White Papers | August 15, 2017

The S&P 500: Just Say No

Executive Summary

Pension Trustee Smith: I recommend to the committee that we liquidate our International equity assets and index our equity exposure to the S&P 500. US stocks have outperformed for the last 20 years, and I see no reason why that should not continue. Everyone knows that the US is the strongest economy and market in the world.

This is a somewhat fictionalized version of a comment or conversation that has gone on in many committee discussions over the last several years in one form or another. And why wouldn’t it? Being a US equity investor over the past several years has felt glorious. The S&P 500 has trounced the competition provided by other major developed and emerging equity markets. Over the last 7 years, the S&P is up 173% (15% annualized in nominal terms) versus MSCI EAFE (in USD terms), which is up 71% (8% annualized), and poor MSCI Emerging, which is up only 30% (4% annualized). Every dollar invested in the S&P has compounded into $2.72 versus MSCI EAFE’s $1.70 and MSCI Emerging’s $1.30. Diversification theoretically sounds good, but as Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is.” Diversification in this particular instance seems good in theory but not so much in practice. So, shouldn’t we agree with Trustee Smith and throw in the towel, index all of our equity exposure to the S&P 500, and call it a day? If our goal is compounding capital for the long term, which it is, we would not just say “No,” but something akin to “Hell no!”

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