Slow and sleepy wins race for returns
Jonathan Chevreau The National Post September 30, 2000

Most investment advisors will say the important thing about retirement savings is to get invested and stay invested. It's time in the stock market, they will say, rather than timing the market, that more than anything will produce maximum growth of your savings.

It was with this dictum in mind several years ago that I wrote a column in this newspaper that continues to be discussed periodically -- the Rip Van Winkle two-fund portfolio.

Designed for a Canadian registered retirement savings plan, the Rip Van Winkle portfolio consisted solely of a global equity fund for the then-20% foreign content limit -- Templeton Growth Fund was the choice -- and for the balance one of the lower-MER balanced funds available through the advisor channel -- Trimark Income Growth.

The idea was the client had similar features to Rip Van Winkle, a bearded, sleeping fictional character who remained oblivious to fundamental changes over a long period of time. Being asleep and with his portfolio in the hands of a competent financial advisor, Rip would be oblivious to all around him, and continue to invest roughly $1,000 a month into these two funds.

And how has Rip done? Not too bad, compared to cash or bonds, but nothing spectacular, either. As of Aug. 31, Trimark Income Growth had an 11% annualized return over the last 10 years, a second-quartile performance according to PalTrak, a Toronto-based maker of fund performance software, now owned by Morningstar Canada.

Over the past five years, returns are more modest: 8.5%, a disappointing fourth-quartile placing compared with other funds in its category.

Templeton Growth has done slightly better, as you would expect a pure equity fund to do: 13.9% annualized over the past decade for a second-quartile performance; and 11% for the five-year period, a similarly disappointing fourth-quartile performance.

As is the case with most actively managed mutual funds, the Rip funds more or less track the underlying indexes, usually slightly underperforming the index by roughly what would be accounted for by the investment management fees. Thus, Trimark Income Growth tracks but slightly lags a portfolio that would be 60% invested in the Toronto Stock Exchange 300 and 40% in the Scotia Capital Markets bond index. Templeton Growth used to match or outperform the Salomon World Equity Index, but has underperformed it so far this year.

In a Web discussion called Rip Revisited found at www.wealthyboomer.com, index funds advocate Bylo Selhi says an all-indexing approach to the Rip portfolio could boost performance by 2% a year.

Based on performance data current to the spring of 2000, he discovered that over the past 10 years, an 80% Trimark and 20% Templeton Rip portfolio would have returned 10.4% compounded annually. Over the same time, a similar portfolio made up of the median balanced-global funds would have returned 10.9% on an annualized basis and one consisting 40% of the SCM Bond Universe, 40% the TSE 300, and 20% S&P 500 and MSCI EAFE [Europe Australia Far East] indexes would have returned 12.8%. Take away the cost of the management expense ratio (MER) and you would net 11.9%. (Of course, some index funds and newer products such as exchange-traded funds [ETFs] have miniscule MERs.)

One reason the Templeton and Trimark funds were originally chosen is that they are sold by financial advisors. However, if someone were to begin a simple autopilot two-fund portfolio today, one might approach it with different products, either with alternative low-MER funds, the index fund route or ETFs.

The mix may also be different from the 80-20 of the original Rip portfolio. As of the 2000 budget, the maximum foreign content in registered plans is now 25% and rises to 30% in 2001. A portfolio that used the 30% for a pure global equity fund would have a higher proportion of stocks than the original mix -- arguably a good thing for younger investors but a weighting which older, risk-averse investors might want to

 

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