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Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Fundsmith: Low Cost, Diversified and Contrarian?

We didn't need Terry Smith to tell us that the fund management industry is 'broken', but at least he's put his money where his mouth is. His new Fundsmith Equity Fund will have no initial charge (where typical charges are around 5%), a 1% annual management fee, no performance fees, and he says it will try to keep stock trading/turnover low to prevent dealing costs eating into investors' funds.

All well and good, but Terry gives an interesting response to a query on diversification:
"All of the research shows the standard deviation on an individual stock is approximately 49%, the market is at 19%. On 20 stocks, the standard deviation is 20%. So if you buy 20 stocks, you get 19/20ths of the diversification benefit of being in the market, so you do not need to own 100, 200 or 300 stocks to get the market diversification benefit. But the great thing about 20 is that you know what they are doing. I know there is no chance that I would be able to, in significant detail, follow the details of 100 or 200 companies."
This sounds dangerously like Terry expects that the fund's returns will be normally distributed, when surely he doesn't believe that - even if he still clings to the efficient markets hypothesis. Holding at least 20 stocks might be a start, but one would need to know a lot more about the size of the holdings, distribution by industry, geography, correlation and where the herd is in relation to each stock/sector and so on to judge whether Fundsmith fully complies with John Kay's edict to "pay less, diversify more and be contrarian."

It would be more interesting to see Terry Smith turn his hand to a fund of Exchange Traded Funds, since they offer an opportunity to pay less, diversify more and be contrarian, yet retail investors need help figuring out and adjusting to how correlated the various sectors are from time to time, and what's in or out of favour.
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