Building and Interpreting Custom Investment Benchmarks

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1 Building and Interpreting Custom Investment Benchmarks A White Paper by Manning & Napier Unless otherwise noted, all fi gures are based in USD. 1

2 Introduction From simple beginnings, the investment benchmark has become a de facto aspect of most investment programs today. There are many types of benchmarks, but the most widely accepted version uses passive market indices as standards of performance measurement and points of comparison for various portfolio characteristics. The ubiquitous nature of benchmarks has led index providers to create passive indices representing just about every asset class, country, and investment style in the market today. But while this has made access to data much easier, it has also created a whole new set of issues for investors: with all this complexity how does one go about constructing and understanding an investment benchmark? This white paper will explore the methods that investors should use to build a benchmark that is customized for the characteristics of their portfolio. In addition, it will explain how the results of a performance comparison will depend on the method of benchmark construction. As a quick reference guide, the appendix of this paper contains definitions for many common indices used in benchmark construction today. Finally, investors should keep in mind that, despite their widespread use for relative performance evaluation, benchmarks based on passive market indices still can t fully evaluate whether an investment program will achieve its ultimate goal: meeting investors objectives. After all, a portfolio s relative performance could exceed its benchmark every year, yet its absolute performance could still fall short of what is needed. The Benchmark Construction Process Broadly speaking, investors can organize benchmark construction into three basic steps: Step 1: Understand the portfolio and the investment manager. This is an important step because it lays the foundation for the other steps and the benchmark construction process in general. Important questions to gain an understanding around include: What are the portfolio guidelines, including permissible asset classes for investment and allowable asset allocation ranges? Are there any outright restrictions on types of securities or transactions? How does the portfolio manager seek to add value relative to their universe? The two main ways to define this are (1) security selection and (2) asset allocation. Security selection means a manager adds value by selecting specific securities that outperform the general asset class in which it s grouped. In asset allocation, value is added by overweighting outperforming asset classes and/or underweighting underperforming asset classes. Of course, managers must have the ability to allocate across multiple asset classes for this to happen, and for those that do, their performance relative to a benchmark is often the combination of security selection and asset allocation decisions. The tables below show examples of these effects working to add value. Adding Value Through Security Selection Manager A Benchmark Allocation to Stocks: 50% Allocation to Stocks: 50% Allocation to Bonds: 50% Allocation to Bonds: 50% Performance of Stocks: 14% Performance of Stocks: 12% Performance of Bonds: 6% Performance of Bonds: 4% Overall Performance: 10% Overall Performance: 8% Manager A outperformed by 2% due to favorable equity and fixed income security selection. Adding Value Through Asset Allocation Manager B Benchmark Allocation to Stocks: 75% Allocation to Stocks: 50% Allocation to Bonds: 25% Allocation to Bonds: 50% Performance of Stocks: 12% Performance of Stocks: 12% Performance of Bonds: 4% Performance of Bonds: 4% Overall Performance: 10% Overall Performance: 8% Manager B outperformed by 2% due to favorable asset allocation (overweighting stocks, which outperformed bonds). Step 2: Select a passive index or indices to represent the portfolio s investible universe. This step requires indepth knowledge on the composition of passive indices and how well the indices represent certain asset classes. Suffice it to say that investors should seek to select passive indices that best represent a portfolio s universe as defined in Step 1. 2

3 Step 3: Develop rules to calculate the actual benchmark while ensuring it remains neutral to any active viewpoint that a portfolio manager might have. Rules in this context refers to the process taken to actually calculate the performance of a benchmark. The process is obvious for a single asset class portfolio (i.e., simply take the performance of the representative index). However, for multiple asset class benchmarks, performance and characteristics must be weighted and combined in some way. A weighted average, as illustrated below, is the most widely accepted approach. Combining Indices for One Period of Performance Return Index % * Index % * Index % * * Weight = Index Contribution 50.00% = 6.00% 30.00% = -0.90% 20.00% = 1.00% Period Return 6.10% Applying the Process to a Portfolio After applying these steps to actual portfolios, what does an effective benchmark look like and how can an investor interpret it? This section will apply the guidelines above to two hypothetical portfolios, one managed to a single asset class and another managed to multiple asset classes. Single Asset Class Portfolios Step 1: Understand the portfolio and the investment manager. Examples of single asset class portfolios might be labeled as U.S. Large Cap Core or Corporate Fixed Income. As their names imply, the mandates of these portfolios prevent them from deviating too much from one asset class based on domicile, style, or sector. A typical restriction in this type of portfolio might say something about minimum permissible market cap, avoiding foreign domiciled companies, a minimum bond credit rating, etc. Because they operate primarily in one asset class, portfolio managers can add value in one major way: through security selection (i.e., selecting securities that outperform the general asset class in which those securities are grouped). A single passive index, representing the universe of securities that the manager is permitted to invest in, is generally the best way to benchmark these types of portfolios and judge the manager s skill in selecting securities. Step 2: Select a passive index or indices to represent the portfolio s investible universe. The best way to match up a passive index with a single asset class portfolio is to compare the characteristics of the index with the characteristics of the portfolio s investible universe. Many managers already utilize passive indices as a starting point for portfolio construction so in this case, it s just a matter of using that same index. If the manager s process is more nuanced, it might be advisable to take account of the restrictions placed on the portfolio as uncovered in Step 1, and then find a passive index or indices that approximate those restrictions. It should be noted that there is rarely one index that can perfectly capture all of the investible opportunities in a portfolio s universe. However, using a broad representation to approximate the universe can still provide for meaningful comparisons. Step 3: Develop rules to calculate the actual benchmark while ensuring it remains neutral to any active viewpoint that a portfolio manager might have. Since the benchmark for a single asset class portfolio is usually represented by a single passive index, deriving the performance of the benchmark is straightforward: simply use the performance of the passive index. This will also reflect the requirement that the benchmark be neutral to active viewpoints because the benchmark simply weights each security in the index in a passive way. Multiple Asset Class Portfolios Step 1: Understand the portfolio and the investment manager. Multiple asset class portfolios are characterized by their ability to invest in many different asset classes and use many types of securities. Sometimes, the managers of these portfolios will have wide flexibility in what to invest in and will vary their allocations in an attempt to take advantage of opportunities in the market. Other managers may have little or no flexibility in this way. Their portfolio perhaps more closely resembles a combination of single asset class portfolios. If a portfolio does have the flexibility, then it can add value in two main ways: through asset allocation (i.e., overweighting outperforming asset classes and/or underweighting underperforming asset classes) and through security selection. If the portfolio is flexible, it will be important to understand if there are ranges of permissible allocation and any meaningful restrictions on securities as described in the section on single asset class portfolios. For both flexible and static approaches to allocation, a benchmark is best represented by combining indices into one track record, but the method of that combination and 3

4 what the benchmark tells you will differ depending on the flexibility of the portfolio. Step 2: Select a passive index or indices to represent the portfolio s investible universe. Similar to the single asset class portfolio, the characteristic of each asset class within a multiple asset class portfolio should be compared to the characteristics of appropriate passive indices. Step 3: Develop rules to calculate the actual benchmark while ensuring it remains neutral to any active viewpoint that a portfolio manager might have. If multiple indices are being combined to form the benchmark, what weight should be allocated to each index? As mentioned on the previous page, multiple asset class portfolios have an additional degree of complexity because often, the portfolio manager has the flexibility to allocate actively between different asset classes. Remembering that the benchmark is supposed to represent the portfolio but be neutral to any active decisions, multiple asset class benchmarks can remain neutral by using expected long-term allocation averages for asset class weights. This could effectively be represented by a portfolio s long-term strategic targets or the midpoint of allowable ranges. For example, if a portfolio s stock exposure can range from 40% to 60% of assets, and its long-term strategic stock allocation is 50%, then the weight applied to the stock index in the blended benchmark would be 50%. This method also provides investors with a more complete way to assess a portfolio manager s success in adding value because the benchmark is neutral to both asset allocation and security selection decisions. What sort of rebalancing method should be used for multiple asset class benchmarks? Rebalancing in this context means the frequency with which the weighted average calculation (depicted on page 3) is applied across multiple indices. Common frequencies include a monthly or quarterly time frame, but investors should realize that if a benchmark rebalancing gives a larger weight to an underperforming index, overall performance will be lower, and vice versa. Because of this, different rebalancing frequencies will show different performance results even though the weights and indices are the same. The example below shows actual historical performance by decade for a hypothetical 50% stock, 50% bond portfolio. It also shows how much performance outcomes differ depending on the rebalancing frequency. Across the four methodologies, performance in some decades can be quite different or similar. The magnitude of the difference should depend on the volatility of performance over the time frame. Annualized Performance of a Hypothetical 50% Stock, 50% Bond Portfolio Decade Monthly Quarterly Annual No High/Low Range 1930s 3.97% 4.57% 3.58% 2.50% 2.07% 1940s 6.06% 5.75% 5.76% 6.06% 0.31% 1950s 9.82% 10.28% 10.76% 13.36% 3.54% 1960s 6.12% 6.15% 5.91% 5.84% 0.31% 1970s 7.42% 6.06% 6.81% 6.43% 1.36% 1980s 14.46% 15.47% 14.90% 15.04% 1.00% 1990s 12.72% 12.77% 12.86% 13.87% 1.15% 2000s 3.22% 2.94% 3.45% 3.16% 0.52% High Return Low Return Source: Morningstar, Inc. Stocks are represented by the S&P 500 Index. Bonds are represented by the Ibbotson U.S. Intermediate Government Bond Index. 4

5 Conclusion A fair and appropriate benchmark is an important tool in assessing a portfolio manager s investment skills. The benchmark construction approach, as described on the previous pages, should let investors build a benchmark that is representative of their portfolio and accounts for the different ways in which a manager can add value, whether that manager uses a single asset class or multiple asset class approach. However, the final thing investors should remember when using portfolio benchmarks is their limitations. Whether the benefit is for an institution or an individual, investment portfolios are ultimately designed to meet some future liability. Yet, taken alone, a performance comparison relative to a portfolio-specific benchmark tells investors nothing about whether their portfolio is positioned to meet its goals going forward. Take, for example, an individual in retirement or a corporate pension plan. Both of these investors have absoluteoriented return goals to meet their desired (in the case of an individual) or promised (in the case of a pension) withdrawal level. The reality is that a portfolio could beat its passive benchmark every year, yet still fail in its primary goal if it does not achieve a high enough absolute return. A passive benchmark might be able to provide relative context for portfolio evaluation, but no evaluation would be complete without delving into what the portfolio is doing to manage risk, meet its liabilities, and ultimately, help investors achieve their goals. By itself, an investment benchmark lacks this ability. $11,429 $5,866 5

6 APPENDIX: Descriptions of Common Market Indices Stocks: Index Description Representation Weighting and Construction S&P 500 Includes approximately 500 of the largest common stocks domiciled in the U.S. Large cap core U.S. domiciled stocks selected as needed by S&P committee Russell 3000 Includes approximately 3000 of the largest common stocks domiciled in the U.S. Russell 2000 Out of the largest 3000 securities in the Russell 3000, This index represents approximately the smallest Russell 1000 Growth Measures U.S. based growth style securities, defined by Russell as those with higher price-tobook ratios and higher forecasted growth rates. Russell 1000 Value Measures U.S. based value style securities, defined by Russell as those with lower price-to-book ratios and lower forecasted growth rates. MSCI EAFE One of the oldest and most widely used global market indicators with a launch date of December 31, MSCI All Country World Index ex. U.S.A. Includes 44 different countries in both developed and emerging markets outside of the U.S. All cap core U.S. domiciled stocks Small cap core U.S. domiciled stocks Large cap growth U.S. domiciled stocks Large cap value U.S. domiciled stocks Large cap core developed markets outside of North America: Europe, Australasia, and the Far East Large cap core Developed and emerging markets excluding the U.S. selected by rule at an annual rebalance selected by rule at an annual rebalance Market Cap weighted with proportionality according to style fit, Securities selected by rule at an annual rebalance Market Cap weighted with proportionality according to style fit, Securities selected by rule at an annual rebalance selected by rule at quarterly review periods selected by rule at quarterly review periods Bonds: Index Description Representation Weighting and Construction Barclays Capital Aggregate Barclays Capital U.S. Government/ Credit BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield A multi-sector U.S. based broad bond index A multi-sector U.S. based broad bond index U.S. based high yield corporate bonds Investment grade government, corporate, asset-backed and mortgage-backed securities with maturities of one year or more. Investment grade government and corporate securities with maturities of one year or more. Below investment grade corporate securities issued in the U.S. market with maturities of one year or more. Source: Morningstar, Bloomberg, Vanguard, S&P website, Russell website, Barclays website and MSCI website. Market Cap weighted, rule based rebalancing at each month end. Market Cap weighted, rule based rebalancing at each month end. Market Cap weighted, rule based rebalancing at each month end. Approved CAG-CM PUB052 (12/12) 6

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