How Do You Beat 94 Percent of Mutual Funds? Join the Circus

Last Updated Jan 25, 2010 9:16 AM EST

My colleague, Kevin Grogan at Buckingham Asset Management, passed along an interesting article a few days ago. As reported in UK's Daily Mail, Moscow resident Lusha's portfolio outperformed 94 percent of Russia's mutual funds. What makes this story interesting is that Lusha doesn't work for a large investment bank or brokerage firm and is not paid a six-figure salary. Lusha is a chimpanzee, and her day job is riding a scooter in the circus.

Lusha was given one million rubles to invest, a list of stocks to pick from and was allowed to invest in eight different stocks. Pavel Trunin, the head of monetary policy department at the Institute for the Economy in Transition in Moscow said, "It shows that financial knowledge does not play a great role in giving forecasts to how the market will change."

Of course, not everyone came to the same conclusion. One broker said, "If the experiment had taken place a year earlier, the monkey would not have had enough money to pay for her bananas." If the broker is arguing that Lusha's stock picks were the result of luck rather than skill, I would gladly agree that she was lucky. However, the broker should then stipulate that any outperformance he demonstrates is also likely the result of luck rather than skill.

We know it's very difficult or impossible to discern the lucky from the skilled when trying to select active managers. For Lusha's sake, I hope she diversified her "chimpanzee capital" and didn't invest in any circus or scooter companies.

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    Larry Swedroe is director of research for The BAM Alliance. He has authored or co-authored 13 books, including his most recent, Think, Act, and Invest Like Warren Buffett. His opinions and comments expressed on this site are his own and may not accurately reflect those of the firm.