to beat the benchmark with such brevity ("we were simply outperformed"). Chances are it wouldn't suffice. We want a more detailed assessment.

Attribution analysis, be it of an important (or even not so important) game is often expected, as well as with investing. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

That which gets measured, gets improved ... or maybe not

I have to thank my lovely daughter-in-law, Monica, for providing this photo to me. 

Consider this, a "fun" post.

I was in the Army for almost five years, and stationed for 39 months with the 25th Infantry Division (Oahu, Hawaii; I was a Field Artillery officer). Granted, this tour was quite a hardship, but I managed to survive (along with my bride, Betty, who accompanied me). 

Shortly after we arrived, I met the "Fort DeRussey beach officer," another 2LT (second lieutenant). Ft. DeRussey is an "army beach," that occupies a great spot along Waikiki beach in Honolulu (shortly before we left the island, a beautiful high rise hotel was built; Betty and I stayed there our last few days). Ft. DeRussey is a beach where many a military person spent their "R&R" (rest and recuperation).

I thought "what a great job THAT would be!" Well, as it turned out, it wasn't such a good job, as this guy got passed over for 1LT (virtually unheard of; such a promotion is usually considered an "automatic!"). 

But when I saw this photo, I realized that THIS would be the career choice I would have made.

Okay, so perhaps I'm jesting ... just a bit. But it's interesting how we are prepared to measure just about anything.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Note: the following comes from this month's newsletters, but I wanted to get it out, given the urgency of registering!

The CFA Institute has made a huge commitment in our segment of the industry by creating, maintaining and administering the Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement Program. I am always excited when I see folks, both senior as well as relatively new, with the CIPM designation. But I’m also disappointed that more haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity. 

To me, there are two major reasons to do so:

1) For what it will do for you

The reality is that many fields have developed professional certifications. Clearly, there’s a recognition that there is value in being “certified.” The “CIPM” gives unbiased testimony to your skills and knowledge in the areas of performance and risk measurement. It says to your colleagues, your employer, as well as anyone else you come in contact with, that you know your stuff!

2) For what it will do for our segment of the industry

For those of us who have been in the industry for 20 years or longer, we’ve seen how the role of performance and risk measurement has grown into a highly respected and valued part of the world of investing. All areas of investment management have incorporated performance
reporting. The CIPM program is one way to give further credibility to the important role we play.

I’ll confess a degree of frustration and disappointment that more senior level performance measurement folks haven’t pursued the exam. Granted, many have built up a “resume” and reputation that speaks quite loudly that they have skills and experience.

However, by pursuing the exam they will set an example for others, and further add to the importance suggestive of the program. I know I’ll leave a lot of folks off, but will briefly list just a few of the senior investment professionals I know who have achieved this certification:

  • Carl Bacon 

  • Ann Putalaz
  • Douglas Lempereur 

  • John Simpson
  • Neil Riddles 

  • Jed Schneider
  • Debi Deyo Rossi 

  • Tim Ryan
  • Sandra Hahn Colbert 

  • Gerard van Breukelen
  • Annie Lo
NONE of these folks HAD TO get this designation. Each one had already established themselves as knowledgeable and experienced investment performance professionals. But they invested the time to accomplish this objective. While I can’t speak for any of them, I suspect that many did so, not so much for themselves, but for the industry.

The CFA Institute spent a great deal of time analyzing and revising the program, to make it even better. Isn’t it time YOU took it?

The next exam period is in April, but you only have until January 31 to register. 

Go to to register.Our firm offers training and study aids. To learn more, visit

Spaulding,..., David Spaulding

This year's Performance Measurement, Attribution & Risk (PMAR) conferences, like last year's, will have a theme. It started as "Casino Royale," but has been broadened to "Secret Agents," or more specifically, 

"Secret Agents of 
Performance Measurement."

As with last year's event, we will have caricatures done of the speakers, as well at the conference of those who successfully complete the mission of visiting all of the event's sponsors!

This "black tie optional" event will surely be one you won't want to miss. It'll be fun, informative, exciting, engaging, entertaining, and much more!!!  

Plus, you get two chances!

May 21-22, 2014 in Philadelphia, PA (USA)!
June 10-11, 2014 in London, England! (Home, as you may recall, of 007!).

We are proud to announce that the European event is being done in association with the CFA Institute ... not too shabby!

For more information, please visit our conference site.