The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

There have been numerous factors contributing to this bull market, even in the face of a slew of daunting and exhausting headlines. Contributing to the advance has been a steady stream of rising earnings; a flood of price buoying stock buybacks; and the all-important gift of growing dividends that keep on giving. Bonds have benefited to a lesser extent than stocks over the last five years in part because bonds lack the gift of rising dividend payouts. Life would be grander for bondholders, if the issuers had the heart to share generous news like this:

“Good day Mr. & Mrs. Jones. As your bond issuer, we value our mutually beneficial relationship so much that we would like to reward you as a bond investor. In addition to the 2.5% we are paying you now, we have decided to increase your annual payments by 6% per year for the next 20 years. In other words, we will increase your $2,500 in annual interest payments to over $8,000 per year. But wait…there’s more! You are such great people, we are going to increase the value of your initial $100,000 investment to $450,000.”

 

Does this sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not…sort of. However, the scenario is absolutely true, if you invested $100,000 in S&P 500 stocks during 1993 and held that investment until today. Unfortunately, the gift giving conversation above would be unattainable and the furthest from the truth, if you invested $100,000 into bonds. Today, if you decided to invest $100,000 in 20-year government bonds paying 2.5%, your $2,500 in annual payments will never increase over the next two decades. What’s more, by 2034 your initial principal of $100,000 won’t increase by a penny, while inflation slowly but surely crushes your investment’s purchasing power.

To illustrate the magical power of dividend compounding at a 6% CAGR, here is a chart of the S&P 500 dividend stream over the 21-year period of 1993 – 2014:

SP500 Dividends 1993-2014

The trend of increasing dividends doesn’t appear to be slowing either. Here is a table showing the number of S&P 500 companies increasing their dividend payouts:

COUNT OF DIVIDEND ACTIONS YEAR-TO-DATE INCREASING THEIR DIVIDEND
2014 YTD 292
2013 366
2012 333
2011 320
2010 243
2009 151

Source: Standard and Poor’s

As I mentioned before, while dividends have more than tripled over the last twenty years, stock prices have gone up even more – appreciating about 4.5x’s (see chart below):

SP500 1993-2014 Chart

With aging demographics increasing retirement income needs, it comes as no surprise to me that the percentage of S&P 500 companies paying dividends has increased from 71% (351 companies) in 2001 to 84% (423 companies) at the end of Q3 – 2014. Interestingly, all 30 members of the Dow Jones Industrial Average currently pay a dividend. If you broaden out the perspective to all S&P Dow Jones Indices, you will discover the strength of dividends is particularly evident over the last 12 months. During this period, dividends increased by a whopping +27%, or $55 billion.

This trend in increasing dividends can also be seen through the lens of the dividend payout ratio. It is true that over longer timeframes the dividend payout ratio has been coming down (see Dividend Floodgates Widen) because of share buyback tax efficiency. Nevertheless, more recently the dividend payout ratio has drifted upwards to a range of about 32% of profits since 2011 (see chart below):

Source: FactSet

Source: FactSet

There’s no disputing the benefit of rising stock dividends. Baby Boomers, retirees, and other long-term investors are increasingly reaping the rewards of these dividend gifts that keep on giving.

Other Investing Caffeine articles on dividends:

Dividends: From Sapling to Abundant Fruit Tree

Dividend Floodgates Widen

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in  certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including SPY, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

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October 25, 2014 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

Scrapes on the Sidewalk

Scraped Knees

Baron Rothschild, an 18th century British nobleman and member of the Rothschild banking family, is credited with the investment advice to “buy when there’s blood in the streets.” Well, with the Russell 2000 correcting about -14% and the S&P 500 -8% from their 2014 highs, you may not be witnessing drenched, bloody streets, but you could say there has been some “scrapes on the sidewalk.”

Although the Volatility Index (VIX – a.k.a., “Fear Gauge”) reached the highest level since 2011 last week (31.06), the S&P 500 index still hasn’t hit the proverbial “correction” level yet. Even with some blood being shed, the clock is still running since the last -10% correction experienced during the summer of 2011 when the Arab Spring sprung and fears of a Greek exit from the EU was blanketing the airwaves. If investors follow the effective 5-year investment playbook, this recent market dip, like previous ones, should be purchased. Following this “buy-the-dip” mentality since the lows experienced in 2011 would have resulted in stock advancing about +75% in three years.

If you have a more pessimistic view of the equity markets and you think Ebola and European economic weakness will lead to a U.S. recession, then history would indicate investors have suffered about 50% of the pain. Your ordinary, garden-variety recession has historically resulted in about a -20% hit to stock prices. However, if you’re in the camp that we’re headed into another debilitating “Great Recession” as we experienced in 2008-2009, then you should brace for more pain and grab some syringes of Novocaine.

If you’re seriously considering some of these downside scenarios, wouldn’t it make sense to analyze objective data to bolster evidence of an impending recession? If the U.S. truly was on the verge of recession, wouldn’t the following dynamics likely be in place?

  • Two quarters of consecutive, negative GDP (Gross Domestic Property) data
  • Inverted yield curve
  • Rising unemployment and mass layoff announcements
  • Declining corporate profits
  • Hawkish Federal Reserve

The reality of the situation is the U.S. economy continues to expand; the yield curve remains relatively steep and positive; unemployment declined to 5.9% in the most recent month; corporate profits are at record levels and continue to grow; and the Fed has communicated no urgency to raise short-term interest rates in the near future. While the current headlines may not be so rosy, and the Ebola, eurozone, and Chinese markets may be giving you heartburn, nevertheless, the stock market has steadily climbed a wall of market worry over the last five years.

As the great Peter Lynch stated (see also Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius), “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.” Stated differently, Value investor Seth Klarman noted, “We can predict 10 of the next two recessions,” which highlights pundits’ inabilities of accurately predicting the next downturn (see also 100-Year Flood ≠ 100-Day Flood). As Lynch also adds, rather than trying to time the market, it is better to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.”

Now may not be the time to dive into stocks headfirst, but many stocks have fallen -10%, -20%, and -30%, so it behooves long-term investors to take advantage of the correction. It’s true that buying when there is “blood in the streets” is an optimal strategy, but facts show this is a difficult strategy to execute. Rather than get greedy, long-term investors may be better served by opportunistically buying when there are “scrapes on the sidewalk.”

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in  certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

October 18, 2014 at 8:50 pm Leave a comment

The Pain of Diversification

Pressure

The oft-quoted tenet that diversification should be the cornerstone of any investment strategy has come under assault in the third quarter. As you can see from the chart below, investors could run, but they couldn’t hide. The Large Cap Growth category was the major exception, thanks in large part to Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) +8% appreciation. More specifically, seven out of the nine Russell Investments style boxes were in negative territory for the three month period. The benefits of diversification look even worse, if you consider other large asset classes and sectors such as the Gold/Gold Miners were down about -14% (GDX/GLD); Energy -9% (XLE); Europe-EAFE -6% (EFA); Utilities -5% (XLU); and Emerging Markets -4% (EEM).

*Results are for Q3 – 2014 (Source: Vanguard Group, Inc. & Russell Investments)

*Results are for Q3 – 2014 (Source: Vanguard Group, Inc. & Russell Investments)

On the surface, everything looks peachy keen with all three major indices posting positive Q3 appreciation of +1.3% for the Dow, +0.6% for S&P 500, and +1.9% for the NASDAQ. It’s true that over the long-run diversification acts like shock absorbers for economic potholes and speed bumps, but in the short-run, all investors can hit a stretch of rough road in which shock absorbers may seem like they are missing. Over the long-run, you can’t live without diversification shocks because your financial car will eventually breakdown and the ride will become unbearable.

What has caused all this underlying underperformance over the last month and a half? The headlines and concerns change daily, but the -5% to -6% pullback in the market has catapulted the Volatility Index (VIX or “Fear Gauge”) by +85%. The surge can be attributed to any or all of the following: a slowing Chinese economy, stagnant eurozone, ISIS in Iraq, bombings in Syria, end of Quantitative Easing (QE), impending interest rate hikes, mid-term elections, Hong Kong protests, proposed tax inversion changes, security hacks, rising U.S. dollar, PIMCO’s Bill Gross departure, and a half dozen other concerns.

In general, pullbacks and corrections are healthy because shares get transferred out of weak hands into stronger hands. However, one risk associated with these 100 day floods (see also 100-Year Flood ≠ 100-Day Flood) is that a chain reaction of perceptions can eventually become reality. Or in other words, due to the ever-changing laundry list of concerns, confidence in the recovery can get shaken, which in turn impacts CEO’s confidence in spending, and ultimately trickles down to employees, consumers, and the broader economy. In that same vein, George Soros, the legendary arbitrageur and hedge fund manager, has famously written about his law of reflexivity (see also Reflexivity Tail Wags Dog). Reflexivity is based on the premise that financial markets continually trend towards disequilibrium, which is evidenced by repeated boom and bust cycles.

While, at Sidoxia, we’re still finding more equity opportunities amidst these volatile markets, what this environment shows us is conventional wisdom is rarely correct. Going into this year, the consensus view regarding interest rates was the economy is improving, and the tapering of QE would cause interest rates to go significantly higher. Instead, the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note has gone down significantly from 3.0% to 2.3%. The performance contrast can be especially seen with small cap stocks being down-10% for the year and the overall Bond Market (BND) is up +3.1% (and closer to +5% if you include interest payments). Despite interest rates fluctuating near generational lows with paltry yields, the power of diversification has proved its value.

While there are multiple dynamics transpiring around the financial markets, the losses across most equity categories and asset classes during Q3 have been bloody. Nonetheless, investing across the broad bond market and certain large cap stock segments is evidence that diversification is a valuable time-tested principle. Times like these highlight the necessity of diversification gain to offset the current equity pain.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, BND, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in EEM, GDX, GLD, EFA, XLE, XLU, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

October 11, 2014 at 8:55 am Leave a comment

Time for Your Retirement Physical

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (October 1, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

As a middle-aged man, I’ve learned the importance of getting my annual physical to improve my longevity. The same principle applies to the longevity of your retirement account. With the fourth quarter of the calendar year officially underway, there is no better time to probe your investment portfolio and prescribe some recommendations relating to your financial goals.

A physical is especially relevant given all the hypertension raising events transpiring in the financial markets during the third quarter. Although the large cap biased indexes (Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500) were up modestly for the quarter (+1.3% and +0.6%, respectively), the small and mid-cap stock indexes underperformed significantly (-8.0% [IWM] and -4.2% [SPMIX], respectively). What’s more, all the daunting geopolitical headlines and uncertain macroeconomic data catapulted the Volatility Index (VIX – aka, “Fear Gauge”) higher by a whopping +40.0% over the same period.

  • What caused all the recent heartburn? Pick your choice and/or combine the following:
  • ISIS in Iraq
  • Bombings in Syria
  • End of Quantitative Easing (QE) – Impending Interest Rate Hikes
  • Mid-Term Elections
  • Hong Kong Protests
  • Tax Inversions
  • Security Hacks
  • Rising U.S. Dollar
  • PIMCO’s Bill Gross Departure

(See Hot News Bites in Newsletter for more details)

As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, there is never a shortage of issues to worry about (see Series of Unfortunate Events), and contrary to what you see on TV, not everything is destruction and despair. In fact, as I’ve discussed before, corporate profits are at record levels (see Retail Profits chart below), companies are sitting on trillions of dollars in cash, the employment picture is improving (albeit slowly), and companies are finally beginning to spend (see Capital Spending chart below):

Retail Profits

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Capital Spending

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Even during prosperous times, you can’t escape the dooms-dayers because too much of a good thing can also be bad (i.e., inflation). Rather than getting caught up in the day-to-day headlines, like many of us investment nerds, it is better to focus on your long-term financial goals, diversification, and objective financial metrics. Even us professionals become challenged by sifting through the never-ending avalanche of news headlines. It’s better to stick with a disciplined, systematic approach that functions as shock absorbers for all the inevitable potholes and speed bumps. Investment guru Peter Lynch said it best, “Assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.” Everyone’s situation and risk tolerance is different and changing, which is why it’s important to give your financial plan a recurring physical.

Vacation or Retirement?

Keeping up with the Joneses in our instant gratification society can be a taxing endeavor, but ultimately investors must decide between 1) Spend now, save later; or 2) Save now, spend later. Most people prefer the more enjoyable option (#1), however these individuals also want to retire at a young age. Often, these competing goals are in conflict. Unless, you are Oprah or Bill Gates (or have rich relatives), chances are you must get into the practice of saving, if you want a sizeable nest egg…before age 85. The problem is Americans typically spend more time planning their vacation than they do planning for retirement. Talking about finances with an advisor, spouse, or partner can feel about as comfortable as walking into a cold doctor’s office while naked under a thin gown. Vulnerability may be an undesirable emotion, but often it is a necessity to reach a desired goal.

Ignorance is Not Bliss – Avoid Procrastination

Many people believe “ignorance is bliss” when it comes to healthcare and finance, which we all know is the worst possible strategy. Normally, individuals have multiple IRA, 401(k), 529, savings, joint, trust, checking and other accounts scattered around with no rhyme or reason. As with healthcare, reviewing finances most often takes place whenever there is a serious problem or need, which is usually at a point when it’s too late. Unfortunately, procrastination typically wins out over proactiveness. Just because you may feel good, or just because you are contributing to your employer’s 401(k), doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get an annual physical for your health and finances. I’m the perfect example. While I feel great on the outside, ignoring my high cholesterol lab results would be a bad idea.

And even for the DIY-ers (Do-It-Yourself-ers), rebalancing your portfolio is critical. In the last fifteen years, overexposure to technology, real estate, financials, and emerging markets at the wrong times had the potential of creating financial ruin. Like a boat, your investment portfolio needs to remain balanced in conjunction with your goals and risk tolerance, or your savings might tip over and sink.

Financial markets go up and down, but your long-term financial well-being does not have to become hostage to the daily vicissitudes. With the fourth quarter now upon us, take control of your financial future and schedule your retirement physical.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in IWM, SPMIX, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

October 4, 2014 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

Mathematics 101: The Cheap Money Printing Machine

Woman Using Atm Machine

Like many other bloggers and pundits, I have amply pontificated on the relative attractiveness of the stock market. For years, cash and gold hoarding bears have clung to the distorted, money-losing Shiller CAPE P/E ratio (see CAPE Smells Like B.S.), which has incorrectly signaled investors to stay out of stocks and miss trillions of dollars in price appreciation. Apparently, the ironclad Shiller CAPE device has been temporarily neutralized by the Federal Reserve’s artificially cheapening money printing press policies, just like Superman’s strength being stripped by the nullifying powers of kryptonite. The money printing logic seems so elegantly sound, I felt compelled to encapsulate this powerful relationship in an equation:

Interests Rate Cuts + Printing Press On = Stocks Go Higher

Wow, amazing…this is arithmetic any investor (or 3rd grader) could appreciate! Fortunately for me, I have a child in elementary school, so I became emboldened to share my new found silver bullet equation. I initially received a few raised eyebrows from my child when I introduced the phrase “Quantitative Easing” but it didn’t take long before she realized Rate Cuts + QE = Fat Piggy Bank.

After the intensive tutorial, I felt so very proud. With a smile on my face, I gave myself a big pat on the back, until I heard my child say, “Daddy, after looking at this squiggly S&P 500 line from 2007-2014, can you help my brain understand because I have some questions.”

Here is the subsequent conversation:

Me: “Sure kiddo, go ahead shoot…what can I answer for you?”

Child: “Daddy, if the Federal Reserve is so powerful and you should “not fight the Fed,” how come stock prices went down by -58% from 2007 – 2009, even though the Fed cut rates from 5.25% to 0%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if stock prices went down so much after massive rate cuts, does that mean stock prices will go up when the Fed increases rates?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if Quantitative Easing is good for stock prices, how come after the QE1 announcement in November 2008, stock prices continued to go down -25%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if QE makes stocks go up, how come stock prices are at all-time record highs after the Fed has cut QE by -$70 billion per month and is completely stopping QE by 100% next month?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, everyone is scared of rate increases but when the Fed increased interest rates by 250 basis points in 1994, didn’t stock prices stay flat for the year?”

Me: “Uhhhh….” (See also 1994 Bond Repeat)

What started as a confident conversation about my bullet-proof mathematical equation ended up with me sweating bullets.

Math 101A: Low Interest Rates = Higher Asset Prices

As my previous conversation highlights, the relationship between rate cuts and monetary policy may not be as clear cut as skeptics would like you to believe. Although I enjoy the widely covered Shiller CAPE discussions on market valuations, somehow the media outlets fail to make the all-important connection between interest rates and P/E ratios.

One way of framing the situation is by asking a simple question:

Would you rather have $100 today or $110 a year from now?

The short answer is…”it depends.” All else equal, the level of interest rates will ultimately determine your decision. If interest rates are offering 20%, a rational person would select the $100 today, invest the money at 20%, and then have $120 a year from now. On the other hand, if interest rates were 0.5%, a rational person would instead select the option of receiving $110 a year from now because collecting a $100 today and investing at 0.5% would only produce $100.50 a year from now.

The same time-value-of-money principle applies to any asset, whether you are referring to gold, cars, houses, private businesses, stocks, or other assets. The mathematical fact is, all else equal, a rational person will always pay more for an asset when interest rates are low, and pay less when interest rates are high. As the 200-year interest chart below shows, current long-term interest rates are near all-time lows.

Source: The Big Picture

Source: The Big Picture

The peak in interest rates during the early 1980s correlated with a single digit P/E ratio (~8x). The current P/E ratio is deservedly higher (~16x), but it is dramatically lower than the 30x+ P/E ratio realized in the 2000 year timeframe. If none of this discussion makes sense, consider the simple Rule of 20 (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which states as a simple rule-of-thumb, the average market P/E ratio should be equal to 20 minus the level inflation. With inflation currently averaging about 2%, the Rule of 20 implies an equilibrium of ~18x. If you assume this P/E multiple and factor in a 7-8% earnings growth rate, you could legitimately argue for 20% appreciation in the market to S&P 2,400 over a 12-month period. It’s true, a spike in interest rates, combined with a deceleration in earnings would justify a contraction in stock prices, but even under this scenario, current index values are nowhere near the bubble levels of 2000.

After six long years, the QE train is finally grinding to a halt, and a return towards Fed policy normalcy could be rapidly approaching. Many investors and skeptical bears have tried to rationalize the tripling in the market from early 2009 as solely due to the cheap Fed money printing machine. Unfortunately, history and mathematics don’t support that assertion. If you don’t believe me, perhaps a child may be able to explain it to you better.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

September 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm 2 comments

Investing with Crayons

Child's Drawing of Family

At one level, investing can be extremely challenging if you consider the plethora of diverse and unpredictable factors such as monetary policy, fiscal policy, wars, banking crises, natural disasters, currency crises, geopolitical turmoil, Ebola, Scottish referendums, etc. On the other hand, investing (not trading or speculating) should be quite simple…like drawing stick figures with a crayon. However, simplicity does not mean laziness. Successful stock research requires rigorous due diligence without cutting corners. Once the heavy research lifting is completed, concise communication is always preferred.

In order to be succinct, investors need to understand the key drivers of stock performance. In the short run, investors may not be able to draw the directional path of stock prices, but over the long run, Peter Lynch described stock predictions best (see Inside the Investing Genius) when he stated:

“People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.”

 

In other words, if revenues, earnings, and most importantly cash flows go up over the long-term, then it is highly likely that stock prices will follow. Besides profits, interest rates and sentiment are other key contributing factors affecting the trajectory of future stock prices.

In high school and college, students often cram as much information into a paper with the goal of layering pages as high as possible. Typically, the heaviest papers got A’s and the lightest papers got C’s or D’s. However, as it relates to stock analysis, the opposite holds true – brevity reigns supreme.

American psychologist and philosopher William James noted, “The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”

In our digital world of informational overload, knowing what to overlook is quite a challenge. I experienced this dynamic firsthand early on in my professional career when I was an investment analyst. When asked to research a new stock by my portfolio manager, often my inclination was to throw in the data kitchen sink into my report. Rather than boil down the report to three or four critical stock-driving factors, I defaulted to a plan of including every possible risk factor, competitor, and valuation metric. This strategy was designed primarily as a defense mechanism to hedge against a wide range of possible outcomes, whether those outcomes were probable or very unlikely. Often, stuffing irrelevant information into reports resulted in ineffectual, non-committal opinions, which could provide cosmetic wiggle room for me to rationalize any future upward or downward movement in the stock price.

Lynch understood as well as anyone that stock investing does not have to be complex rocket science:

“Everyone has the brainpower to follow the stock market. If you made it through fifth-grade math, you can do it.”

 

In fact, when Lynch worked with investment analysts, he ran a three-minute timer and forced the analysts to pitch stock ideas in basic terms before the timer expired.

If you went back further in time, legendary Value guru Benjamin Graham also understood brain surgery is not required to conduct successful equity analysis:

“People don’t need extraordinary insight or intelligence. What they need most is the character to adopt simple rules and stick to them.”

 

Similarly, Warren Buffett hammers home the idea that a gargantuan report or extravagant explanation isn’t required in equity research:

“You should be able to explain why you bought a stock in a paragraph.”

 

Hedge fund veteran manager Michael Steinhardt held the belief that a stock recommendation should be elegant in its simplicity as well. In his book No Bull – My Life In and Out of Markets he states that an analyst “should be able to tell me in two minutes, four things: 1) the idea; 2) the consensus view; 3) his variant perception; and 4) a trigger event.

All these previously mentioned exceptional investors highlight the basic truth of equity investing. A long, type-written report inundated with confusing charts and irrelevant data is counterproductive to the investment and portfolio management process. Outlining a stock investment thesis is much more powerful when succinctly written with a crayon.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

September 20, 2014 at 3:15 pm 2 comments

NASDAQ 5,000…Irrational Exuberance Déjà Vu?

Investors love round numbers and with the Dow Jones Industrial index recently piercing 17,000 and the S&P 500 index having broken 2,000 , even novice investors have something to talk about around the office water cooler. While new all-time records are being set for the major indices during September, the unsung, tech-laden NASDAQ index has yet to surpass its all-time high of 5,132 achieved 14 and ½ years ago during March of 2000.

A lot has changed since then. Leading up to the pricking of the technology bubble, talks of an overhyped market started as early as December 5, 1996, when then Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made his infamous “irrational exuberance” speech.

“But how do we know when irrational exuberance has unduly escalated asset values, which then become subject to unexpected and prolonged contractions as they have in Japan over the past decade?”    
 -Alan Greenspan (Federal Reserve Chairman 1987 – 2006)

 

On that date, the S&P 500 closed at NASDAQ 1,300. A little over three years later, before values cratered by -78%, the index almost quadrupled higher to 5,132. Looked at from a slightly different lens, here is how the major indexes have fared since Greenspan’s widely referenced speech almost 18 years ago:

Slide1

Despite the world’s most powerful banker calling stock prices irrational, the Dow & S&P have almost tripled in value (+164% & +167%, respectively) and the NASDAQ has almost quadrupled (+251%). The 80%+ outperformance (excluding dividends) is impressive, but reasonable if you consider this increase amounts to about a +7.2% compounded annual appreciation value. Investors have experienced a lot of heartburn over that long timeframe, but for any buy-and-holders, these returns would have trounced returns realized in alternative safe haven vehicles like CDs, savings accounts, or bonds.

Price: The Almighty Metric

There are many valuation metrics to evaluate but the most universal one is the Price/Earnings ratio (P/E). Just as in the process of assessing the value of a car, house, or stock, the price you pay is usually the most important factor of the purchase. The same principle applies to stock indexes. The cheaper the price paid, the greater probability of earning superior returns in the future. Unfortunately for investors in technology stocks, there was not much value in the NASDAQ index during late-1999, early-2000. Historical P/E data for the NASDAQ index is tough to come by, but some estimates pegged the index value at 200x’s its earnings at the peak of the 2000 technology mania. In other words, for every $1 in profit the average NASDAQ company earned, investors were willing to pay $200…yikes.

Today, the NASDAQ 100 index (the largest 100 non-financial companies in the NASDAQ index), which can serve as a proxy for the overll NASDAQ index, carries a reasonable P/E ratio of approximately 20x on a forward basis (24x on a trailing basis) – about 90% lower than the peak extremes of the NASDAQ index in the year 2000.

Although NASDAQ valuations are much lower today than during the bursting 2000 tech bubble, P/E ratios for the NASDAQ 100 still remain about +20% higher than the S&P 500, which begs the question, “Is the premium multiple deserved?”

As I wrote about in the NASDAQ Tech Revolution, you get what you pay for. If you pay a peanut multiple, many times you get a monkey stock. In the technology world, there is often acute obsolescence risk (remember Blackberry – BBRY?) that can lead to massive losses, but there also exists a winner-takes-all dynamic. Just think of the dominance of Google (GOOG/L) in search advertising, Microsoft (MSFT) in the PC, or Amazon (AMZN) in e-commerce.  It’s a tricky game, but following the direction of cash, investments, and product innovation are key in my mind if you plan on finding the long-term winners. For example, the average revenue growth for the top 10 companies in the NASDAQ 100 averaged more than +100% annually from the end of 1999 to the end of 2013. Identifying the “Old Tech Guard” winners is not overly challenging, but discovering the “New Tech Guard” is a much more demanding proposition.

In the winner-takes-all hunt, one need not go any further than looking at the massive role technology plays in our daily lives. Twenty years ago, cell phones, GPS, DVRs (Digital Video Recorders), e-Readers, tablets, electric cars, iPods/MP3s, WiFi mobility, on-demand digital media, video-conferencing, and cloud storage either did not exist or were nowhere near mainstream. Many of these technologies manifest themselves into a whole host of different applications that we cannot live without. One can compile a list of these life-critical applications by thumbing through your smartphone or PC bookmarks. The list is ever-expanding, but companies like Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (FB), Amazon (AMZN), Uber, Netflix (NFLX), Priceline (PCLN), Yelp, Zillow (Z), and a bevy of other “New Tech Guard” companies have built multi-billion franchises that have become irreplaceable applications in our day-to-day lives.

Underlying all the arbitrary index value milestones (e.g., Dow 17,000 and S&P 2,000) since the 1990s has a persistent and unstoppable proliferation of technology adoption across virtually every aspect of our lives. NASDAQ 5,000 may not be here quite yet, but getting there over the next year or two may not be much of a stretch. Speculative tendencies could get us there sooner, and macro/geopolitical concerns could push the milestone out, but when we do get there the feeling of NASDAQ 5,000 déjà vu will have a much stronger foundation than the fleeting euphoric emotions felt when investors tackled the same level in year 2000.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own AAPL, GOOG/L, AMZN, NFLX bonds (short the equity), FB (non-discretionary), MSFT (non-discretionary), PCLN (non-discretionary) and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, Uber, YELP, Z, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

September 13, 2014 at 10:21 am 2 comments

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