There is this great short clip on YouTube with the legendary former mutual fund manager Peter Lynch (of Magellan Funds). In the video, Lynch declares his love for volatility and explains how he approached it:
“Volatility will occur. The markets will continue to have these ups and downs. I think that is a great opportunity, if people can understand what they own. If they don’t understand what they own mutual funds. And keep adding to it. Basically, corporate profits have grown about 8% per year, historically. So corporate profits double every nine year. The stock market ought to double every nine years.”
The operative phrase here is “if people can understand what they own”. We can also invert what Lynch is saying in the video and ask ourselves what value we can provide by understanding the assets that have a volatile price?
The Social Value of Active Investing
There’s a fantastic podcast interview with Micheal Mauboussin on the Invest with the Best Podcast, where he talks about the value that active investors bring to the market. Mauboussin says the following:
“Now, one of the things we’ve talked about quite a bit is, is there a role for indexing? And the answer is, absolutely yes. And I think for many people, that’s a very sensible solution. But that does not mean that the active management industry can go away. It’s not going to go away, because there are two things that it does that are still really important. One is price discovery, and again, indexing benefits from that positive externality, I think we can never lose that.”
“Essentially the fees paid to active management subsidize the indexing industry. And the other is liquidity. And even in these environments, we see that index people don’t trade that much. And so we need liquidity if you have it. I think those are public goods, those are vital, and those will continue to play a role. So the debate should be, what percent of the assets should be active versus passive?”
By this logic, you could also posit that as an active investor the best way for you to add value is to find areas where you can add value by pricing the securities in question (research, know-how, etc), especially in securities where (or time when) liquidity is scarce.