April 2015
MasterChef of Investing

By: Jim Parker, Vice President, Dimensional Fund Advisors
In the popular TV program MasterChef, contestants face a series of cooking challenges. From low quality ingredients to inadequate preparation and poor implementation, so
many things can, and do, go wrong. It’s a bit like investing.
In the world of investment, there customarily are two broad approaches. The first is a traditionally active one: Managers attempt to find mispriced securities or seek to time their entry and exit points from various parts of the market.
This first approach is akin to the MasterChef challenge, which requires inventing a new and distinctive dish within a set time frame. The apparent advantage for the chef is flexibility
of concept.
Likewise, in the investment world, the traditionally active manager locks in on individual ideas. That results in little flexibility and creates time constraints. The manager tries to trade on information not believed to be reflected in prices. If it doesn’t work out, there may not be a Plan B.
The second approach to investing is when the investment manager seeks to track as closely as possible to a commercial index. The goal here is not to stand out, so the manager will be most conscious of “tracking error” (deviating from the benchmark).
This approach is more akin to the MasterChef challenge in which contestants must cook a standard, popular dish with set ingredients. The focus is not creativity but following an established process as dictated by an outside party.
But the drawback of this latter approach is the absence of flexibility. The contestants can’t substitute one ingredient—or stock—for another. The recipe must be followed. What’s more,
it must be achieved in a designated timeframe.
But what if we had a system that combined the creativity of the first approach with the simplicity of the second?
In this third approach, our contestants do not face unnecessary constraints either in terms of time or ingredients. Instead, they assemble a broad selection of dishes from multiple ingredients appropriate for the season and at times of their choosing.
The difference under this third way is that the chefs can focus on what they can control and eliminate elements that might restrict their choices. After all, their ultimate goal is to efficiently and consistently provide meals that suit a range of palates.
In the world of investing, we believe this third way is the optimal approach. Picking stocks and timing the market, like making brilliant-off-the-cuff meals in any conditions and in an efficient and consistent manner, is a tough task—even for the masters. Cooking meals off a provided menu, like the index managers, can be inflexible and costly.
The third way of investing is akin to the Dimensional approach.
We can research the dimensions of expected returns, design highly diverse portfolios that pursue market premiums, and build flexibility into the system so that we efficiently and consistently serve up investment solutions for a wide range of needs.
Call it the MasterChef of investing.