The Online Asset Allocator
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William J. Bernstein

What the Investment Industry Doesn't Want You to Know

It's a fact: you can positively impact only one aspect of investment performance—your allocation of assets among broad asset classes. Stock or mutual fund picking and market timing, the things traditionally thought to be critical to investment success, turn out to be almost irrelevant. How can this be?

Over 10 years ago, Gary Brinson, a noted finance academic and money manager, studied a group of pension fund managers. He found that he could explain over 90% of the differences in variability among these investment professionals simply by classifying them according to how much of their assets they placed in stocks, bonds, or cash. Stock picking or market timing skill? Try as though he might, he found no evidence of either among these investors practicing their craft at the apex of the profession. The significance of this for small investors is profound—find the "right" mix of foreign and domestic stocks and bonds, and your choice of individual securities becomes almost irrelevant in the long run.

How the investor arrives at the "right" mix is called "portfolio theory," and until recently small investors had precious little guidance in this vitally important area. How difficult is it to find the "right" mix? Surprisingly easy. Consider this: If over the past 10 or 20 years you had simply held a portoflio consisting of one quarter each of indexes of large U.S. stocks, small U.S. stocks, foreign stocks and high quality U.S. bonds, you would have beaten over 90% of all professional money managers and with considerably less risk. The amazing truth is that over a long enough time period almost any reasonably balanced indexed strategy will best the overwhelming majority of "professional" managers.

Asset Allocation: The Basics

Sadly, most investment information available on the Web falls into the category of "financial pornography"—the supposition that investing success is acheived by predicting the direction of the market and picking the right stocks. In turn, it is supposed that this can be accomplished by engaging the services of a select group of investment professionals (of which the interviewed/quoted analyst/newsletter writer is a member). Almost no electronic ink is devoted to what turns out to be the main event: asset allocation. The Web is not entirely devoid of worthwhile material. There are at least two books on asset allocation available:

There are several other sources of basic investing information available on the Internet:

If you really want to become proficient at asset allocation you are going to have to log off the 'net, power down your computer, and go to the bookstore or library and spend several dozen hours reading books. For those who are interested, I have put together a structured study guide and reading list. No pain, no gain. Don't shoot me, I'm only the messenger.

For the More Advanced Investor

If you already have a good grasp of asset allocation and portfolio theory, several sites are worth visiting:

Finally, here is a summary of Efficient Frontier's Links of the Month:

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