#31 - Mark Yusko - "Asset Allocation Matters Most"

54 minutes

Episode 31 starts with some background information on Mark. After some early-career twists, he got his “big break” – working for his alma mater, Notre Dame, in its endowment department. Several years later, The University of North Carolina came calling, and Mark took the helm for UNC’s investments. Eventually, he moved on to private wealth with his current group, Morgan Creek.

Given the heavy institutional background, Meb asks about how endowments invest. Mark tells us that every large pool of capital manages its money the same way – investing in stocks, bonds, currencies, and commodities. That’s it – though how you own those assets might change. Yet despite different wrappings, they all have the same risk factors. This leads Mark to focus on asset allocation, as “asset allocation matters most.”

The conversation turns toward money managers (Mark uses various money managers at Morgan Creek). Meb asks how a retail investor can get access to the truly great money managers. It turns out, it’s very difficult. But Mark says you don’t necessarily want the well-known superstars who’ve been in the limelight for 20 years. You want to get onboard with them far earlier in their careers when no one is looking, before they become famous. As to how you actually find them, Mark says you have to “kiss a lot of frogs.”

Meb follows up with an interesting question – forget about how to find great money managers…how do you know when it’s time to get rid of one? After all, it can be hard to tell when a manager’s investing system is flawed versus when he/she might simply be distracted by personal issues, or just going through a rough patch.

Mark’s answer? Stop focusing on performance. Instead, focus on the other three P’s: 1) people 2) process, and 3) philosophy. If all you’re doing is looking at/chasing performance, chances are you’re going to underperform. So expand your analysis.

Meb adds that this focus on performance isn’t limited to retail investors – institutions do this too. Mark agrees, having had personal experience with this. His group was hired, fired, re-hired, and so on, as one particular client chased performance.

The guys then switch to venture capital, a huge area for outperformance. Institutional investors have the advantage here – the “illiquidity premium” as Mark calls it. Meb asks how retail investors can try to take part in this space. Mark tells us that, unfortunately, retail investors have one arm tied behind their backs courtesy of the SEC. Its philosophy is “If you’re not rich, you’re not smart.” So yes, investing in venture capital is very challenging for retail investors, despite some recent gains.

Eventually, the conversation drifts back to asset allocation. Mark has a 3-bucket system he recommends. Bucket 1 – “liquidity.” This is about 2 years’ worth of spending. Call it 10-15% of your wealth in cash-like investments. Bucket 2 – your “get rich” bucket. Also 10-15%. He recommends investments like businesses and real estate, though most people use this money to chase the latest hot stock. Bucket 3 – your “stay rich” bucket. This one is all about diversification (whereas your “get rich” bucket was all about concentration).

Meb agrees with this, telling us how the asset allocation required to get rich is different than the asset allocation needed to remain rich.

The guys then move to predictions. Each January, Mark writes his financial predictions for the new year. So how did he do in 2016? They go over the results, with topics that include interest rates, the Japanese equity market, black swan events in Europe, roaring commodities, and the strength of the Dollar.

This leads the guys into a more detailed conversation about U.S. interest rates, comparing us to Japan. Mark warns us about the Killer D’s: demographics, debt, and deflation. It’s a fascinating conversation with the short takeaway that we may not see the bottom in interest rates until around 2020-2022 (when demographics finally shift back in our favor).

There’s far more in this episode, including “Red Ferrari Syndome,” a Twitter question to Mark about the biggest learning experiences of his career, and an asset class that’s about to be down a whopping 6 years in a row. What is it? Find out in Episode 31.

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