“Alternative sources of alpha”

16 April 2016

I enjoy many of the articles in Ben Carlson’s blog, “A wealth of common sense”. When it comes to wealth management, investments, financial markets and investor psychology, Carlson gets it

One of his recent posts is thought provoking. He discusses “Alternative sources of alpha“. 

Carlson talks about the “ever elusive alpha” (“outperformance, after accounting for the risk taken and fees paid”) and explains that the pursuit is extremely difficult, if not impossible. He then goes on to talk about other forms of alpha that can be overlooked. 

In particular, Carlson’s comments about “tax alpha” and how important it is to get this right can’t be stressed enough. This is especially the case in Australia, but is also relevant in New Zealand. The effect of a few percentage points compounded over a long period of time can be profound.

I think the idea of “savings alpha” is also an interesting way of communicating a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to building up wealth. Spending less than you earn is an important part of achieving your long-term financial outcomes.

I would also consider adding “fee alpha”. Minimising fees is one of the lower hanging fruits when it comes to maximising return relative to risk. 

As an aside, I enjoyed his quote from Jason Zweig’s book The Devil’s Financial Dictionary:

Alpha, n. Luck

(Zweig is another guy who gets it. His book Your Money and Your Brain is outstanding – even if the title is terrible…) 


About the author 

Sonnie Bailey

In his spare time, Sonnie likes telling people that he’s a former Olympic power walker, a lion tamer, or that he is an orthodontist. He is none of those things. In reality, Sonnie is a financial planner based in Christchurch. Through his business, Fairhaven Wealth (www.fairhavenwealth.co.nz), he provides independent, advice-only, fixed-fee financial planning services. Sonnie is a “recovering lawyer”: he has specialised in trusts and personal client work. He has also worked as a financial services lawyer for many years.

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