Read it here first: Wealth Concentration in America is Rising

As we discussed last week (The Disconnect and Economic Classes), the middle class is starting to disappear mean revert, while the group we described as the "ultra-wealthy" are expanding.

Here’s an excerpt from Sunday’s NYT:

"Twenty years ago, there were 14 American billionaires on the Forbes 400. Today, the list includes 374 (known) billionaires. In 1985, the combined wealth of the Forbes 400 was $238 billion, adjusted for inflation. Today, the 400 richest people in America are together worth $1.13 trillion. To put that number in perspective, $1.13 trillion is more than the gross domestic product of Canada. And it is more than the G.D.P. of Switzerland, Poland, Norway and Greece – combined.

The median household income of Americans has been stuck at around $44,000 for five years now. The poverty rate is up. Members of the Forbes 400, meanwhile, are richer than Croesus, and every hour they are getting richer."

As previously mentioned, I find the significance of this to be the waning middle class — a group that increasingly appears to be a mostly post-war phenomena. 

The author of the Times piece takes a different perspective, lamenting that there is not much change amongst the top of the Ultras:

"A few days ago, I read through the newest Forbes 400 list of the richest people in America, hoping to find many names I’d never heard of. They’re not there. Through no fault of its own, the list no longer reflects a dynamic and elastic economy; instead, it reflects a growing concentration of wealth and economic power. Warren E. Buffett, Paul G. Allen, Kirk Kerkorian, John W. Kluge, Carl C. Icahn, Michael R. Bloomberg, Ronald O. Perelman, Leona Helmsley, Henry R. Kravis, the Waltons, the Pritzkers, the Newhouses, the Lauders – the same old names, one after another.

It’s hard to say when the Forbes 400 list started to stagnate, but 1999 may have been a turning point. That was the year when Bill Gates’s estimated net worth hit $100 billion. So quickly had his fortune grown that over the previous 12 months, according to Forbes’s calculations, Mr. Gates had made himself another $1 billion every eight days. Mr. Gates, who has held the No. 1 position on the list continuously since 1994, is an extreme example of accumulated and self-generating wealth, but he’s part of a trend."

What a shame that this accellerating economic shift isn’t more entertaining . . .

Source:
Don’t Blink. You’ll Miss the 258th-Richest American
NINA MUNK
NYT, September 25, 2005
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/25/business/yourmoney/25trail.html

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Yale Endowment Manager: Index

Among individual investors, David Swensen isn’t a household name. But he is an icon in the world of big institutional money managers such as endowments and pension funds.

Mr. Swensen’s fame comes from his oversight of Yale University’s $15 billion endowment fund, which, since he was hired 20 years ago, has returned an average of 16% a year, far outpacing the market and other funds run for universities. Before arriving, Mr. Swensen had never overseen an institutional portfolio, and he brought to the job an unconventional approach for dividing up the portfolio among different asset classes. He is now Yale’s chief investment officer.

Five years ago, Mr. Swensen set out to write a book that would bring the lessons he learned to individual investors. Instead, he says he found that the option most accessible to individuals — mutual funds — often makes it impossible to beat the market. And even when they do find good managers, individuals end up shooting themselves in the foot, he says.

So while Yale relies on actively managed portfolios, Mr. Swensen says individuals should just stick to index funds, especially those run by not-for-profit companies. He also likes exchange-traded funds, which trade on exchanges like stocks, but says "buyer beware."

Excerpts from an interview with Mr. Swensen follow:

WSJ: You had hoped to give small investors a road map for beating the market based on Yale’s approach to investing. What happened?

Mr. Swensen: I found when I started down that path that individuals just don’t have the same set of investment opportunities available to them that we do here at Yale. In fact, the evidence showed me that the mutual-fund industry has completely failed to provide reasonable active-management returns to individuals.

WSJ: To say that it completely failed — that’s a pretty harsh statement to make.

Mr. Swensen: I think the evidence is there. The crux of the failure is with the for-profit management of funds for individuals. Mutual-fund managers have a fiduciary responsibility to investors. Obviously, if they are operating in a for-profit mode, they have a profit motive. When you put the profit motive up against fiduciary responsibility, that fiduciary responsibility loses and profits win.


continued below . . .

Source:
Yale Manager Blasts Industry
TOM LAURICELLA
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, September 6, 2005

http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB112597100191832366,00.html

 

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