The Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio is a simple, equal-weighted equities portfolio that tilts toward small caps and Value stocks. Here we’ll take a look at its components, performance, and the best ETFs to use in its implementation.
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Who Is Paul Merriman?
Paul Merriman is a financial advisor and educator who is referenced often in the financial blogosphere for his impactful and approachable analyses on index investing and asset allocation in relation to long-term buy-and-hold investing strategies.
Merriman founded an investment advisory firm in Seattle in 1983, from which he has since retired. He is regularly published on MarketWatch.com, and offers free podcasts, articles, newsletters, and more on his website PaulMerriman.com.
Merriman has written a number of highly-rated books that you can find on Amazon here. His newest one from November, 2020 is We’re Talking Millions!: 12 Simple Ways to Supercharge Your Retirement. You can read more about him on his website here.
What Is the Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio?
The Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio, as the name suggests, is a lazy portfolio designed by Paul Merriman that utilizes equal weightings of 4 assets. The portfolio is 100% stocks and is thus considered more risky than his Ultimate Buy and Hold Portfolio.
To design the portfolio, Merriman looked within stocks at the styles and cap sizes that have paid a risk premium historically. Basically, the portfolio places large bets on the well-established Size and Value factor premia, tilting heavily to small cap stocks and Value stocks, to hopefully deliver market outperformance over the long term. The research is sound and the concept is simple.
Unfortunately the Size and Value factors have suffered in recent years, lagging the market. I don’t employ or advise market timing, but AQR maintains that Value is basically the cheapest it’s ever been right now relative to history, suggesting that now may actually be the worst time to give up on the factor, and that it’s due for a comeback. We would also expect factors to have negative premiums from time to time, even for extended time periods.
Merriman suggests that this 4 fund portfolio can indeed provide a “comeback” after all the recent market volatility. Note again though that this is a high-risk portfolio that is likely better suited for investors with a high risk tolerance and a long time horizon.
The Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio looks like this:
25% S&P 500
25% Large Cap Value
25% Small Cap Blend
25% Small Cap Value
Just as with his Ultimate Buy and Hold Portfolio, Merriman walks us through each “building block” of the portfolio.
- The S&P 500 is considered to be a sufficient proxy for the U.S. stock market and is a good, diversified “work horse.” It provides a solid foundation for the portfolio across large-cap Growth and Value stocks.
- Large cap Value stocks have beaten large cap Growth stocks historically, so the 2nd building block is to tilt large-cap Value with 25%. This is again known as the Value factor premium.
- Small stocks have beaten large stocks historically, presumably because investors demand higher returns for riskier, more volatile small-cap stocks compared to large-cap stocks. This is known as the Size factor premium.
- Small cap Value stocks have beaten small cap Growth stocks historically, so we’re tilting small cap Value with 25%. This enhances exposure to both the Size and Value factor premia.
My own personal portfolio tilts toward both of these factors.
Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio Performance vs. the S&P 500
Going back to 1928, the S&P 500 index had a compound return of 9.9% through 2019.
Large cap Value: 11.1%
Small cap stocks: 12%
Small cap Value: 13.2%
These 4 combined: 11.8%.
These results are summarized in a table from Merriman’s website here.
Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio ETF Pie for M1 Finance
M1 Finance is a great choice of broker to implement the Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio because it makes regular rebalancing seamless and easy, has zero transaction fees, and incorporates dynamic rebalancing for new deposits. I wrote a comprehensive review of M1 Finance here.
Using mostly low-cost Vanguard funds, we can construct the Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio like this:
- VOO – 25%
- RPV – 25%
- IJR – 25%
- AVUV – 25%
You can add the Paul Merriman 4 Fund Portfolio pie to your portfolio on M1 Finance by clicking this link and then clicking “Save to my account.”
Disclosure: I am long VOO and AVUV in my own portfolio.
Disclaimer: While I love diving into investing-related data and playing around with backtests, I am in no way a certified expert. I have no formal financial education. I am not a financial advisor, portfolio manager, or accountant. This is not financial advice, investing advice, or tax advice. The information on this website is for informational and recreational purposes only. Investment products discussed (ETFs, mutual funds, etc.) are for illustrative purposes only. It is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or otherwise transact in any of the products mentioned. Do your own due diligence. Past performance does not guarantee future returns. Read my lengthier disclaimer here.