It sounds like the latest get-rich-quick scheme. Invest in the same stocks as top billionaire investors, and you too can become wealthy.
On Wednesday, the New York Stock Exchange and iBillionaire launched the iBillionaire Index, which tracks the blue-chip stock holdings of leading billionaire investors, including Warren Buffett, Dan Loeb, David Tepper, John Paulson, Carl Icahn and David Einhorn.
The index comprises the 30 large-cap equities listed on the S&P 500 in which financial billionaires have allocated the most funds. It compiles information from 13F filings—the quarterly disclosures from investment managers detailing their stock holdings.
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Buying like the big guns certainly seems to produce better returns, at least during certain periods. Over the past eight years, the iBIllionaire Index would have posted annualized returns of 12.6 percent, compared with 7.06 percent for the S&P, according to iBIllionaire.
As iBillionaire puts it, the index “provides investors an efficient and effective way to follow the smart money. In essence, the index works as though one gathered a group of billionaires and asked them to come to a consensus as to which S&P 500 stocks are the best bets.”
The company is even laying the groundwork for an exchange-traded fund. The iBillionaire Index was created by serial entrepreneurs Raul Moreno, who co-founded Kinetik, and Alejandro Estrada, co-founder of Dineromail, a Latin American version of PayPal.
Is it wise for everyday investors to trade like billionaires?
The returns are hard to argue with. Though 13F filings are notoriously backward-looking—the purchase disclosure can take place more than a month after the stock buy—the iBillionaire Index is based on buying at the time of disclosure. It has managed to rack up strong gains, however, so even buying and selling later than billionaires appears to be profitable.
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But billionaires have completely different time horizons, risk tolerances and financial tools. They can afford to lose big. And they’re investing for decades and even generations, while most people need their money for retirement.
Billionaires also possess all manner of hedging strategies and options to improve returns and reduce risks that average investors obviously don’t have.
(Read more: Calls to raise taxes for the rich are growing)
Those who want to just vicariously invest like a billionaire—without putting in any real money—can always follow the popular iBillionaire App. It’s only 99 cents.
—By CNBC’s Robert Frank. Follow him on Twitter @robtfrank