The Art of Catching Falling Knives

Knife Falling FreeImages

“In the middle of every difficulty lies an opportunity.”  ~Albert Einstein

It was a painful week for bullish investors in the stock market as evidenced by the -1,018 point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, equivalent to approximately a -6% decline. The S&P 500 index did not fare any better, and the loss for the tech-heavy NASDAQ index was down closer to -7% for the week.

The media is attributing much of the short-term weakness to a triple Chinese whammy of factors: 1) Currency devaluation of the Yuan; 2) Weaker Chinese manufacturing data registering in at the lowest level in over six years; and 3) A collapsing Chinese stock market.

As the second largest economy on the planet, developments in China should not be ignored, however these dynamics should be put in the proper context. With respect to China’s currency devaluation, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit puts the foreign exchange developments in proper perspective. If you consider the devaluation of the Yuan by -4%, this change only reverses a small fraction of the Chinese currency appreciation that has taken place over the last decade (see chart below). Grannis rightfully points out the -25% collapse in the value of the euro relative to the U.S. dollar is much more significant than the minor move in the Yuan.  Moreover, although the move by the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) makes America’s exports to China less cost competitive, this move by Chinese bankers is designed to address exactly what investors are majorly concern about – slowing growth in Asia.

Yuan vs Dollar 2015

Although the weak Chinese manufacturing data is disconcerting, this data is nothing new – the same manufacturing data has been very choppy over the last four years. On the last China issue relating to its stock market, investors should be reminded that despite the massive decline in the Shanghai Composite, the index is still up by more than +50% versus a year ago (see chart below)

Shanghai Composite 8-2015

Fear the Falling Knife?

Given the fresh carnage in the U.S. and foreign markets, is now the time for investors to attempt to catch a falling knife? Catching knives for a living can be a dangerous profession, and many investors – professionals and amateurs alike – have lost financial fingers and blood by attempting to prematurely purchase plummeting securities. Rather than trying to time the market, which is nearly impossible to do consistently, it’s more important to have a disciplined, unemotional investing framework in place.

Hall of Fame investor Peter Lynch sarcastically highlighted the difficulty in timing the market, “I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

Readers of my blog, Investing Caffeine understand I am a bottom-up investor when it comes to individual security selection with the help of our proprietary S.H.G.R. model, but those individual investment decisions are made within Sidoxia’s broader, four-pronged macro framework (see also Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). As a reminder, driving our global views are the following four factors: a) Profits; b) Interest rates; c) Sentiment; and Valuations. Currently, two of the four indicators are flashing green (Interest rates and Sentiment), and the other two are neutral (Profits and Valuations).

  • Profits (Neutral): Profits are at record highs, but a strong dollar, weak energy sector, and sluggish growth internationally have slowed the trajectory of earnings.
  • Valuation (Neutral): At an overall P/E of about 18x’s profits for the S&P 500, current valuations are near historical averages. For CAPE investors who have missed the tripling in stock prices, you can reference prior discussions (see CAPE Smells Like BS). I could make the case that stocks are very attractive with a 6% earnings yield (inverse P/E ratio) compared to a 2% 10—Year Treasury bond, but I’ll take off my rose-colored glasses.
  • Interest Rates (Positive): Rates are at unambiguously low levels, which, all else equal, is a clear-cut positive for all cash generating asset classes, including stocks. With an unmistakably “dovish” Federal Reserve in place, whether the 0.25% interest rate hike comes next month, or next year will have little bearing on the current shape of the yield curve. Chairman Yellen has made it clear the trajectory of rate increases will be very gradual, so it will take a major shift in economic trends to move this factor into Neutral or Negative territory.
  • Sentiment (Positive): Following the investment herd can be very dangerous for your financial health. We saw that in spades during the late-1990s in the technology industry and also during the mid-2000s in the housing sector. As Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear and sell greed” – last week we saw a lot of fear.

In addition to the immense outflows out of stock funds (see also Great Rotation) , panic was clearly evident in the market last week as shown by the Volatility Index (VIX), a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge.” In general, volatility over the last five years has been on a declining trend, however every 6-12 months, some macro concern inevitably rears its ugly head and volatility spikes higher. With the VIX exploding higher by an amazing +118% last week to a level of 28.03, it is proof positive how quickly sentiment can change in the stock market.

Not much in the investing world works exactly like science, but buying stocks during previous fear spikes, when the VIX level exceeds 20, has been a very lucrative strategy. As you can see from the chart below, there have been numerous occasions over the last five years when the over-20 level has been breached, which has coincided with temporary stock declines in the range of -8%  to -22%. However, had you held onto stocks, without adding to them, you would have earned an +84% return (excluding dividends) in the S&P 500 index. Absent the 2011 period, when investors were simultaneously digesting a debt downgrade, deep European recession, and domestic political fireworks surrounding a debt ceiling, these periods of elevated volatility have been relatively short-lived.

Whether this will be the absolute best time to buy stocks is tough to say. Stocks are falling like knives, and in many instances prices have been sliced by more than -10%, -20%, or -30%. It’s time to compile your shopping list, because valuations in many areas are becoming more compelling and eventually gravity will run its full course. That’s when your strategy needs to shift from avoiding the falling knives to finding the bouncing tennis balls…excuse me while I grab my tennis racket.

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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 emerging market/Chinese 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.

August 22, 2015 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius

Photo Source: Boston.com

Those readers who have frequented my Investing Caffeine site are familiar with the numerous profiles on professional investors of both current and prior periods (See Profiles). Many of the individuals described have a tremendous track record of success, while others have a tremendous ability of making outrageous forecasts. I have covered both. Regardless, much can be learned from the successes and failures by mirroring the behavior of the greats – like modeling your golf swing after Tiger Woods (O.K., since Tiger is out of favor right now, let’s say Jordan Spieth). My investment swing borrows techniques and tips from many great investors, but Peter Lynch (ex-Fidelity fund manager), probably more than any icon, has had the most influence on my investing philosophy and career as any investor. His breadth of knowledge and versatility across styles has allowed him to compile a record that few, if any, could match – outside perhaps the great Warren Buffett.

Consider that Lynch’s Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 (almost doubling the return of the S&P 500 index for that period). In 1977, the obscure Magellan Fund started with about $20 million, and by his retirement the fund grew to approximately $14 billion (700x’s larger). Cynics believed that Magellan was too big to adequately perform at $1, $2, $3, $5 and then $10 billion, but Lynch ultimately silenced the critics. Despite the fund’s gargantuan size, over the final five years of Lynch’s tenure, Magellan  outperformed 99.5% of all other funds, according to Barron’s. How did Magellan investors fare in the period under Lynch’s watch? A $10,000 investment initiated when he took the helm would have grown to roughly $280,000 (+2,700%) by the day he retired. Not too shabby.

Background

Lynch graduated from Boston College in 1965 and earned a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1968.  Like the previously mentioned Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch shared his knowledge with the investing masses through his writings, including his two seminal books One Up on Wall Street and Beating the Street. Subsequently, Lynch authored Learn to Earn, a book targeted at younger, novice investors. Regardless, the ideas and lessons from his writings, including contributing author to Worth magazine, are still transferable to investors across a broad spectrum of skill levels, even today.

The Lessons of Lynch

Although Lynch has left me with enough financially rich content to write a full-blown textbook, I will limit the meat of this article to lessons and quotations coming directly from the horse’s mouth. Here is a selective list of gems Lynch has shared with investors over the years:

Buy within Your Comfort Zone: Lynch simply urges investors to “Buy what you know.” In similar fashion to Warren Buffett, who stuck to investing in stocks within his “circle of competence,” Lynch focused on investments he understood or on industries he felt he had an edge over others. Perhaps if investors would have heeded this advice, the leveraged, toxic derivative debacle occurring over previous years could have been avoided.

Do Your Homework: Building the conviction to ride through equity market volatility requires rigorous homework. Lynch adds, “A company does not tell you to buy it, there is always something to worry about.  There are always respected investors that say you are wrong. You have to know the story better than they do, and have faith in what you know.”

Price Follows Earnings: Investing is often unnecessarily made complicated. Lynch fundamentally believes stock prices will follow the long-term trajectory of earnings growth. He makes the point that “People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market, but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.” In a publicly attended group meeting, Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Inc. (DELL), asked Peter Lynch about the direction of Dell’s future stock price. Lynch’s answer: “If your earnings are higher in 5 years, your stock will be higher.” Maybe Dell’s price decline over the last five years can be attributed to its earnings decline over the same period? It’s no surprise that Hewlett-Packard’s dramatic stock price outperformance (relative to DELL) has something to do with the more than doubling of HP’s earnings over the same time frame.

Valuation & Price Declines: “People Concentrate too much on the P (Price), but the E (Earnings) really makes the difference.” In a nutshell, Lynch believes valuation metrics play an important role, but long-term earnings growth will have a larger impact on future stock price appreciation.

Two Key Stock Questions: 1) “Is the stock still attractively priced relative to earnings?” and 2) “What is happening in the company to make the earnings go up?” Improving fundamentals at an attractive price are key components to Lynch’s investing strategy.

Lynch on Buffett: Lynch was given an opportunity to write the foreword in Buffett’s biography, The Warren Buffett Way. Lynch did not believe in “pulling out flowers and watering the weeds,” or in other words, selling winners and buying losers. In highlighting this weed-flower concept, Lynch said this about Buffett: “He purchased over $1 billion of Coca-Cola in 1988 and 1989 after the stock had risen over fivefold the prior six years and over five-hundredfold the previous sixty years. He made four times his money in three years and plans to make a lot more the next five, ten, and twenty years with Coke.” Hammering home the idea that a few good stocks a decade can make an investment career, Lynch had this to say about Buffett: “Warren states that twelve investments decisions in his forty year career have made all the difference.”

You Don’t Need Perfect Batting Average: In order to significantly outperform the market, investors need not generate near perfect results. According to Lynch, “If you’re terrific in this business, you’re right six times out of 10 – I’ve had stocks go from $11 to 7 cents (American Intl Airways).” Here is one recipe Lynch shares with others on how to beat the market: “All you have to do really is find the best hundred stocks in the S&P 500 and find another few hundred outside the S&P 500 to beat the market.”

The Critical Element of Patience: With the explosion of information, expansion of the internet age, and the reduction of trading costs has come the itchy trading finger. This hasty investment principle runs contrary to Lynch’s core beliefs. Here’s what he had to say regarding the importance of a steady investment hand:

  • “In my investing career, the best gains usually have come in the third or fourth year, not in the third or fourth week or the third or fourth month.”
  • “Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”
  • “Often, there is no correlation between the success of a company’s operations and the success of its stock over a few months or even a few years. In the long term, there is a 100% correlation between the success of a company and the success of its stock. It pays to be patient, and to own successful companies.”
  • “The key to making money in stocks is not to get scared out of them.”

Bear Market Beliefs: “I’m always more depressed by an overpriced market in which many stocks are hitting new highs every day than by a beaten-down market in a recession,” says Lynch. The media responds in exactly the opposite manner – bear markets lead to an inundation of headlines driven by panic-based fear. Lynch shares a similar sentiment to Warren Buffett when it comes to the media holding a glass half full view in bear markets.

Market Worries:  Is worrying about market concerns worth the stress? Not according to Lynch. His belief: “I’ve always said if you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.” Just this last March, Lynch used history to drive home his views: “We’ve had 11 recessions since World War II and we’ve had a perfect score — 11 recoveries. There are a lot of natural cushions in the economy now that weren’t there in the 1930s. They keep things from getting out of control.  We have the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation [which insures bank deposits]. We have social security. We have pensions. We have two-person, working families. We have unemployment payments. And we have a Federal Reserve with a brain.”

Thoughts on Cyclicals: Lynch divided his portfolio into several buckets, and cyclical stocks occupied one of the buckets. “Cyclicals are like blackjack: stay in the game too long and it’s bound to take all your profit,” Lynch emphasized.

Selling Discipline: The rationale behind Lynch’s selling discipline is straightforward – here are some of his thoughts on the subject:

  • “When the fundamentals change, sell your mistakes.”
  • “Write down why you own a stock and sell it if the reason isn’t true anymore.”
  • “Sell a stock because the company’s fundamentals deteriorate, not because the sky is falling.”

Distilling the genius of an investing legend like Peter Lynch down to a single article is not only a grueling challenge, but it also cannot bring complete justice to the vast accomplishments of this incredible investment legend. Nonetheless, his record should be meticulously studied in hopes of adding jewels of investment knowledge to the repertoires of all investors. If delving into the head of this investing mastermind can provide access to even a fraction of his vast knowledge pool, then we can all benefit by adding a slice of this greatness to our investment portfolios.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, including KO, but at time of publishing had no direct positions in DELL, HPQ or any other security mentioned. 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.

August 15, 2015 at 10:00 am 5 comments

Playing the Field with Your Investments

For some, casually dating can be fun and exciting. The same goes for trading and speculating – the freedom to make free- wheeling, non-committal purchases can be exhilarating. Unfortunately the costs (fiscally and emotionally) of short-term dating/investing often outweigh the benefits.

Fortunately, in the investment world, you can get to know an investment pretty well through fundamental research that is widely available (e.g., 10Ks, 10Qs, press releases, analyst days, quarterly conference calls, management interviews, trade rags, research reports). Unlike dating, researching stocks can be very cheap, and you do not need to worry about being rejected.

Dating is important early in adulthood because we make many mistakes choosing whom we date, but in the process we learn from our misjudgments and discover the important qualities we value in relationships. The same goes for stocks. Nothing beats experience, and in my long investment career, I can honestly say I’ve dated/traded a lot of pigs and gained valuable lessons that have improved my investing capabilities. Now, however, I don’t just casually date my investments – I factor in a rigorous, disciplined process that requires a serious commitment. I no longer enter positions lightly.

One of my investment heroes, Peter Lynch, appropriately stated, “In stocks as in romance, ease of divorce is not a sound basis for commitment. If you’ve chosen wisely to begin with, you won’t want a divorce.”

Charles Ellis shared these thoughts on relationships with mutual funds:

“If you invest in mutual funds and make mutual funds investment changes in less than 10 years…you’re really just ‘dating.’ Investing in mutual funds should be marital – for richer, for poorer, and so on; mutual fund decisions should be entered into soberly and advisedly and for the truly long term.”

No relationship comes without wild swings, and stocks are no different. If you want to survive the volatile ups and downs of a relationship (or stock ownership), you better do your homework before blindly jumping into bed. The consequences can be punishing.

Buy and Hold is Dead…Unless Stocks Go Up

If you are serious about your investments, I believe you must be mentally willing to commit to a relationship with your stock, not for a day, not for a week, or not for a month, but rather for years. Now, I know this is blasphemy in the age when “buy-and-hold” investing is considered dead, but I refute that basic premise whole-heartedly…with a few caveats.

Sure, buy-and-hold is a stupid strategy when stocks do nothing for a decade – like they have done in the 2000s, but buying and holding was an absolutely brilliant strategy in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, even in the miserable 2000s, there have been many buy-and-hold investments that have made owners a fortune (see Questioning Buy & Hold ). So, the moral of the story for me is “buy-and-hold” is good for stocks that go up in price, and bad for stocks that go flat or down in price. Wow, how deeply profound!

To measure my personal commitment to an investment prospect, a bachelorette investment I am courting must pass another test…a test from another one of my investment idols, Phil Fisher, called the three-year rule. This is what the late Mr. Fisher had to say about this topic:

“While I realized thoroughly that if I were to make the kinds of profits that are made possible by [my] process … it was vital that I have some sort of quantitative check… With this in mind, I established what I called my three-year rule.” Fisher adds, “I have repeated again and again to my clients that when I purchase something for them, not to judge the results in a matter of a month or a year, but allow me a three year period.”

Certainly, there will be situations where an investment thesis is wrong, valuation explodes, or there are superior investment opportunities that will trigger a sale before the three-year minimum expires. Nonetheless, I follow Fisher’s rule in principle in hopes of setting the bar high enough to only let the best ideas into both my client and personal portfolios.

As I have written in the past, there are always reasons of why you should not invest for the long-term and instead sell your position, such as: 1) new competition; 2) cost pressures; 3) slowing growth; 4) management change; 5) valuation; 6) change in industry regulation; 7) slowing economy; 8 ) loss of market share; 9) product obsolescence; 10) etc, etc, etc. You get the idea.

Don Hays summed it up best: “Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.”

Peter Lynch shares similar sympathies when it comes to noise in the marketplace:

“Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”

Every once in a while there is validity to some of the concerns, but more often than not, the scare campaigns are merely Chicken Little calling for the world to come to an end.

Patience is a Virtue

In the instant gratification society we live in, patience is difficult to come by, and for many people ignoring the constant chatter of fear is challenging. Pundits spend every waking hour trying to explain each blip in the market, but in the short-run, prices often move up or down irrespective of the daily headlines. Explaining this randomness, Peter Lynch said the following:

“Often, there is no correlation between the success of a company’s operations and the success of its stock over a few months or even a few years. In the long term, there is a 100% correlation between the success of a company and the success of its stock. It pays to be patient, and to own successful companies.”

Long-term investing, like long-term relationships, is not a new concept. Investment time horizons have been shortening for decades, so talking about the long-term is generally considered heresy. Rather than casually date a stock position, perhaps you should commit to a long-term relationship and divorce your field-playing habits. Now that sounds like a sweet kiss of success.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, 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.

August 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm Leave a comment

Investors Take a Vacation

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (August 3, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

It’s summertime and the stock market has taken a vacation, and it’s unclear when prices will return from a seven month break. It may seem like a calm sunset walk along the beach now that Greek worries have temporarily subsided, but concerns have shifted to an impending Federal Reserve interest rate hike, declining commodity prices, and a Chinese stock market crash, which could lead to a painful sunburn.

If you think about it, stock investors have basically been on unpaid vacation since the beginning of the year, with the Dow Jones Industrial Index (17,690) down -0.7% for 2015 and the S&P 500 (2,104) up + 2.2% over the same time period (see chart below). Despite mixed results for the year, all three main stock indexes rebounded in July (including the tech-heavy NASDAQ +2.8% for the month) after posting negative returns in June. Overall for 2015, sector performance has been muddled. There has been plenty of sunshine on the Healthcare sector (+11.7%), but Energy stocks have been stuck in the doldrums (-13.4%), over the same timeframe.

Source: Yahoo! Finance

Chinese Investors Suffer Heat Stroke

Despite gains for U.S. stocks in July, the overheated Chinese stock marketcaused some heat stroke for global investors with the Shanghai Composite index posting its worst one month loss (-15%) in six years, wiping out about $4 trillion in market value. Before coming back down to earth, the Chinese stock market inflated by more than +150% from 2014.

Driving the speculative fervor were an unprecedented opening of 12 million monthly accounts during spring, according to Steven Rattner, a seasoned financier, investor, and a New York Times journalist. Margin accounts operate much like a credit card for individuals, which allowed these investors to aggressively gamble on the China market upswing, but during the downdraft investors were forced to sell stocks to generate proceeds for outstanding loan repayments. It’s estimated that 25% of these investors only have an elementary education and a significant number of them are illiterate. Further exacerbating the sell-off were Chinese regulators artificially intervening by halting trading in about 500 companies on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges last Friday, equivalent to approximately 18% of all listings.

Although China, as the second largest economy on the globe, is much more economically important than a country like Greece, recent events should be placed into proper context. For starters, as you can see from the chart below, the Chinese stock market is no stranger to volatility. According to Fundstrat Global Advisors, the Shanghai composite index has experienced 10 bear markets over the last 25 years, and the recent downdraft doesn’t compare to the roughly -75% decline we saw in 2007-2008. Moreover, there is no strong correlation between the Chinese stock market. Only 15% of Chinese households own stocks, or measured differently, only 6% of household assets are held in stocks, says economic-consulting firm IHS Global Insight. More important than the question, “What will happen to the Chinese stock market?,” is the question,  “What will happen to the Chinese stock economy?,” which has been on a perennial slowdown of late. Nevertheless, China has a 7%+ economic growth rate and the highest savings rate of any major country, both factors for which the U.S. economy would kill.

Source: Yardeni.com

Don’t Take a Financial Planning Vacation

While the financial markets continue to bounce around and interest rates oscillate based on guesswork of a Federal Reserve interest rate hike in September, many families are now returning from vacations, or squeezing one in before the back-to-school period. The sad but true fact is many Americans spend more time planning their family vacation than they do planning for their financial futures. Unfortunately, individuals cannot afford to take a vacation from their investment and financial planning. At the risk of stating the obvious, planning for retirement will have a much more profound impact on your future years than a well-planned trip to Hawaii or the Bahamas.

We live in an instant gratification society where “spend now, save later” is a mantra followed by many. There’s nothing wrong with splurging on a vacation, and to maintain sanity and family cohesion it is almost a necessity. However, this objective does not have to come at the expense of compromising financial responsibility – or in other words spending within your means. Investing is a lot like consistent dieting and exercising…it’s easy to understand, but difficult to sustainably execute. Vacations, on the other hand, are easy to understand, and easy to execute, especially if you have a credit card with an available balance.

It’s never too late to work on your financial planning muscle. As I discuss in a previous article (Getting to Your Number) , one of the first key steps is to calculate an annual budget relative to your income, so one can somewhat accurately determine how much money can be saved/invested for retirement. Circumstances always change, but having a base-case scenario will help determine whether your retirement goals are achievable. If expectations are overly optimistic, spending cuts, revenue enhancing adjustments, and/or retirement date changes can still be made.

When it comes to the stock market, there are never a shortage of concerns. Today, worries include a Greek eurozone exit (“Grexit”); decelerating China economic growth and a declining Chinese stock market; and the viability of Donald’s Trump’s presidential campaign (or lack thereof). While it may be true that stock prices are on a temporary vacation, your financial and investment planning strategies cannot afford to go on vacation.

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.

August 3, 2015 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Supply & Demand: The Key to Oil, Stocks, and Pork Bellies

Chart - Money

Commodity prices, including oil, are “crashing” according to the pundits and fears are building that this is a precursor to another stock market collapse. Are we on an irreversible path of repeating the bloodbath carnage of the 2008-2009 Great Recession?

Fortunately for investors, markets move in cycles and the fundamental laws of supply and demand hold true in both bull and bear markets, across all financial markets. Whether we are talking about stocks, bonds, copper, gold, currencies, or pork bellies, markets persistently move like a pendulum through periods of excess supply and demand. In other words, weakness in prices create stronger demand and less supply, whereas strength in prices creates weakening demand and more supply.

Since energy makes the world go round and the vast majority of drivers are accustomed to filling up their gas tanks, the average consumer is familiar with recent negative price developments in the crude oil markets. Eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith would be proud that the laws of supply and demand have help up just as well today as they did when he wrote Wealth of Nations in 1776.

It is true that overall stagnation in global economic demand in recent years, along with the strengthening of the U.S. dollar (because of better relative growth), has contributed to downward trending oil prices. It is also true that supply factors, such as Saudi Arabia’s insistence to maintain production and the boom in U.S. oil production due to new fracking technologies (see chart below), have arguably had a larger negative impact on the more than -50% deterioration in oil prices. Fears of additional Iranian oil supply hitting the global oil markets as a result of the Iranian nuclear deal have also added to the downward pressure on prices.

Source: Scott Grannis – Calafia Beach Pundit.

Source: Scott Grannis

What is bad for oil prices and the oil producers is good news for the rest of the economy. Transportation is the lubricant of the global economy, and therefore lower oil prices will act as a stimulant for large swaths of the global marketplace. Here in the U.S., consumer savings from lower energy prices have largely been used to pay down debt (deleverage), but eventually, the longer oil prices remain depressed, incremental savings should filter into our economy through increased consumer spending.

But prices are likely not going to stay low forever because producers are responding drastically to the price declines. All one needs to do is look at the radical falloff in the oil producer rig count (see chart below). As you can see, the rig count has fallen by more than -50% within a six month period, meaning at some point, the decline in global production will eventually provide a floor to prices and ultimately provide a tailwind.

Source: Scott Grannis – Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Scott Grannis

If we broaden our perspective beyond just oil, and look at the broader commodity complex, we can see that the recent decline in commodity prices has been painful, but nowhere near the Armageddon scenario experienced during 2008-2009 (see chart below – gray areas = recessions).

Source: Scott Grannis – Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Scott Grannis

Although this conversation has focused on commodities, the same supply-demand principles apply to the stock market as well. Stock market prices as measured by the S&P 500 index have remained near record levels, but as I have written in the past, the records cannot be attributed to the lackluster demand from retail investors (see ICI fund flow data).

Although U.S. stock fundamentals remain relatively strong (e.g., earnings, interest rates, valuations, psychology), much of the strength can be explained by the constrained supply of stocks. How has stock supply been constrained? Some key factors include the trillions in dollars of supply soaked up by record M&A activity (mergers and acquisition) and share buybacks.

In addition to the declining stock supply from M&A and share buybacks, there has been limited supply of new IPO issues (initial public offerings) coming to market, as evidenced by the declines in IPO dollar and unit volumes in the first half of 2015, as compared to last year. More specifically, first half IPO dollar volmes were down -41% to $19.2 billion and the number of 2015 IPOs has declined -27% to 116 from 160 for the same time period.

Price cycles vary dramatically in price and duration across all financial markets, including stocks, bonds, oil, interest rates, currencies, gold, and pork bellies, among others. Not even the smartest individual or most powerful computer on the planet can consistently time the short-term shifts in financial markets, but using the powerful economic laws of supply and demand can help you profitably make adjustments to your investment portfolio(s).

Investment Questions Border

See Also – The Lesson of a Lifetime (Investing Caffeine)

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.

July 25, 2015 at 4:31 pm Leave a comment

Stock Market Tug-of-War

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Some things never change. There are several certainties in life, including death and taxes. And when it comes to investing, there are several other certainties: the never-ending existence of geopolitical concerns, and incessant worries over Fed policy.

Let’s face it, since the dawn of mankind, humans have been programmed to worry, whether it stemmed from avoiding a man-eating lion or foraging for food to survive (see Controlling the Investment Lizard Brain). Investors function in much the same way.

There is always a constant tug-of-war between bulls and bears, and if you are obsessed with following the relentless daily headlines about a Grexit (European Greek Exit) and an imminent Federal Reserve rate hike, you like many other investors will continue to experience sweaty palms, heart palpitations, and underperformance.

Despite the gloomy headlines, the bulls are currently winning the tug-of-war as measured by the 6-year boom in global stock prices, which has breached a record $70 trillion in value (see chart below).

Source: Scott Grannis

Source: Mark J. Perry (Carpe Diem)

If you become hostage and react to the headlines about Greece, China, Fed policy, Ukraine, ISIS, Russia, Ebola, North Korea, QE Tapering, etc., not only are you ignoring the key positives fueling this bull market (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool) but you are also costing yourself a lot of money. While I have been watching the “sideliners” for years, they have missed a market driven by generationally low interest rates; improved employment picture (10% to 5%); tame inflation; steady improvement in housing market; fiscal deficit reductions; record corporate profits; record share buybacks and dividends; contrarian investor sentiment (leaving plenty of room for converts to join the party), and other fundamentally positive factors.

Yes, stocks will eventually go down by a significant amount – they always do. Stocks can temporarily go down based on the fear du jour (like the 10-20% declines in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2014), but the nastier hits to stock markets always come from good old fashion cyclical recessions. As I’ve discussed before, there are no signs of a recession on the horizon, and the yield curve has been a great predictor of this trigger (see Dynamic Yield Curve  in Digesting Stock Gains). Until then, the bears will be fighting an uphill battle.

Independent of recession timing, investing is a very challenging game, even for the most experienced professionals. The best long-term investors, including the likes of Warren Buffett and Peter Lynch, understand the never-ending geopolitical and Fed policy headlines are absolutely meaningless over the long run. However, media outlets, blogs, newspapers, and radio shows make money by peddling fear as economic and political concerns jump like a frog from one lily pad to the next. At Sidoxia we  have a disciplined and systematic approach to creating diversified portfolios with our proprietary S.H.G.R. model (“sugar”) that screens for attractively valued investments. We believe this is the way to win the long-term tug-of-war.

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.

July 19, 2015 at 10:03 pm Leave a comment

F.U.D. and Dividend Shock Absorbers

Slide1

As the existential question remains open on whether Greece will remain a functioning entity within the eurozone, investor anxiety and manic behavior continues to be the norm. Rampant fear seems very counterintuitive for a stock market that has more than tripled in value from early 2009 with the S&P 500 index only sitting -3% below all-time record highs. Common sense would dictate that euphoric investor appetites have contributed to years of new record highs in the U.S. stock market, but that isn’t the case now. Rather, the enormous appreciation experienced in recent years can be better explained by the trillions of dollars directed towards buoyant share buybacks and mergers.

With a bull market still briskly running into its sixth year, where can we find the evidence for all this anxiety? Well, if you don’t believe all the nail biting concerns you hear from friends, family members, and co-workers about a Grexit (Greek exit from the euro), Chinese stock market bubble, Puerto Rico collapse, and/or impending Fed rate hike, then here are a few confirming data points.

For starters, let’s take a look at the record $8 trillion of cash being stuffed under the mattress at near 0% rates in savings deposits (see chart below). The unbelievable 15% annual growth rate in cash hoarding since the turn of the century is even scarier once you consider the massive value destruction from the eroding impact of inflation and the colossal opportunity costs lost from gains and yields in alternative investments.

Savings Deposits 2015

Next, you can witness the irrational risk averse behavior of investors piling into low (and negative) yielding bonds. Case in point are the 10-year yields in developing countries like Germany, Japan, and the U.S. (see chart below).

10-Yr Yields 2015

The 25-year downward trend in rates is a very scary development for yield-hungry investors. The picture doesn’t look much prettier once you realize the compensation for holding a 30-year bond (currently +3.2%)  is only +0.8% more than holding the same Treasury bond for 10 years (now +2.4%). Yes, it is true that sluggish global growth and tame inflation is keeping a lid on interest rates, but these trends highlight once again that F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) has more to do with the perceived flight to safety and high bond prices (low bond yields).

In addition, the -$57 billion in outflows out of U.S. equity funds this year is further evidence that F.U.D. is out in full force. As I’ve noted on repeated occasions, when the tide turns on a sustained multi-year basis and investors dive head first into stocks, this will be proof that the bull market is long in the tooth and conservatism should be the default posture.

Dividend Shock Absorbers

There are always plenty of scary headlines that tempt investors to bail out of their investments. Today those alarming headlines span from Greece and China to Puerto Rico and the Federal Reserve. When the winds of fear, uncertainty, and doubt are fiercely swirling, it’s important to remember that any investment strategy should be constructed in a diversified manner that meshes with your time horizon and risk tolerance.

Consistent with maintaining a diversified portfolio, owning reliable dividend paying stocks is an important component of investment strategy, especially during volatile periods like we are experiencing currently. Sure, I still love to own high octane, non-dividend growth stocks in my personal and client portfolios, but owning stocks with a healthy stream of dividends serve as shock absorbers in bumpy markets with periodic surprise potholes.

As I’ve note before, bond issuers don’t call up investors and raise periodic coupon payments out of the kindness of their hearts, but stock issuers can and do raise dividends (see chart below). Most people don’t realize it, but over the last 100 years, dividends have accounted for approximately 40% of stocks’ total return as measured by the S&P 500.

Source: BuyUpside.com

Source: BuyUpside.com

Markets will continue to move up and down on the news du jour, but dividends overall remain fairly steady. In the worst financial crisis in a generation, dividends dipped temporarily, but as I explain in a previous article (The Gift that Keeps on Giving), dividends have been on a fairly consistent 6% growth trajectory over the last two decades. With corporate dividend payout ratios well below long term historical averages of 50%, companies still have plenty of room to maintain (and grow) dividends – even if the economy and corporate profits slow.

Don’t succumb to all the F.U.D., and if you feel yourself beginning to fall into that trap, re-evaluate your portfolio to make sure your diversified portfolio has some shock absorbers in the form of dividend paying stocks. That way your portfolio can handle those unexpected financial potholes that repeatedly pop up.

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) and 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 ICContact page.

July 11, 2015 at 11:33 pm Leave a comment

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