Sunday, June 27, 2010

Portfolio Management

To be a portfolio manager is a much coveted goal for a lot of people struggling in the financial industry. This position is deemed as being at the top of the food chain. Everyone feeds information to the portfolio manager so that he can make the best investment decisions. The portfolio manager is THE Top Dog.

However, the way that the industry had evolved makes the top dog's job rather stupid. In fact the whole fund management industry doesn't really make a lot of sense.

Just look at the whole management fee issue. For most funds that it out there, 1% is taken out of the asset base to be paid out as management fee. Basically for every $100 of unit trust that you buy, $1 is paid to the fund manager which consist of the portfolio manager, the team of analysts and the support staff that manages the fund for you.

Now 1% may not sound big, but since average investment return is usually less than 10% per year, it means that you are paying out 10% or more to these fund managers every year.

Well, we can talk about this atrocity some other day. Let's look at the portfolio manager's job. His job is to manage the fund such that he beats some benchmark. This benchmark is usually some stock index. Say the S&500, the Hang Seng Index or the STI index etc.

Well, statistically they sucked. Less than 20% of all portfolio managers that ever existed beat their indices over a long period of time, like say 10 yrs or more.

Why is portfolio management such a difficult thing? Well to answer that might take a few more posts. But first we can talk about how the top dog goes about doing his job.

We talked about the benchmark. Basically the portfolio manager's job is to beat the benchmark. ie if the benchmark return is 10%, the PM should be delivering 11% return or more.

The most logical way to do this, according to the fund management industry, is to over or underweight stocks in the benchmark. Now what does this mean?

You see the benchmark is basically made up of stocks with different weightage. For e.g. the STI index has 30 stocks. Singtel has a weight of 8%, UOB 5%, SIA 4% etc (btw all weights are arbitrary, I dunno the real weights and they change all the time). So a portfolio manager who needs to beat the STI would consult his analysts and all other information sources and decide ultimately, what stocks to over or underweight.

Eg. after all his research, he decides that Singtel has better prospects, so he overweights Singtel, ie instead of putting 8% in Singtel, he puts 10%. And similarly he has to underweight some other stock, eg SIA, so instead of putting 4% in SIA, he puts just 2%.

If over time, Singtel does better than SIA, like say over 3 years, Singtel delivered 30% return but SIA only 20%, then he made the right decision. And since the portfolio manager has to do perhaps a couple of hundred or more of these decisions over say a 10 year time frame, he earns his existence if the net result is that his portfolio delivers a return that is higher than the benchmark.

This is, in a nutshell, the job of the portfolio manager. In the next issue, we discuss some issues with his job.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Vilification of Leisure: Death of the TV

There are a few major consequences with the vilification of home leisure activities

1. Growth of share of mind-time for new activities

We all have only 24 hours a day, and this is the amount of time that things can occupy our minds. In the past where there are only TVs, radios and print, we spend our mind-time on these things. In fact the world probably spends 80% of home leisure time watching TV during the 2nd half of the 20th century. However as we move to the 21st century, we are spending our mind-time differently.

Internet, Facebook, iPhone, iPad, Youtube, Gaming (Xbox, Wii, PS3, DS, PSP), Blogging, Twittering etc. Some youngster completely stopped watching TV since they can watch it on the internet. No doubt TV is still big. It is still the major portion of global advertising revenue and is likely to be so for some time. But the winds of change are blowing. TV as a % of our mind-time is dropping and will continue to do so until it is just another form of media in a whole spectrum of others.

2. Ad spending to traditional media to fall

The revenue sources for most media comes from advertising, sale of content and subscription, with advertising usually making the bulk of the money. As mentioned, TV has dominated that total media ad spending for the 2nd half of the 20th century as it has the widest reach as compared to print, radio, outdoor or other forms of advertising. This makes the absolute dollar amount huge, like $100,000 to $300,000 for a 30 sec TV commercial in the US, and in tune of millions for high-profile programs like Superbowl, but the cost per 1,000 impression (CPM) is actually comparable to other forms of advertising at $10-30 CPM. This means that even though a company spends $300,000 on a TV commercial, it reaches 15mn viewers in that 30 sec, while other forms of media probably reach only 1/10 or even 1/100 of that no. of viewers.

Now the total ad spending over the long run can only grow with the global economy or perhaps slightly faster. With more and more people spending time on Facebook and other internet sites, traditional media CPM has to come down. Maybe from $10-30 to $6-20 or something. This means that ad spending on TV and other traditional media will be a smaller % of the global ad pie. While blogs, Youtube, Facebook and iTunes grow to take their places.

3. Consumer leisure dollar gets vilified

Another form of impact of the Vilification of Leisure affects the consumer leisure dollar. Before the explosion of these 21st century leisure activities (ie Facebook, apps, Youtube etc), the consumer leisure dollar for the masses is actually pretty limited. There is Hollywood, ie going to the movies. Buying CDs and DVDs, buying games for Wii, Xbox. Pay TV or cable and maybe some magazine or radio subscription. And that's about it! Well we are not going to explore leisure dollar into hobbies like photography, collecting comics, going for concerts etc though.

So with the Vilification of Leisure, the leisure dollar now gets spread over thinly to buying apps, buying items for your avatar in some online game, downloading songs, buying e-books not to mention buying newer and newer devices like iPad, Kindle, netbooks, PSP, the new DS, iPhone 4 etc.

Now the total leisure dollar that can be spent has a limit. Just a wild guess, it's perhaps $200-300 per month per person in developed countries. It is not going to double unless global GDP doubles. So this means that what was used to pay Hollywood, cable TV, games etc now needs to spread to all these new gimmicks. Of course, these new gimmicks enjoy spectacular growth since they start from zero. Like apps, it was nothing 2 years ago. Now it's a billion dollar industry. But it would be wrong to assume that it can be a $10bn industry in 3 years bcos the leisure dollar can only stretch so far. This goes for social online games, songs, online subscription whatever.


So there you have it, Vilification of Leisure will hit us strong and we should be aware of its various impact. In short, a slow death for TV and a quick growth and plateauing for a lot of these new entrants.