Archive for April, 2012
How is it that the stock market has more than doubled over the last three years, when investors have been dumping stocks like they are going out of style? If you don’t believe me, and you think jovial investors are jacking stocks higher, then please explain to me why billions of dollars are hemorrhaging out of equity funds on a monthly basis over the last five years (see Fund Flow data chart below)?
If by small chance you buy my argument that skeptical investors continue to doubt the sustainability of the three-year doubling in the stock market, then why is the Volatility Index (VIX) trading like investors are sunbathing at the beach while licking lollipops? For those not keeping score on the VIX (see also The VIX and the Rule of 16), typically a reading below 20 is interpreted as investor overconfidence and/or complacency. On the flip side, readings above 20 usually indicate pessimism or fear.
As you can see from the chart below, we have spent a good portion of the last few years on both sides of the 20 mph VIX speed limit, and currently at a reading of about 17, investors have slowed down to enjoy the scenery.
So with massive selling and a cheery reading on the VIX, how can these bipolar data-points be reconciled? Therein lies the “Fund Flows Paradox.”
Take Me Out to the Ballgame
If you equate equity investors to fans at a baseball stadium, the fund flow data clearly shows investors are tired of losing money and have been leaving the game in droves. Instead of staying at the equity baseball stadium, those fatigued stock investors have decided to head over to the adjacent bond arena. The equity stadium will never completely be empty because financial markets always have speculative traders. In baseball terms you can think of these short-term traders as the emotionally volatile die-hard fanatics, who will stick around regardless of whether the home team wins or loses.
So while sentiment gauges like the VIX, or sentiment surveys conducted by AAII (American Association of Individual Investors) may be temporarily flashing contrarian bearish signals, one should be cognizant that these data points do not include the petrified opinions of investors who have raced out of the stadium. Eventually when the home team’s winning streak is long enough, investors will return back to the stadium from the bond arena. While there is no sign of individual investors coming back to the stock game anytime soon, in the meantime patient and disciplined investors have had plenty of opportunities to take advantage of. With massive numbers of individual investors and sellers sitting on the sidelines, the markets require relatively little buying to push prices higher.
Over the last few years, not only have equity valuations been broadly reasonable, volatility spikes during the last few summers have also created amplified opportunities. With the wall of worries currently blanketing traditional and new media headlines (i.e., European crisis, U.S. election uncertainty, unsustainable and slowing profits, pending tax cut expirations, Mideast turmoil, etc.) there is no sense of urgency to pile back in to the equity markets.
The doubling in stock prices have occurred on low volumes, largely on the backs of a smaller institutional investor base, not to mention high frequency traders and speculators. While sentiment surveys may currently provide some insight into short-term equity trader attitudes, don’t let these volatile and unreliable data cloud the true underlying pessimism of the masses who have left the stock stadium in large numbers. Trillions of dollars remain on the sidelines as potential fuel for future equity appreciation, once confidence returns.
Opinions are interesting, but actions speak louder than words. Spend more time looking at the actions of the fund flow data, rather than the opinions of various short-term sentiment surveys or short-term options trader statistics. Adjusting your focus to investor actions and behavior will provide a truer gauge of overall investor sentiment and assist you in solving the “Fund Flows Paradox.”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
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 VXX, 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.
Investing Caffeine has profiled many great investors over the months and years, so I thought now would be a great time to compile a “Hall of Fame” summarizing some of the greatest of all-time. Nothing can replace experience, but learning from the greats can only improve your investing results – I’ve benefitted firsthand and so have Sidoxia’s clients. Here is a partial list from the Pantheon of investing greats along with links to the complete articles (special thanks to Kevin Weaver for helping compile):
Phillip Fisher – Author of the must-read classic Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, he enrolled in college at age 15 and started graduate school at Stanford a few years later, before he dropped out and started his own investment firm in 1931. “If the job has been correctly done when a common stock is purchased, the time to sell it is – almost never.” Not every investment idea made the cut, however he is known to have bought Motorola (MOT) stock in 1955 and held it until his death in 2004 for a massive gain. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Peter Lynch – 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. Lynch’s Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 (almost doubling the return of the S&P 500). 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). Magellan outperformed 99.5% of all other funds, according to Barron’s. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
William O’Neil – After graduating from Southern Methodist University, O’Neil started his career as a stock broker. Soon thereafter, at the ripe young age of 30, O’Neil purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and started his own company, William O’Neil + Co. Incorporated. Following the creation of his firm, O’Neil went on to pioneer the field of computerized investment databases. He used his unique proprietary data as a foundation to unveil his next entrepreneurial baby, Investor’s Business Daily, in 1984. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Sir John Templeton - After Yale and Oxford, Templeton moved onto Wall Street, borrowed $10,000 to purchase more than 100 stocks trading at less than $1 per share (34 of the companies were in bankruptcy). Only four of the investments became worthless and Templeton made a boatload of money. Templeton bought an investment firm in 1940, leading to the Templeton Growth Fund in 1954. A $10,000 investment made at the fund’s 1954 inception would have compounded into $2 million in 1992 (translating into a +14.5% annual return). (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Charles Ellis – He has authored 12 books, founded institutional consulting firm Greenwich Associates, a degree from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and a PhD from New York University. A director at the Vanguard Group and Investment Committee chair at Yale, Ellis details that many more investors and speculators lose than win. Following his philosophy will not only help increase the odds of your portfolio winning, but will also limit your losses in sleep hours. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Seth Klarman – President of The Baupost Group, which manages about $22 billion, he worked for famed value investors Max Heine and Michael Price of the Mutual Shares. Klarman published a classic book on investing, Margin of Safety, Risk Averse Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor, which is now out of print and has fetched upwards of $1,000-2,000 per copy in used markets. From it’s 1983 inception through 2008 his Limited partnership averaged 16.5% net annually, vs. 10.1% for the S&P 500. During the “lost decade” he crushed the S&P, returning 14.8% and 15.9% for the 5 and 10-year periods vs. -2.2% and -1.4%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
George Soros – Escaping Hungary in 1947, Soros immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and held analyst and management positions for the next 20 years. Known as the “The man who broke the Bank of England,” he risked $10 billion against the British pound in 1992 in a risky trade and won. Soros also gained notoriety for running the Quantum Fund, which generated an average annual return of more than 30%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Bruce Berkowitz -Bruce Berkowitz has not exactly been a household name. With his boyish looks, nasally voice, and slicked-back hair, one might mistake him for a grad student. However, his results are more than academic, which explains why this invisible giant was recently named the equity fund manager of the decade by Morningstar. The Fairholme Fund (FAIRX) fund earned a 13% annualized return over the ten-year period ending in 2009, beating the S&P 500 by an impressive 14%. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
Thomas Rowe Price, Jr. – Known as the “Father of Growth Investing,” in 1937 he founded T. Rowe Price Associates (TROW) and successfully ramped up the company before the launch of the T. Rowe Price Growth Stock Fund in 1950. Expansion ensued until he made a timely sale of his company in the late 1960s. His Buy and Hold strategy proved successful. For example, in the early 1970s, Price had accumulated gains of +6,184% in Xerox (XRX), which he held for 12 years, and gains of +23,666% in Merck (MRK), which he held for 31 years. (READ COMPLETE ARTICLE)
There you have it. Keep investing and continue reading about investing legends at Investing Caffeine, and who knows, maybe you too can join Sidoxia’s Hall of Fame?!
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MOT, TROW, XRX, MRK, FAIRX, 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.
When it comes to Lent, most Christian denomination followers give up a vice, such as food, alcohol, or now in more modern times…Facebook (FB). Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday this year (February 22, 2012), investors have given up something else – gold (GLD). As a matter of fact, the shiny metal has declined by about -8% since Lent began. Stocks, on the other hand, as measured by the S&P 500, have outperformed gold by more than 10% over this period (the Lent period damage is even worse, if you look at the NASDAQ).
If you go back further in time, the underperformance is more extreme, once you account for dividends, which gold of course does not provide. For example, since the peak of the financial crisis panic in March of 2009, S&P 400, S&P 600, and NASDAQ stocks have outperformed gold by more than +40%. Yet, I am still waiting for the sign-spinning guy at the corner of First St. & Main St. to advertise stock trade-in opportunities. Contrarians may also get a kick out of the top investment CNBC survey too.
Last Friday’s jobs data was nothing to write home about, so gold cheerleaders might wait for more fiat currency debasement to come in the form of QE3 (i.e., quantitative easing or printing press). But once again, while this potential added monetary stimulus may not be bad for gold, let’s not forget that stocks still outperformed gold under QE1 & QE2.
As I have always stated, I can’t disagree with the inflationary pressures that are brewing. Stimulative monetary and fiscal policies, coupled with emerging market expansion and undisciplined government spending don’t paint a pretty inflationary picture. So if that’s the case, why not focus on other commodities that provide real utility besides just shininess (e.g., agricultural goods, copper, aluminum, oil, and even silver).
The gold bugs may still have a little post-Lent party, until rates start going up and panic insurance premiums go down, but once the Fed’s easing policy stance changes (see Paul Volcker Fed Chairman era) and fiscal sanity eventually returns to Washington, investors may look to another vice to gorge on.
See also some other items to gorge on: CLICK HERE
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap ETFs, mid cap ETFs, energy ETFs, commodity ETFs) , but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GLD, FB, 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.
Article is an excerpt from Sidoxia Capital Management’s April 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.
That warm safety blanket of cash that millions of Americans have clutched on to during the 2008-09 financial crisis; the 2010 “Flash Crash”; and the 2011 U.S. credit downgrade felt cozy during the bumpy ride we experienced over the last three years. Now with domestic stocks (S&P 500) up +12% in the first quarter of 2012, that same comfy blanket of CDs, money market, and checking accounts is switching into a painful tourniquet, cutting off the lucrative blood and oxygen supply to millions of Americans’ future retirement plans.
Earning next to nothing by stuffing your money under the mattress (0.7% average CD rate – Bankrate.com) isn’t going to make many financial dreams a reality. The truth of the matter is that due to inflation (running +2% to +3% per year), blanket holders are losing about -2% per year in the true value of their savings.
Your Choice: 3 Years or 107 years?
If you like to accumulate money, would you prefer doubling your money in 3 years or 107 years? Although the S&P 500 has more than doubled over the last three years, based on fund flows data and cash balances at the banks, apparently more individuals prefer waiting until the year 2119 (107 years from now) for their money to double – SEE CHART BELOW.
Obviously the massive underperformance of CDs cherry picks the time-period a bit, given the superb performance of stocks from 2009 – 2012 year-to-date. Over 1999-2012 stock performance hasn’t been as spectacular, but what we do know is that despite the lackluster performance of stocks over the last 12 years, corporate profits have about doubled in a similar timeframe, making equity prices that much more attractive relative to 1999.
With the economy and employment picture improving, some doomsday scenarios have temporarily been put on the backburner. As the recovery has gained some steam, many people are opening their bank statements with the painful realization, “I just made $31.49 on my checking maximizer account last year! Wow, how incredible…I can now go out and buy a half-tank of gas.” Never mind that healthcare premiums are exploding, food costs are skyrocketing, and that vacation you were planning is now out of reach. If you’re a mega-millionaire, perhaps you can make these stingy rates work for you, but for most of the other people, successful retirements will require more efficient use of their investment dollars. Or of course you can always work at Wal-Mart (WMT) as a greeter in your 80s.
Rationalizing with a Teen
Some people get it and some don’t. Trying to time the market, by getting in and out at the right times is a losing battle (see Getting Off the Market Timing Treadmill). Even the smartest professionals in the industry have little accuracy and cannot consistently predict the direction of the markets. Rationalizing the ups and downs of the financial markets is equivalent to rationalizing the actions of a teenager. Sometimes the outcomes are explainable, but most of the times they are not.
What an astute investor does know is that higher long-term returns come with higher volatility. So while the last four years have been a bumpy ride for investors, this is nothing new for an experienced investor who has studied the history of financial markets. There have been a dozen or so recessions since World War II, and we’ll have a dozen or so more over the next 50-60 years. Wars, banking crises, currency crises, and political turmoil have been a constant over history. Despite all these setbacks, the equity markets have climbed over +1,300% over the last 30 years or so. The smartest financial minds on the planet (e.g., the Ben Bernankes and Alan Greenspans of the world) haven’t been able to figure it out, so if they couldn’t do it, how is an average Joe supposed to be able to time the market? The answer is nobody can predict the direction of the market reliably.
As my clients and Investing Caffeine followers know, for those individuals with adequate savings and shorter time horizons, much of this conversation is irrelevant. However, based on our country’s low savings rate and the demographics of longer Baby Boomer life expectancies, most individuals can’t afford to stuff all their money under the mattress. As famous investor Sir John Templeton stated, “The only way to avoid mistakes is not to invest – which is the biggest mistake of all.” Earning 0.7% on your nest egg is difficult to call investing.
Ignoring the Experts
Why is the investing game so difficult? For starters, individuals are constantly bombarded by so-called experts through television, radio, and newspapers. Not only did Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke get the economy, financial markets, and housing markets wrong, the most powerful and smart financial institution CEOs were dead wrong as well. Look no further than Lehman Brothers (Dick Fuld), Citigroup Inc. (Chuck Prince), and American International Group (Martin Sullivan), which were believed to house some of the shrewdest executives – they too completely missed the financial crisis.
Rather than listening to shoddy predictions from pundits who have little to no investing experience, it makes more sense to listen to successful long-term investors who have survived multiple investment cycles and lived to tell the tale. Those people include the great fund manager Peter Lynch who said it is better to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly,” rather than try to time the market.
What You Hear
As the market has more than doubled over the last 37 months, here are some clouds of pessimism that these same shoddy economists, strategists, and analysts have described for investors:
* Europe and Greece’s impending fiscal domino collapse
* Excessive money printing at the Federal Reserve through quantitative easing and other programs
* Imminent government disintegration due to unresolved structural debts and deficits
* Elevated unemployment rates and pathetic job creation statistics
* Rigged high frequency trading and “Flash Crash”
* Credit downgrade and political turmoil in Washington
* Looming Chinese real estate bubble and subsequent hard economic landing
Unfortunately, many investors got sucked up in these ominous warnings and missed most, if not all, of the recent doubling in equity markets.
What You Don’t Hear
What you haven’t heard from the popular press are the following headlines:
* 10 consecutive quarters of GDP growth
* Record corporate profits and profit margins
* Equity valuations attractively priced below 50-year average (14.4 < 16.6 via Calafia Beach Pundit)
* Rising dividends with yields approaching 3%, if you consider recent bank announcements
* Record low interest rates and moderate inflation make earnings streams and dividends that much more valuable
* Four million new jobs created over the last three years
* S&P Smallcap near all-time highs (21 years); S&P Midcap index near all-time highs (20 years); NASDAQ is at 11-year highs; Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 near 4-year-highs.
* Record retail sales with a consumer that has reduced household debt
Given the massive upward run in the stock market over the last few years (and a complacent short-term VIX reading of 15), stocks are ripe for a breather. With that said, I would advise any blanket holders to not get too comfy with that money decaying away in a CD, money market, or savings account. Waiting too long may turn that security blanket into a tourniquet – forcing investors to amputate a portion of their future retirement savings.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in C, AIG, RATE, Lehman Brothers, 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.