Personality vs. performance
Like a moth to a flame, we once again look at the media juggernaut that is WisdomTree Investments. We argued in an earlier post that the company has been the beneficiary of copious, and generally favorable, attention by the financial press. The ETF sponsor is once again in the news with a fresh, high-profile hire.
Tom Lauricella in the Wall Street Journal reports that WisdomTree has hired former SEC chairman, Arthur Levitt as a “senior adviser.” The surge in the number of ETFs, including those that are more narrowly defined has created a need for additional marketing firepower.
Mr. Levitt says his specific role as a consultant still needs to be finalized. “I do speak to large groups of institutional investors, and when asked about ETFs — as I have been before — I would be prepared to define what makes WisdomTree an attractive alternative.” Mr. Levitt added that “I’m not going to argue that WisdomTree is the only one; there are lots of players in their field; and some will do better than others.”
Greg Newton at NakedShorts notes the Levitt news as well and has a number of (not surprisingly) interesting takes on the WisdomTree “behemoth” including:
Given Levitt’s historic dedication to the concept of disclosure, perhaps he might have a chat with the CNBC mob about occasionally mentioning that WisdomTree’s chief executive is Mr Maria Bartiromo. WisdomTree bodies have been getting a somewhat disproportionate amount of face-time for an outfit that controls a few bps ($400 million out of $300 billion-plus) of US ETF assets without – and I may have missed it, in which case apologies all round – specific mention of that relationship.
Marketing and publicity issues aside the debate over the value of fundamental indexation and WisdomTree’s approach to equity investing continues to rage on. Jenny Anderson in the New York Times wades into the middle of the debate. While the question as to the superiority of fundamental indexation versus plain-vanilla indexation is still be decided, the one area where Anderson seems to find some common ground is on the question of expenses (and turnover).
Despite their higher expenses the WisdomTree ETFs do have lower expense ratios than the vast majority of open-end mutual funds. Alas, agreement at last:
All of which suggests that investors may well benefit from both low-cost approaches, Mr. Bogle’s and Mr. Siegel’s, different as they may be.
William J. Bernstein, co-principal of the investment management firm Efficient Frontier, described fundamental investing this way: “It has higher turnover and higher transactional expenses, and so you have to be rewarded for that with extra return. And I think fundamental indexing does that.”
Roger Nusbaum writing at TheStreet.com takes a closer look at one specific WisdomTree fund, the WisdomTree High-Yielding Equity Fund (DHS). Roger notes that the fund has a higher concentration in its top ten holdings than comparable dividend-focused ETFs. However that stock-specific risk is offset by the fund’s higher dividend yield.
In the end you cannot fault the team at WisdomTree for exploiting every advantage they have to try and market their (new) funds. That is, of course, a little thing we call capitalism. They are however, in the end, fiduciaries. Their performance will ultimately be judged by the stewardship of their funds and not on the star power of their personalities.
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