Paul A. Merriman
“Why does anyone listen to Paul Merriman?”
That is the provocative title of an online discussion I recently saw on a chat site maintained by followers of the late Vanguard founder John Bogle.
Perhaps this was meant to set up a rivalry of sorts between Bogle and me, but I don’t really buy into that idea.
I interviewed Bogle many times over the years. And actually, he and I were in lockstep regarding the most important things investors should do: keep things manageable, keep costs low, avoid picking individual stocks, and avoid market timing.
With that said, I teach diversification more robustly than he did, and that seems to get me in trouble with some of his followers.
A group of Bogle’s followers, who call themselves Bogleheads, believe strongly — sometimes passionately — in Bogle’s teachings. And when my recommendations differ from his, some of them apparently conclude that one of us has got to be right and the other wrong.
We’re both right
In fact, his views and mine are both “right.” Any investor who faithfully follows either what Bogle taught or what I teach is likely to be very successful.
If you want to read what the Bogleheads had to say in this online forum discussion, you can find it here .
John Bogle himself is not immune to being pilloried by some members of this group. To wit: “Why do people listen to Bogle when Bitcoin /zigman2/quotes/31322028/realtime BTCUSD -0.02% , Tesla /zigman2/quotes/203558040/composite TSLA +1.75% , Gamestop /zigman2/quotes/203755179/composite GME -6.55% and ARKK /zigman2/quotes/204808965/composite ARKK -1.60% have blown the doors off of index funds recently?”
Later in the thread, the author of that post claimed it was meant as sarcasm. But actually the comment reflects a very common view among young investors who haven’t yet learned a few hard lessons.
One of them: There’s no risk in the past.
A second: You always know today what you should have done sometime in the past.
A third: You can’t go back and invest retroactively.
I could discuss that tension between the “I can pick the best stocks” approach (for which there is no convincing evidence) and “those boring old index funds” (for which there is ample evidence).
But I’d rather use this opportunity to look at a few no-nonsense equity portfolios made up of low-cost index funds.
The first is a two-part combination advocated by Bogle (and many of the Bogleheads as well). It’s allocated 70% in the total U.S. market index and 30% in the total international market index.
The second is an alternative that I advocate — combining four U.S. index funds that follow large-cap blend stocks (very similar to the S&P 500 /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX -0.11% ), large-cap value stocks, small-cap blend stocks and small-cap value stocks.
The messenger, not the author
And by the way, I did not invent this combination.
Many years ago, two University of Chicago business school professors, Eugene Fama and Kenneth French, discovered that large-cap stocks and small-cap stocks often go up and down at different times and rates. The same is true for growth stocks and value stocks.
These facts, together with superior long-term performance by small-cap stocks and value stocks, provide investors with good diversification and (usually) higher performance.
The historical evidence
Over the past 51 calendar years, from 1970 through 2020, John Bogle’s two-part equity portfolio compounded at 10.9%, slightly above that of the S&P 500 (10.7%).
The four-fund portfolio that I recommend achieved a compound return of 12.2% over that period.
For long-term investors willing to manage and rebalance four equity funds, that’s a very significant difference. Over a lifetime of investing, every extra 0.5% in return can be worth $1 million.