Set forth below is the text of a comment that I recently posted to another blog entry at this site:
Why would Wall St make much less money on folks buying bonds then they do stocks?
I don’t think that Wall Street has anything against bonds, Laugh.
It’s the super-safe asset classes that Wall Street doesn’t like. They undersell TIPS, they undersell IBonds, they undersell CDs.
Even there, I don’t think the underselling is motivated primarily by financial considerations. I think there may be some financial considerations. But I don’t see them as the driver.
To make sense of this, you have to understand the history.
The Buy-and-Hold Pioneers are heroes of mine. I’ve said that so many times now that I am getting sick of hearing myself say it. They came up with the idea of rooting one’s investing strategy in the findings of the peer-reviewed academic research. That was a profound advance, a magical advance. It is that advance that makes me love the Buy-and-Holders, that makes me feel that I am one of them.
They made a mistake. It was a perfectly understandable mistake but it was a mistake all the same. They came to believe that “Staying the Course” means staying at the same stock allocation rather than staying at the same risk level. For various reasons, the mistake remained uncorrected for a long period of time. Now people feel that it can never be changed! The feeling is — this mistake we made was so terrible that no one may ever talk about it, all discussion of it must be silenced, we won’t look like Big Shot experts if people learn that we once made a mistake. It’s the failure to correct the mistake that I criticize, not the mistake itself.
Now move forward to today.
Stocks are priced for a 65 percent price crash. The typical middle-class person should have something in the neighborhood of 30 percent of his or her money in stocks. The Buy-and-Holders say that something in the neighborhood of 75 percent stocks is “optimal.” So their numbers are wildly off.
You are asking what the financial incentive is for favoring stocks.
One, there is a financial incentive for selling stocks over things like TIPS or IBonds or CDs. The commissions are generally bigger in stocks. Again, I don’t see this as the driver. But it is a reality that applies.
Two, the experts would need to acknowledge their mistake to advocate bigger non-stock allocations. Their pride is at stake. They don’t want to go there. They are afraid of lawsuits if they acknowledge that they have been giving bad advice for many years now. They worry that they will be drummed out of the field if they offer straight talk when so many others are trying to keep the cover-up going. There is all sorts of nasty stuff going on.
Three, Get Rich Quick sells! This is probably the biggest factor. The way to get your clients to do business with you is to get them to like you. Tell them that their phony bull market gains are real and they fall in love with you. Nothing gains you as many brownie points as telling your clients that Buy-and-Hold really can work. It never does. But it sure sounds good to a lot of people to say that it might this time. Telling people that there is one asset class that is always a good choice for the long term is like telling people that there is some system that will always let you win the lottery. It’s pure b.s. There is zero support in the research for such a claim. But it sells like hotcakes.
Four, please don’t forget the obvious — MOST OF THE EXPERTS PROMOTING BUY-AND-HOLD STRATEGIES ARE DOING SO BECAUSE THEY BELIEVE IN THEM. A lot of people would continue to push stocks even if the commissions were LOWER. Stock salesmen are not pure revenue-focused creatures any more than any of the rest of us are pure revenue-focused creatures. Most of us are creatures of habit highly influenced by inertia. Buy-and-Hold has been the dominant strategy in the academic world for a long time. That alone is enough to give it lots of points over strategies that have only been shown to work better by the research of the past three decades.
Wall Street could do JUST FINE promoting Valuation-Informed Indexing. I think in the long run it would do better because we would not see any more financial crises. Financial crises HURT this industry big time.
The move to Valuation-Informed Indexing is in everyone’s interest. It creates all winners and no losers. It shouldn’t be even a tiny bit hard to sell. Logically, promoting a strategy that greatly increases returns while also greatly diminishing risk should be the easiest sell in the world. The problem is that today people who have a long history of promoting Buy-and-Hold are on the defensive. I want to change that. I try to praise the Buy-and-Holders every chance I get to make them less defensive. But the defensiveness is hair-trigger stuff. It is VERY hard to come up with ways to say things that point us to a better future that don’t make the Buy-and-Holders go stark raving nutso.
To a large extent, the industry is doing what it thinks its customers want it to do. If you took a survey, I am sure that most investors would describe Buy-and-Hold as the most responsible strategy. The industry doesn’t want to step in and say: “No, you’re wrong, it’s actually Get Rich Quick garbage, it’s very dangerous stuff we have been pushing so hard all these years.”
I tell that in a funny way to make a point. I don’t dislike the people who work in this industry. I like them. My take is that they are destroying themselves. Yes, their customers like Buy-and-Hold today. But what are they going to think following a 65 percent price crash? The time to deal with that problem is NOW, not after the crash has taken place. People who call themselves “experts” have responsibilities. People who give investing advice should be aware of the last 32 years of peer-reviewed research in their field and should be at least a bit curious about the implications of that research. They make themselves look very bad to the millions of investors who will be looking for someone to hang from a tree by pretending that they are not aware that valuations affect returns and that therefore there is zero chance that a retirement study that does not contain a valuations adjustment could ever get the numbers right. That’s basic stuff, Laugh, and the industry “leaders” in this field have placed themselves very much on the wrong side of the line re that one.
Lots of people in this field understand where things are heading and are making efforts to position themselves for the post-crash period. Kitces is doing that. Bernstein is doing that. Swedroe is doing that. Pfau is doing that. Even Bogle has come out with a good number of statements showing that he understands the dangers of Buy-and-Hold. The trouble is that he doesn’t want to give up all the applause he wins by telling people that their Get Rich Quick fantasies might really some true. So he includes one GRQ statement for every research-based statement and the Get Rich Quickers eat up the GRQ garbage with a fork and spoon while pretending that he never said the research-based stuff. Responsible behavior? Not nearly. But good salesmanship in the short term? The very best!
I hope that helps a bit. The question is a good one.