Some investors advocate tactical asset allocation (TAA) or the practice of adjusting the portfolio mix of stocks, bonds and cash to economic and/or market conditions. In his book Contrarian Investment Strategies, David Dreman notes that while it’s true that an investor who could successfully TAA could grow money on trees, TAA is difficult to practice because “real market movements give dozens of signals, madly flashing buy, sell and hold all at once”. Mr. Dreman then compares the performance of mutual funds that employ TAA to their benchmark and finds the results disappointing.
Does it work? The figures are not encouraging. Figure 3-1, taken from Lipper and Morningstar data, shows the returns of 186 asset allocators for the 12 years to September 1997 compared to the S&P 500 and the average of all domestic equity funds. The period covers a good part of the bull market, as well as the 1987 crash, and the sharp downturn in 1990. This was the ideal time for market timers or asset allocators to prove their mettle. They should have got you out before the 1987 and 1990 debacles and back in on time to ride the resurgent bull. Had they succeeded, you would have outperformed the market handily.
As the chart shows, heroes they ain’t. While the market surged 734% over the entire period, and the average equity fund moved by 589%, the asset allocators increased only 384%, about half the gain of the averages (all figures are dividend adjusted). Tactical asset allocation has obviously not set the world on fire. In fact, it’s downright awful, even in the periods where asset allocators claimed they swept the field.
The prosecution rests.