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Alpha Theory Blog - News and Insights

August 31, 2021

Caveats in Compounding

 

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn't, pays it.” – Albert Einstein

 

“Compounding is the most powerful force in the universe” – Albert Einstein

 

“My wealth has come from a combination of living in America, some lucky genes, and compound interest.” – Warren Buffett

 

Compounding really is the 8th Wonder of the World. In a recent analysis, we were comparing the CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of two portfolios and noticed two unique qualities of compounding that are important to remember when using CAGR:

 

1. Small differences in CAGR can compound to large differences over time

2. A 1% difference in two small CAGRs is not the same as a 1% difference in two large CAGRs

 

Small differences in CAGR can compound to large differences over time

 

Imagine you have two portfolios. One generating 8% per year and another 9%. The 1% difference seems trivial. Because of compounding, it is not.

 

Screen Shot 2021-08-31 at 3.19.42 PM

 

The 10-year performance difference is a non-trivial 20.8%. This means that finding investments that may seem marginally different when compared at the small scale of a year, can have profound differences over time.

 

One interesting fact was that the total difference over ten years was 20.8%, which is not the same as the 1% difference compounded over 10 years, which is 10.5%. This leads to the second unique quality…

 

A 1% difference in two small CAGRs is not the same as a 1% difference in two large CAGRs

 

If we bump the performance slightly up but keep the difference 1%, the total difference grows from 20.8% to 22.6%.

 

Screen Shot 2021-08-31 at 3.19.51 PM

 

That 1% difference gets to compound a bigger base and thus results in a larger total return difference. This is counterintuitive. An investor may be indifferent between a 23% and a 24% return while being sensitive to a 2% versus 3% return. The later seems much more meaningful because the relative difference is 50%.

 

In the graph below, the difference between a 2% and 3% return is $12.5M (12.5% on $100M fund) over 10 years. The difference between a 23% and 24% return is $62.1M! They are both 1% differences, but they are not created equal.

 

Screen Shot 2021-08-31 at 3.21.54 PM

 

Compounding is amazing but can be amazingly difficult to conceptualize. As an investor, your job is to be a professional compounder. Keep your tools sharp by remembering that CAGRs don’t tell the whole story. To get a better sense of the return stream, compare the CAGR to the total return for a period of time and then perform some basic sensitivity analysis. This allows the compounding impact on returns to present itself in a way that is easier to put into perspective and help you make better decisions.

 

July 31, 2021

Gaining Confidence in Your Confidence

 

Alpha Theory helps managers streamline the capital allocation process by combining all the investment-process inputs into a model that calculates an optimal size (OPS) for each position. While the primary inputs are quantitative including price targets and probabilities, there is also a qualitative perspective that is just as important to capture.

 

Alpha Theory helps managers create a Confidence Checklist which contains the more subjective aspects of each manager’s investment process. The individual Checklist items are combined into a Checklist Confidence Score for each security. Formalizing these mental rules and tracking their performance over time creates a feedback loop through which our clients can learn which questions are most important for generating an excess return.

 

We wanted to investigate if the Checklist Confidence Score was a predictive signal of forward returns. After rigorous analysis of 500,000+ checklist scores, we found a statistically significant signal at the 99% confidence level that showed having a confidence checklist results in positive forward returns. This demonstrates why it is important to explicitly capture and formalize checklists into an investment process.

 

The Confidence Checklist is a combination of the qualitative, statistical, and fundamental metrics that normally are kept in a manager’s mental model. We think of this mental model as everything that is not clearly captured by the price targets and probabilities. There are infinite possibilities for checklist items, and after more than a decade of helping managers make the most optimal decisions, we are able to help build a meaningful and impactful checklist with our managers to help them find more alpha in their qualitative ideas.

 

80% of Alpha Theory clients have checklists that are built with customized inputs to fit their process, each of these inputs can take on several values. For example, Management Team could have a drop-down that consists of selections such as Strong, Neutral, and Weak which contribute to the overall confidence score according to the weight applied by the selection.

 

Each checklist item has a selection, and the total weights combine to create confidence, for example, a final score could be 85%. The confidence checklist score then adjusts the optimal position size and provides the base optimal position before any other factors are applied.

 

We can see that having a confidence checklist for each position is an important factor in investing. When thinking about how to improve your fund’s performance, think about how your own qualitative checklist contributes to the decision-making process. Is scoring consistent across names? Do you have a way to measure the importance of a checklist item? While you can’t quantify everything, these results prove that adding a little science to the art of investing can improve future returns.