Greed never dies

on .

WallstreetWhen it comes to financial investments, it's not principally hope which never dies but greed. In the last 5 to 10 years, passive investments as typified by exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and index-tracking financial products have seen a pronounced surge in popularity with all types of investors, from retail to institutional. The contrasting active investment styles are, nevertheless, far from becoming extinct but will continue to be demanded and, more probably than not, thrive again in future. The reason is not because they produce consistently higher net returns on investments over the long run, they don't, but because greed will continue to be a stronger influence on investment decisions compared to reasonable performance expectations or other quantitative reality checks.

In the distant past, an investor could realize sustained excess returns by knowing more than all other investors, whether by genuine effort or through illegal means. In contrast, in today's more global, more liquid and more regulated financial markets aided by barrier-free global information networks, privileged information in the public sphere has become a great rarity. If some market participant gets to learn something new about a publicly-listed company on one end of the world, it will not be long after somebody on the other end learns the same. Indeed, why go to all the trouble of finding genuine, legal insider information on a company if there are tons of relatively easy accessible market data to mine from the safety of your own office. After all, even active asset managers are under competitive pressure to lower their costs. Information from these secondary sources may work well in custom-made quantitative models but whether they truly reflect what's happening with a company on the inside is another matter. The modern firm is a complex organization, a multitude of inside and outside forces determine its actions. To understand its future from the outside, you need to become an insider through time-consuming research and prolonged observation, disciplines which are not necessarily core strengths of many active asset managers.

Now, if most of active asset management does not promise to bring superior returns, why are investors still going for it. I would argue that it is pure greed which motivates most investors. It's the same physical condition afflicting investors going for financial products they don't really understand. It's the insatiable desire for more, the satisfying realization that you are smarter than all others. It's an inherently human condition and, because it is, any financial investment style catering to it will always be successful.