Boring investors were the big winners of 2013

Following the 'dumb money' was the best strategy, blowing away the complex portfolios favored by hedge funds.

By MSN Money Partner Dec 31, 2013 12:24PM
Businessman with newspaper © H-Gall, Vetta, Getty ImagesBy Tomi Kilgore and Tom Lauricella, The Wall Street Journal

In the best year for U.S. stocks since 1995, the smart way to play the markets has been to follow the dumb money.

So-called dumb-money strategies, which involve buying and holding a plain-vanilla portfolio of U.S. stocks, did much better than the more complex approaches employed by hedge funds and other professional investors.

Fueled by easy money from the Federal Reserve and signs of improvement in the economy, the  Dow Jones industrials ($INDU) go into the final day of 2013 with a gain of 29% once dividends are included, while the  Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) has climbed 32% with dividends. Those gains far outpace the rally predicted by even the most bullish Wall Street strategists.

Many hedge funds were left in the dust, alongside investors who use "tactical" timing of the markets' ups and downs and those who spread their bets among a wide variety of assets such as commodities, emerging markets and exchanged-traded funds.

"The more colorful your pie chart, the worse you did," said Lawrence Glazer, managing partner at Boston's Mayflower Advisors, which oversees $1.5 billion.

It isn't always this way with big stock-market rallies. A more typical year was 2003 when the Dow rose 28% including dividends. That year, the MSCI Emerging Markets index soared 56%, the broad-based Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index gained 4.1% and the DJ UBS Commodity Index climbed 23%.

As a result of stocks' singular rise in 2013, some advisers are dealing with a brand-new problem: After years of struggling to convince investors to put more money in U.S. stocks, they now are trying to persuade clients it is time to put some of it into underperforming investments, especially bonds.

That is no easy task. Investors have been deluged with warnings that the multi-decade bull market for U.S. bonds is over, as interest rates look poised to rise, and that yields are too low to compensate for the risk of losing money. The Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index is down 2% for the year through Friday, its first annual decline since 1999.

"A lot of people got really scared [of bonds], because this is the first time they've seen fixed income, which is supposed to be their safety bucket, take a hit," said Daniele Donahoe, chief investment officer at Charlotte, N.C.-based Rinehart Wealth Management, which manages $300 million. "Nobody wants to own anything that's not doing well."

In the horse race among global markets in 2013, U.S. stocks trailed only the explosive and often-volatile rally in Japan's Nikkei Stock Average. The Nikkei has soared 57% due to aggressive monetary easing by the Bank of Japan.

But for U.S. investors, staying glued to old-fashioned -- and often low-fee -- U.S. stock funds generally turned out to be the right call, advisers say. The average mutual fund focusing on large-company stocks is up 32% this year, according to Morningstar Inc. Small-company stock funds have returned 38% on average.

And despite worries about the outlook for Federal Reserve policy, turmoil in the Middle East and a federal government shutdown, U.S. stocks suffered only small and short-lived pullbacks. There were just five selloffs of 2% or more for the S&P 500 this year, the worst being a 5.8% decline from May 21 through June 24 amid fears the Fed soon would start reducing stimulus.

"All of the sales we made this year have been mistakes," said David Rolfe, chief investment officer of St. Louis's Wedgewood Partners, which has $7 billion of assets under management. "If you could've just invested in one of the major indexes, and worked on your golf game the rest of the year, you would've hit a home run."

European stocks rose, but underperformed the U.S. by a wide margin, with the Stoxx Europe 600 rising 17%. And emerging-markets stocks, which often perform best during global economic expansions, declined, with the MSCI Emerging Markets index down 5.1% through Monday. China's benchmark Shanghai Composite is down 7.6%.

"People like it when diversification adds to value, but they see diversification has detracted value this year," said Edward Painvin, chief investment officer at money-management firm Chase Investment Council in Charlottesville, Va., which oversees $600 million of assets.

Investors tend to use gold as a hedge against inflation and rising interest rates, and gold futures tumbled 28%, the first annual decline since 2000.

Other commodities, usually beneficiaries of global economic growth, also suffered. The DJ UBS Commodity Index dropped 8.6%.

Investors who eschewed the simplicity of buying U.S. stocks and sought more exotic products also were punished.

Hedge funds, for example, which for big fees typically run portfolios including bets that stocks will fall, lagged far behind the broader market because of those bearish wagers.

The HFRI Equity Hedge Index was up 13% through the end of November, and appears on track to finish 2013 with a gain just shy of 14%, says Ken Heinz, president of Hedge Fund Research Inc.

Other strategies marketed as a way to own stocks but avoid big price swings also lagged. That was the case for portfolios that promise low volatility because they hold defensive stocks, such as utilities and consumer staples. The $3.9 billion PowerShares S&P 500 Low-Volatility Portfolio (SPLV) exchange-traded fund is up 20% for 2013.

But for many advisers and investors, 2013 left portfolios out of line with their target mix of investments. For a portfolio that started the year with 60% of its value in U.S. stocks and 40% in bonds, the 32% year-to-date return in the S&P 500, coupled with the decline in bonds, would leave the split today at 67% in stocks and 33% in bonds.

Rebalancing a portfolio often means going against a trend, which advisers say is an even tougher sell this year than usual.

Chad Carlson, wealth manager at Illinois-based Balasa Dinverno Foltz, with about $2.6 billion under management, said one client of working age was adamant about not rebalancing his stockholdings position.

"Why the heck would I want to do that, when the market is up 29%?" Carlson recalls the client telling him in the past month.

After an hour-long, in-person meeting, the client consented. "I'm paying you guys to do this stuff, and I don't necessarily agree, but go with it. If you're wrong, I'm going to jump on you," Carlson said he was told.

More from The Wall Street Journal

I am soooo happy happy happy that I am boring and dumb... [and made a lot of money this year]

All of these market guru's are just smoke and mirrors trying to take your money away...

Dec 31, 2013 2:20PM
Once again the basic idea of buy and hold works well. 
Dec 31, 2013 1:45PM

"Why the heck would I want to do that [sell] when the market is up 29%?"


Too funny. It's because of people who think like this that the market is up 29%.

Dec 31, 2013 3:57PM

If you are hesitant to sell and achieve profits for tax reasons you are letting your greed take over. At some point to sell and see the actual fruit of your efforts is important.  Not doing this because of tax considerations can be a trap. So many different outside stimuli other than future  profits have enveloped this market. It is similar to congress where so many bad decisions have become ingrained and accepted that the entire system at times seems lame.  We never hear much about laws being rescinded, nor considerations that could cause folks to unsafely stay invested  Now is a good time to check out your motivations and make sure they match up with your new one year older age.   The older I get the less risk I feel I am willing or should assume.  Like investing in real estate at 70.  But then they took away our income from bonds and short term demand stuff like CDs to where everyone MUST be in the market.  Just sayin.

Dec 31, 2013 4:59PM

It's been a very good year....And the S&P is at it's highest in 16-17 years....New records..

Best since 1997..

We would have had a fantastic year, if not for Gold positions and a couple of REITS...

Happy New Year and Best wishes in 2014.

Jan 2, 2014 11:48AM
Boring investors were the big winners of 2013"

To reiterate.....Take That, FAT CAT.  Stodgy and boring clears the finish line.....Again! 

You have fun with your 'DUHnamic" Mutual funds and prattle on...

Hardee Har har !!!

Jan 2, 2014 3:34PM
Jan 2, 2014 12:55PM
Well, the beat goes on, at 1150 hrs scumbags called to accelerate the selling sp we are dropping fast...Close to 130 on the down side for the Dow; like we said, no real shocker, we were expecting these crooks to do their thing today, just remain cautious and opportunities will come....More later.
Jan 2, 2014 12:10PM
So Colorado pot smokers buy some legal weed for 4 times what the black market price is and keep the receipt forever while they buy black market weed............... Is that the plan?
Jan 2, 2014 1:26PM
"The big scumbags are taking money from the little scumbags that want to become big scumbags"

Scumbags one and all!

Jan 2, 2014 1:36PM


For a cheap casino getaway, log on to wendoverfun.  There's a place called Wendover, Nevada.  They have 3 medium-sized casinos.  You can get round trip air fare and three nights at one of the resorts for like $150 total.  They fly charters from pretty much anywhere in the USA.  Not too shabby.  I just stumbled across this yesterday.  I'm going to start searching for the same thing to Ely, Nevada.

Dec 31, 2013 1:43PM

Eagle....Probably couldn't have said it any better myself; Arf, arf, arf...

But I skip crap like "dfck dynasty", life is much better for us without it.

I've known to many like them...crackers.

Jan 2, 2014 11:00AM
No big surprise to open up the year, like we said Tuesday after the close, manipulators would be out with guns blazing this morning after a not so good 2013 for them and that is exactly what we are seeing down here....Just take it easy, be cautious and look for opportunities to get back in, may or may not be today....Higher volume and plenty of scumbags to start 2014....Oh well, like we always say, crooks are part of the game...More later.
Dec 31, 2013 3:13PM
So what are the Bold Predictions Everyone has for 2014? We have to assume a ton as Markets and Economies are Dynamic, not Static. If Rates start rising rapidly along with Crude prices, everyone should agree all bets are off. They say you can't fight the FED, well you can't fight the effects of soaring Rates and crude prices either.

If I knew exactly how much dry power Corporate Buybacks had left, I could make a decent guess on 2014. That was the single biggest Reason for the massive move of 2013. The FEDS are already trapped and I say the move in Rates has already reflected that. Japan tax increase starts in April2014 while the Euro-Zone still has 12% unemployment. Auto sales in Europe has been a huge Drag on US auto makers profits.

We all know China is a huge problem that will only get worse in 2014. The latest GDP numbers was massive but inventory was a big problem. Many of the so-called Experts with a honest viewpoint are divided on how 2014 will play out. Some expect a severe correction but a up year. The biggest problem, a severe enough correction could be a trigger for something far worse. The FACT that folks think Bitcoin is Real Money is a huge Problem. We already have enough problems dealing with one Fiat Currency, the Dollar.

Dec 31, 2013 1:24PM
When almost everything is going up, it doesn't take guts once you are actually in. The true test comes during a Major Correction and or a extend Bear Market.

The so-called Market Gurus prove every year they know less than everyone else. Yet each and every year they are touted as being something which they are clearly not.

Traders did well, longs did extremely well, and shorts got literally clobbered. I would be somewhat surprised if things are this easy in 2014.

Dec 31, 2013 2:28PM
The boring investors were the Bears and market manipulators ... the honest investor did well ...
Dec 31, 2013 3:49PM
Trying to hang in there, at 1420 hrs manipulators gave it a run and we are dropping, what a shocker...Sure, scumbags trying to take back whatever they can this last day, oh well, one thing is for sure, cheating crooks will always be here, will never go away, you can take that to the bank...More after the close.
Jan 1, 2014 11:04AM
Fraud Street starts the year off....... CLOSED! Now if we could only keep it closed the other 364 days of the year, America would heal from all it's wounds it has suffered from this atrocious PONZI SCHEME. The rich taking from everyone else. How sinfully delightful!

Stocks are not needed to be successful in life! Stocks are not needed to be wealthy in life! Stocks are not need to be healthy in life! Stocks are not needed to be happy in life! Stocks are not ever needed anywhere in the world!

Dec 31, 2013 1:05PM
Bitcoin wasn't boring but it was the best investment last year by far.
Dec 31, 2013 5:06PM
How sweet it is, scumbags tried but the good guys ended on top for the day, the month and the year....Enjoy folks, manipulators will come out with guns blazing on Thursday....And imagine if Romney was our President instead of marxist Obummer, the Dow would be up about 18,000...Ask anyone down here....Oh well, have a great New Year and back to work on the 2nd.
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