Posts filed under ‘Education’

Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool

stool

It’s the holiday season and with another year coming to an end, it’s also time for a wide range of religious celebrations to take place. Investing is a lot like religion too. Just like there are a countless number of religions, there are also a countless number of investing styles, whether you are talking about Value investing, Growth, Quantitative, Technical, Momentum, Merger-Arbitrage, GARP (Growth At a Reasonable Price), or a multitude of other derivative types. But regardless of the style followed, most professional managers believe their style is the sole answer to lead followers to financial nirvana. While I may not share the same view (I believe there are many ways to skin the stock market cat), each investing discipline (or religion) will have its own unique core tenets that drive expectations for future returns (outcomes).

As it relates to my firm, Sidoxia Capital Management, our investment process is premised on four key tenets. Much like the four legs of a stool, the following principles provide the foundation for our beliefs and outlook on the mid-to-long-term direction of the stock market:

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Sentiment
  • Valuations

Why are these the key components that drive stock market returns? Let’s dig a little deeper to clarify the importance of these factors:

Profits: Over the long-run there is a very significant correlation between stock prices and profits (see also It’s the Earnings, Stupid). I’m not the only one preaching this religious belief, investment legends Peter Lynch and William O’Neil think the same. In answer to a question by Dell Computer’s CEO Michael Dell about its stock price, Lynch famously responded , “If your earnings are higher in five years, your stock will be higher.” The same idea works with the overall stock market. As I recently wrote (see Why Buy at Record Highs? Ask the Fat Turkey), with corporate profits at all-time record highs, it should come as no surprise that stock prices are near all-time record highs. Regardless of the absolute level of profits, it’s also very important to have a feel for whether earnings are accelerating or decelerating, because investors will pay a different price based on this dynamic.

Interest Rates: When embarrassingly low CD interest rates of 0.08% are being offered on $10,000 deposits at Bank of America, do you think stocks look more or less attractive? It’s obviously a rhetorical question, because I can earn 20x more just by collecting the dividends from the S&P 500 index. Now in 1980 when the Federal Funds rate was set at 20.0% and investors could earn 16.0% on CDs, guess what? Stocks were logging their lowest valuation levels in decades (approximately 8x P/E ratio vs 17x today). The interest rate chart from Scott Grannis below highlights the near generational low interest rates we are currently experiencing.

10 yr treas

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Sentiment: As I wrote in my Sentiment Indicators: Reading the Tea Leaves article, there are plenty of sentiment indicators (e.g., AAII Surveys, VIX Fear Gauge, Breadth Indicators, NYSE Bulls %, Put-Call Ratio, Volume), which traditionally are good contrarian indicators for the future direction of stock prices. When sentiment is too bullish (optimistic), it is often a good time to sell or trim, and when sentiment is too bearish (pessimistic), it is often good to buy. With that said, in addition to many of these short-term sentiment indicators, I realize that actions speak louder than words, therefore I like to also see the flows of funds into and out of stocks/bonds to gauge sentiment (see also Market Champagne Sits on Ice).

Valuations: As Fred Hickey, the lead editor of the High Tech Strategist noted, “Valuations do matter in the stock market, just as good pitching matters in baseball.” The most often quoted valuation metric is the Price/Earnings multiple or PE ratio. In other words, this ratio compares the price you would pay for an annual stream of profits. This can be tricky to determine because there are virtually an infinite number of factors that can impact the numerator and denominator. Currently P/E valuations are near historical averages (see below) – not nearly as cheap as 1980 and not nearly as expensive as 2000. If I only had one metric to choose, this would be a good place to start because the previous three legs of the stool feed into valuation calculations. In addition to P/E, at Sidoxia one of our other favorite metrics is Free-Cash-Flow Yield (annual cash generation after all expenses and expenditures divided by a company’s value). Earnings can be manipulated much easier than cold hard cash in our view.

500 pe

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Nobody, myself and Warren Buffett included, can consistently predict what the stock market will do in the short-run. Buffett freely admits it. However, investing is a game of probabilities, and if you use the four tenets of profits, interest rates, sentiment, and valuations to drive your long-term investing decisions, your chances for future financial success will increase dramatically. This framework is just as relevant today as it is when studying the 1929 Crash, the 1989 Japan Bubble, or the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis. If your goal is to not become an investing fool, I highly encourage you to follow the legs of the Sidoxia stool.

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, including BAC and 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.

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December 13, 2014 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Airbag Protection from Pundit Backseat Drivers

Backseat Driver

Giving advice to a driver from the backseat of a car is quite easy and enjoyable for some, but whether that individual is actually qualified to give advice is another subject. In the financial blogosphere and media there is an unending mass of backseat drivers recklessly directing investors off cliffs and into walls, but unfortunately there are no consequences for these blabbers. It’s the investors who are driving their personal portfolios that ultimately suffer from crashed financial dreams.

Unlike drivers who mandatorily require a license to drive to the local grocery store, bloggers, journalists, economists, analysts, strategists (aka “pundits”), and any other charismatic or articulate individual can emphatically counsel investors without any credentials, education, or licenses. More importantly than a piece of paper or letters on a business card, many of these self-proclaimed experts have little or no experience of investing real money…the exact topic the pundits are using to direct peoples’ precious and indispensable lifesavings.

It’s easy for bearish pundits like Peter Schiff, Nouriel Roubini, John Mauldin, and David Rosenberg (see also The Fed Ate My Homework) to throw economic hand grenades with their outlandishly gloomy predictions and fear mongering. However, more important than selling valuable advice, the pundit’s #1 priority is selling a convincing story, whether the story is grounded in reality or not. The pundit’s story is usually constructed by looking into the rearview mirror by creatively connecting current event dots in a way that may seem reasonable on the surface.

Crusty investors who have invested through various investment cycles know better than to pay attention to these opinions. As the saying goes, “Opinions are like ***holes. Everybody has one.” Stated differently, the great growth investor William O’Neil said the following:

“I would say 95% of all these people you hear on TV shows are giving you their personal opinion. And personal opinions are almost always worthless … facts and markets are far more reliable.”

 

Successful long-time investors like Warren Buffett rarely make predictions about the short-term directions of the market. Long-term investors know the only certainty in the market is uncertainty. At the core, investing is a game of probabilities. The objective of the game is to place your bets on those investments that establish the odds in your favor. As in many professions, however, the right process can have a negative outcome in the short-run. Those talented investors who have experience consistently applying a probabilistic approach generally do quite well in the long-run.

There is an endless multitude of investing advice, regardless of whether you choose to consume it over the TV, in newspapers, or through blogs. That’s why it’s so important to be discerning in your financial media consumption by focusing on experience…experience is the key. If you were to undergo a heart surgery, would you want a nurse or experienced doctor who had performed 2,000 successful heart surgeries? When you fly cross-country, do you want a flight attendant to fly the plane or a 20-year veteran pilot? I think you get the point.

The other factor to consider when comparing advice from a media pundit vs. experienced investor is skin in the game. Investment advisers who have their personal dollars at stake typically have spent a significantly larger amount of time formulating an investment thesis or strategy as compared to a loose-cannon TV journalist or inexperienced, maverick blogger.

There is a lot to consider as you maneuver your investment portfolio through volatile markets. With all the dangerous advice out there from backseat drivers, make sure you have experienced investment advice installed as protective airbags because listening to inexperienced air bags (pundits) could crash your portfolio into a wall.

 

Related Content: Financial Blogging Interview on Charlie Rose w/ Joe Weisenthal, Josh Brown, Felix Salmon, and Megan Murphy

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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 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.

November 22, 2014 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

Sector Weightings: Another Financial Toolbox Gizmo

Tools

The ever-elusive $64,000 question of “Where does the stock market go from here?” is as popular a question today as it was a century ago. All you have to do is turn on CNBC to find an endless number of analysts, strategists, journalists, economists, and other talking heads guessing on the direction of stock prices. So many people are looking to make a quick buck or get a hot tip, but unfortunately investing is like dieting…it takes hard work and there are no simple solutions. As much as the pundits would like to make this investment game sound like a scientific certainty, in reality there is a lot of subjective art, experience, and luck that goes into successful investment outcomes. Consistent followers of Investing Caffeine understand there are a number of tools I use to guide me on the direction and level of stock prices, and three of my toolbox gizmos include the following:

  • Earnings (Stock prices positively correlated)
  • Interest Rates (Stock prices inversely correlated)
  • Sentiment (Stock prices inversely correlated)

While these and other devices (see SHGR Holy Grail) are great for guesstimating the direction of longer-term stock prices, sector weightings are also great tools for identifying both overheated and unloved segments of the market. Take an extreme example, such as the S&P 500 Technology historical sector weighting in the year 2000. As you can see from the Bespoke Investment charts, the Technology sector went from about a 5% weighting of the overall market in the early 1990s to around 36% at the 2000 peak before dropping back down to 15% after the Tech Bubble burst. If you fast forward to the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, we saw a similar “bubblicious” phenomenon rupture in the Financial sector. During 1980 the Financial segment accounted for approximately 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 and skyrocketed to a peak of 23% in 2007, thanks in large part to a three decade bull-run in declining interest rates coupled with financial regulators asleep at the oversight switch.

Sector Weightings 1

Source: Bespoke Investment

Source: Bespoke Investment

While some segment weightings are currently above and below historical averages, the chart shows there is a tendency for mean reversion to occur over time. As I’ve written in the past, while I believe the broader market can be objectively be interpreted as reasonably priced in light of record earnings, record low interest rates, and a broader skeptical investing public ( see Markets Soar and Investors Snore), I’m still finding expensive, frothy sub-sectors in areas like money losing biotech and social media companies. The reverse can be said if you examined the 2000 period – the overall stock market was overpriced at its 3/24/00 peak (P/E ratio of about ~31x), but within the S&P 500 stocks there were bargains of a lifetime if you looked outside the Tech sector. Consider many of the unloved “Old Economy” stocks that got left behind in the 1990s. Had you invested in these forgotten stocks at the peak of the 2000 market (March 24, 2000), you would have earned an equal-weighted average return of +430% (and significantly higher than that if you included dividends):

Caterpillar Inc (CAT):                        +416%

Deere & Co (DE):                                  +367%

FedEx Corp (FDX):                             +341%

Ingersoll-Rand Co (IR):                    +260%

Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT):       +811%

Three M Company (MMM):            +254%

Schlumberger Ltd (SLB):                 +158%

Union Pacific Corp (UNP):           +1,114%

Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM):               +148%

                                                  Average +430%

That +430% compares to a much more modest +36% return for the S&P 500 over the same period. What this data underscores are the perils of pure index investing and highlights the room for active investment managers like Sidoxia Capital Management to generate alpha.

There are many ways of analyzing “Where does the stock market go from here?,” but whatever methods you use, the power of examining sector weightings and mean reversion gizmos should be readily accessible in your investment toolbox.

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 FDX; non-discretionary positions in DE, LMT, MMM, SLB, XOM, and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in CAT, IR, UNP, 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.

November 8, 2014 at 3:34 pm 1 comment

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.

October 25, 2014 at 10:05 am 1 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

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