How Not to Beat the Market: Ritholtz Chart

Barry Ritholtz is a Bloomberg View columnist. He founded Ritholtz Wealth Management and was chief executive and director of equity research at FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He blogs at the Big Picture and is the author of “Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy.”
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Today's chart comes to us from Patrick O'Shaughnessy, author of the forthcoming book, ``Millennial Money: How Young Investors Can Build a Fortune.'' O'Shaughnessy makes the observation that investing is "almost free" and investor behavior tends to matter more than their actual investments.

As an example, he cites this chart.

The chart shows fund flows into and out of equity mutual funds. It includes a 15-year period with two major market peaks and two major market lows. According to O'Shaughnessy, "inflows peak at the exact market top, outflows peak at the exact market bottom."

This behavioral gap leads to a beta shortfall of about half of the total market performance over that 15-year period. If we were to compare the equity mutual-fund investors depicted in the chart with the Vanguard 500 Index Fund, we would have a compounded annual return of 4.25 percent a year for Vanguard 500 and just 2.29 percent for the active fund traders.

Call it negative alpha. Over time, the passive index returned 86.7 percent while the return for more active investors was 40.4 percent.

As Laszlo Birinyi has said, this market is unlikely to top out until we see the influx of emotional money again.

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Barry L Ritholtz at