The EDHEC-Risk Institute, an academic institute with a practical orientation, has put out a couple of papers that knock down some investment wishful thinking.
In Does Finance Theory Make the Case for Capitalisation-Weighted Indexing?, authors Felix Goltz and Véronique Le Sourd, after reviewing the academic literature, answer that question quite categorically - "No, it does not". A cap-weighted index does not represent the market portfolio of finance theory and even if it could, it would not be efficient in a risk-return sense without making highly unrealistic assumptions. As they say, "... from a theoretical perspective, cap-weighted stock market indices seem to offer no particular advantage". It then becomes a practical problem to construct indices that offer higher return to risk trade-off (as expressed in higher Sharpe ratios). They offer their own Efficient Indices here and when they assess alternatives (Improved Beta? A Comparison of Index Weighting Schemes) like fundamental indexing, equal weight indexing, efficient indexing and minimum volatility indexing, the alternatives all beat Cap-Weighting (e.g. their US Efficient Index has outperformed the FTSE US Cap-weighted index by 2% annually since 2002 while lowering volatility). Of course, not all these better indices are investable for the average retail investor - so far only fundamental and equal-weight funds are available - and the costs of running the index fund could obviate the benefits (witness the sorry story of mutual funds in Canada) if too high (my assessment of US ETFs suggests they do preserve the benefit in real life and I've started a realistic portfolio experiment for a Canadian investor that includes Canadian ETFs).
The other foray into clarifying reality vs wishful thinking is The Performance of Socially Responsible Investment and Sustainable Development in France: An Update after the Financial Crisis by Noël Amenc and Véronique Le Sourd (again! does she like setting people straight or what?). Comparing the performance of SRI funds in France, they cannot really find any significant difference with ordinary funds in terms of risk-return efficiency. During the period of the financial crisis, SRI funds provided no better protection against the downturn. A subset of SRI, Green (environmental) funds, compared to best-in-class ordinary funds "... reveals, over the long term, higher alpha for green funds, with higher risks, including higher extreme risks." The paper's findings will give some comfort to the SRI-minded investor with its evidence that the investor need not lose out by going SRI. However, it does also remind us that SRI is no investing philosophy panacea either. I am currently reading Confessions of a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson and he leaves an over-the-top impression that going green is a sure-fire route to greater profitability. That may be so if you do it right but I daresay there are well run and badly run SRI and green companies, just as in any human activity (as an illustration of the principle for those with a reflective bent, I highly recommend the book Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gita Sereny; it tells the story of a highly intelligent but amoral organizational genius who put his talents in the service of evil as the mastermind of Hitler's war production machine)
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