Posts filed under ‘Education’
The Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter will be released in a few days (subscribe on right side of the page), so here is an Investing Caffeine classic to tide you over until then:
Everyone believes they are above-average drivers and most investors believe successful investing can be attributed to skill. Michael Mauboussin, author and Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management, tackles the issue of how important a role luck plays in various professional activities, including investing (read previous IC article on Mauboussin) in his meaty 42-page thought piece, Untangling Skill and Luck.
Skill Litmus Test
Whenever someone becomes successful or a sports team wins, doubters often respond with the response, “Well, they are just lucky.” For some, the intangible factor of luck can be difficult to measure, but for Mauboussin, he has a simple litmus test to evaluate the level of skill and luck credited to a professional activity:
“There’s a simple and elegant test of whether there is skill in an activity: ask whether you can lose on purpose. If you can’t lose on purpose, or if it’s really hard, luck likely dominates that activity. If it’s easy to lose on purpose, skill is more important.”
Mauboussin uses various sports and games as tools to explain the relative importance that skill (or lack thereof) plays in determining an outcome. At one extreme end of the spectrum you have a brain game like chess, in which a skillful chess pro could beat an amateur 1,000 times in a 1,000 matches. In the field of professional sports, at the other end of the spectrum, Mauboussin hammers home the relative significance luck contributes in professional baseball:
“In major league baseball the worst team will beat the best team in a best-of-five series about 15 percent of the time.“
Here is a skill-luck continuum provided by Mauboussin:
Streaks vs. Mean Reversion
Mr. Mauboussin spends a great deal of time exploring the implications of skill and luck in relation to streaks and mean reversion. In the streak department, Mauboussin uses Joe DiMaggio’s record 56-consecutive game hitting stretch. He acknowledges the presence of luck, but skill is a prerequisite:
“Not all skillful performers have streaks, but all long streaks of success are held by skillful performers.”
When detailing streaks, Mauboussin may also be defending his fellow Legg Mason colleague Bill Miller (see Revenge of the Dunce), who had an incredible 15 consecutive year of besting the S&P 500 index before mean reverting back to lousy human-like returns.
This is a nice transition into his discussion about mean reversion because Mauboussin basically states this reversion concept dominates activities laden with luck (as shown in the Skill-Luck Continuum chart above). Time will tell whether Miller’s streak was due to skill, if he can put together another streak, or whether his streak was merely a lucky fluke. Unlike the judicial world, investment managers are often treated as guilty until proven innocent. For now, Miller’s 1991-2005 streak is being treated as luck by many in the investment community, rather than skill.
Nobel-prize winner Paul Samuelson may believe differently since he concedes the existence of skillful investing:
“It is not ordained in heaven, or by the second law of thermodynamics, that a small group of intelligent and informed investors cannot systematically achieve higher mean portfolio gains with lower average variabilities. People differ in their heights, pulchritude, and acidity. Why not their P.Q. or performance quotient?”
Peter Lynch’s +29% annual return from 1977-1990 is another streak on which historians can chew (read more on Lynch). I, like Samuelson, will give Lynch the benefit of the doubt.
Creating a Skillful Analytical Edge
Unlike the process of mowing lawns, in which more applied work time generally equates to more lawns cut (i.e., more profits), the investment world doesn’t quite work that way. Many people could work all day, stare at their screen for 23 hours, trade off of useless information, and still earn lousy returns. When it comes to investing, more work does not necessarily produce better results. Mauboussin’s prescription is to create an analytical edge. Here is how he describes it:
“At the core of an analytical edge is an ability to systematically distinguish between fundamentals and expectations.”
Thinking like a handicapper is imperative to win in this competitive game, and I specifically addressed this in my previous Vegas-Wall Street article. Steven Crist sums up this indispensable concept beautifully:
“There are no “good” or “bad” horses, just correctly or incorrectly priced ones.”
A disciplined, systematic approach will incorporate these ideas, however all good investors understand the good processes can lead to bad outcomes in the short-run. By continually learning from mistakes, and refining the process with a constant feedback loop, the investment process can only get better. On the other hand, schizophrenically reacting to an endless flood of ever-changing information, or fearfully chasing the leadership du jour will only lead to pain and sorrow. Fortunately for you, you have skillfully completed this article, meaning financial luck should now be on your side.
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. Radio interviews included opinions of Wade Slome – not advice. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
Picking stocks is a tricky game and so is sports betting. With the NFL and NCAA football seasons swinging into full gear, understanding the complexity of making money in the stock market can be explained in terms of professional sports-betting. Anybody who has traveled to Las Vegas and bet on a sporting event, understands that choosing a winner of a game simply is not enough…you also need to forecast how many points you think a certain team will win by (see also What Happens in Vegas, Stays on Wall Street). In the world of sports, winning/losing is measured by point spreads. In the world of stocks, winning/losing is measured by valuation (e.g., Price/Earnings ratios).
To make my point, here is a sports betting example from a handful years back:
Florida Gators vs. Charleston Southern Buccaneers (September 2009): Without knowing a lot about the powerhouse Southern Buccaneers squad from South Carolina, 99% of respondents, when asked before the game who would win, would unanimously select Florida – a consistently dominant, national franchise, powerhouse program. The question becomes a little trickier when participants are asked, “Will the Florida Gators win by more than 63 points?” Needless to say, although the Buccs kept it close in the first half, and only trailed by 42-3 at halftime, the Gators still managed to squeak by with a 62-3 victory. Worth noting, had you selected Florida, the overwhelming favorite, the 59 point margin of victory would have resulted in a losing wager (see picture below).
If investing and sports betting were easy, everybody would do it. The reason sports betting is so challenging is due to very intelligent statisticians and odds-makers that create very accurate point spreads. In the investing world, a broad swath of traders, market makers, speculators, investment bankers, and institutional/individual investors set equally efficient valuations.
The goal in investing is very similar to sports betting. Successful professionals in both industries are able to consistently identify inefficiencies and then exploit them. Inefficiencies occur for a bettor when point spreads are too high or low, while investors identify inefficient prices in the marketplace (undervalued or overvalued).
To illustrate my point, let’s take a look at Sidoxia’s “Magic Quadrant“:
What Sidoxia’s “Magic Quadrant” demonstrates is a framework for evaluating stocks. By devoting a short period of time reviewing the quadrants, it becomes apparent fairly quickly that Stock A is preferred over Stock B, which is preferred over Stock C, which is preferred over Stock D. In each comparison, the former is preferred over the latter because the earlier letters all have higher growth, and lower (cheaper) valuations. The same relative attractive relationships cannot be applied to stocks #1, #2, #3, and #4. Each successive numbered stock has higher growth, but in order to obtain that higher growth, investors must pay a higher valuation. In other words, Stock #1 has an extremely low valuation with low growth, while Stock #4 has high growth, but an investor must pay an extremely high valuation to own it.
While debating the efficiency of the stock market can escalate into a religious argument, I would argue the majority of stocks fall in the camp of #1, #2, #3, or #4. Or stated differently, you get what you pay for. For example, investors are paying a much higher valuation (~100x 2014 P/E) for Tesla Motors, Inc (TSLA) for its rapid electric car growth vs. paying a much lower valuation (~10x 2014 P/E) for Pitney Bowes Inc (PBI) for its mature mail equipment business.
The real opportunities occur for those investors capable of identifying companies in the upper-left quadrant (i.e., Stock A) and lower-right quadrant (i.e., Stock D). If the analysis is done correctly, investors will load up on the undervalued Stock A and aggressively short the expensive Stock D. Sidoxia has its own proprietary valuation model (Sidoxia Holy Grail Ranking – SHGR or a.k.a. “SUGAR”) designed specifically to identify these profitable opportunities.
The professions of investing and sports betting are extremely challenging, however establishing a framework like Sidoxia’s “Magic Quadrants” can help guide you to find inefficient and profitable investment opportunities.
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 TSLA, PBI, 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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
Life has been challenging for the bears over the last four years. For the first few years of the recovery (2009-2010) when stocks vaulted +50%, supposedly we were still in a secular bear market. Back then the rally was merely dismissed as a dead-cat bounce or a short-term cyclical rally, within a longer-term secular bear market. Then, after an additional +50% move the commentary switched to, “Well, we’re just in a long-term trading range. The stock market hasn’t done a thing in a decade.” With major indexes now hitting all-time record highs, the pessimists are backpedaling in full gear. Watching the gargantuan returns has made it more difficult for the bears to rationalize a tripling +225% move in the S&P 600 index (Small-Cap); a +214% move in the S&P 400 index (Mid-Cap); and a +154% in the S&P 500 index (Large-Cap) from the 2009 lows.
For the unfortunate souls who bunkered themselves into cash for an extended period, the return-destroying carnage has been crippling. Making matters worse, some of these same individuals chased a frothy over-priced gold market, which has recently plunged -30% from the peak.
Bonds have generally been an OK place to be as Europe imploded and domestic political gridlock both helped push interest rates to record-lows (e.g., tough to go lower than 0% on the Fed-Funds rate). But now, those fears have subsided, and the recent rate spike from Ben Bernanke’s “taper tantrum” has caused bond bulls to reassess their portfolios (see Fed Fatigue). Staring at the greater than -90% underperformance of bonds, relative to stocks over the last four years, has been a bitter pill to swallow for fervent bond believers. The record -$9.9 billion outflow from Mr. New Normal’s (Bill Gross) Pimco Total Return Fund in June (a 26-year record) is proof of this anxiety. But rather than chase an unrelenting stock market rally, stock haters and skeptics remain stubborn, choosing to place their bond sale proceeds into their favorite inflation-depreciating asset…cash.
Crash Diet at the Buffet
I’ve seen and studied many markets in my career, but the behavioral reactions to this most-hated bull market in my lifetime have been fascinating to watch. In many respects this reminds me of an investing buffet, where those participating in the nourishing market are enjoying the spoils of healthy returns, while the skeptical observers on the sidelines are on a crash diet, selecting from a stingy menu of bread and water. Sure, there is some over-eating, heartburn, and food coma experienced by those at the stock market table, but one can only live on bread and water for so long. The fear of losses has caused many to lose their investing appetite, especially with news of sequestration, slowing China, Middle East turmoil, rising interest rates, etc. Nevertheless, investors must realize a successful financial future is much more like an eating marathon than an eating sprint. Too many retirees, or those approaching retirement, are not responsibly handling their savings. As legendary basketball player and coach John Wooden stated, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
20 Years…NOT 20 Days
I will be the first to admit the market is ripe for a correction. You don’t have to believe me, just take a look at the S&P 500 index over the last four years. Despite the explosion to record-high stock prices, investors have had to endure two corrections averaging -20% and two other drops approximating -10%. Hindsight is 20-20, but at each of those fall-off periods, there were plenty of credible arguments being made on why we should go much lower. That didn’t happen – it actually was the opposite outcome.
For the vast majority of investing Americans, your investing time horizon should be closer to 20 years…not 20 days. People that understand this reality realize they are not smart enough to consistently outwit the market (see Market Timing Treadmill). If you were that successful at this endeavor, you would be sitting on your private, personal island with a coconut, umbrella drink.
Successful long-term investors like Warren Buffett recognize investors should “buy fear, and sell greed.” So while this most hated bull market remains fully in place, I will follow Buffett’s advice comfortably sit at the stock market buffet, enjoying the superior long-term returns put on my plate. Crash dieters are welcome to join the buffet, but by the time they finally sit down at the stock market table, I will probably have left to the restroom.
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 IJR, and IJH, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in BRKA/B, Pimco Total Return Fund, 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.
Hi my name is Wade, and I’m a bond hater. Generally, the first step in addressing any type of personal problem is admitting you actually have a problem. While I am not proud of being a bond hater, I have been called many worse things during my life. But as we have learned from the George Zimmerman / Trayvon Martin case, not every situation is clear-cut, whether we are talking about social issues or bond investing. For starters, let me be clear to everyone, including all my detractors, that I do not hate all bonds. In fact, my Sidoxia clients own many types of fixed income securities. What I do hate however are low yielding, long duration bonds.
Duration…huh? Most people understand what “low yielding” means, when it comes to bonds (i.e., low interest, low coupon, low return, etc.), but when the word duration is uttered, the conversation is usually accompanied by a blank stare. The word “duration” may sound like a fancy word, but in reality it is a fairly simple concept. Essentially, high-duration bonds are those fixed income securities with the highest sensitivity to changes in interest rates, meaning these bonds will go down most in price as interest rates rise.
When it comes to equity markets, many investors understand the concept of high beta stocks, which can be used to further explain duration. There are many complicated definitions for beta, but the basic principle explains why high-beta stock prices generally go up the most during bull markets, and go down the most during bear markets. In plain terms, high beta equals high octane.
If we switch the subject back to bonds, long duration equals high octane too. Or stated differently, long duration bond prices generally go down the most during bear markets and go up the most during bull markets. For years, grasping the risk of a bond bear market caused by rising rates has been difficult for many investors to comprehend, especially after witnessing a three-decade long Federal Funds tailwind taking the rates from about 20% to about 0% (see Fed Fatigue Setting In).
The recent interest rate spike that coincided with the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke’s comments on QE3 bond purchase tapering has caught the attention of bond addicts. Nobody knows for certain whether this short-term bond price decline is the start of an extended bear market in bonds, but mathematics would dictate that there is only really one direction for interest rates to go…and that is up. It is true that rates could remain low for an indefinite period of time, but neither scenario of flat to down rates is a great outcome for bond holders.
Fixes to Fixed-Income Failings
Even though I may be a “bond hater” of low yield, high duration bonds, currently I still understand the critical importance and necessity of a fixed income portfolio for not only retirees, but also for the diversification benefits needed by a broader set of investors. So how does a bond hater reconcile investing in bonds? Easy. Rather than focusing on lower yielding, longer duration bonds, I invest more client assets in shorter duration and/or higher yielding bonds. If you harbor similar beliefs as I do, and believe there will be an upward bias to the trajectory of long-term interest rates, then there are two routes to go. Investors can either get compensated with a higher yield to counter the increased interest rate risk, and/or they can shorten duration of bond holdings to minimize capital losses.
Worth noting, there is an alternative strategy for low yielding, long duration bond lovers. In order to minimize interest rate risk, these bond lovers may accept sub-optimal yields and hold bonds to maturity. This strategy may be associated with short-term price volatility, but if the bond issuer does not default, at least the bond investor will get the full principal at maturity to help relieve the pain of meager yields.
Now that you’ve survived all this bond babbling, let me cut to the chase and explain a few ways Sidoxia is taking advantage of the recent interest rate volatility for our clients:
Floating Rate Bonds: Duration of these bonds is by definition low, or near zero, because as interest rates rise, coupons/interest payments are advantageously reset for investors at higher rates. So if interest rates jump from 2% to 3%, the investor will receive +50% higher periodic payments.
Inflation Protection Bonds: These bonds come in long and short duration flavors, but if interest rates/inflation rise higher than expected, investors will be compensated with higher periodic coupons and principal payments.
Shorter Duration: One definition of duration is the weighted average of time until a bond’s fixed cash flows are received. A way of shortening the duration of your bond portfolio is through the purchase of shorter maturity bonds (e.g., buying 3-year bonds rather than 30-year bonds).
High Yield Bonds: Investing in the high yield bond category is not limited to domestic junk bond purchases, but higher yields can also be earned by investing in international and/or emerging market bonds.
Investment Grade Corporate Bonds: Similar to high yield bonds, investment grade bonds offer the potential of capital appreciation via credit improvement. For instance, credit rating upgrades can provide gains to help offset price declines caused by rising interest rates.
Despite my bond hater status, the recent taper tantrum and interest rate spike, highlight some advantages bonds have over stocks. Even though prices declined, bonds by and large still have lower volatility than stocks; provide a steady stream of income; and provide diversification benefits.
To the extent investors have, or should have, a longer-term time horizon, I still am advocating a stock bias to client portfolios, subject to each investor’s risk tolerance. For example, an older retired couple with a conservative target allocation of 20%/80% (equity/fixed income) may consider a 25% – 30% allocation. A shift in this direction may still meet the retirees’ income needs (especially if dividend-paying stocks are incorporated), while simultaneously acknowledging the inflation and interest rate risks impacting bond positions. It’s important to realize one size doesn’t fit all.
Higher Volatility, Higher Reward
Frequent readers of Investing Caffeine have known about my bond hating tendencies for quite some time (see my 2009 article Treasury Bubble has not Burst…Yet), but the bond baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bath water. For those investors who thought bonds were as safe as CDs, the recent -6% drop in the iShares Aggregate Bond Index (AGG) didn’t feel comfortable for most. Although I am still an enthusiastic stock cheerleader (less so as valuation multiples expand), there has been a cost for the gargantuan outperformance of stocks since March of ’09. While stocks have outperformed bonds (S&P vs. AGG) by more than +140%, equity investors have had to endure two -10% corrections and two -20% corrections (e.g.,Flash Crash, Debt Ceiling Debate, European Financial Crisis, and Sequestration/Elections). If investors want to earn higher long-term equity returns, this desire will translate into more volatility than bonds…and more Tums.
I may still be a bond hater, and the general public remains firm stock haters, but at some point in the multi-year future, I will not be surprised to hear myself say, “Hi my name is Wade, and I am addicted to bonds.” In the mean time, Sidoxia will continue to optimize its client bond portfolios for a rising interest rate environment, while also investing in attractive equity securities and ETFs. There’s nothing to hate about that.
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 floating rate bonds/loan funds, inflation-protection funds, corporate bond ETF, high-yield bond ETFs, and other bond ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in AGG 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.
On a daily basis, I make my way I into the office before the market opening bell, preparing myself to gorge on a massive heaping of news stories and headlines. But scarfing down tons of tweets and hundreds of headlines is not enough. Magazines, newspapers, conference calls, blogs, presentations, conferences, interviews, television clips, and software lists are but just a few additional aspects to my steady diet of information. Like shopping down each and every aisle of the grocery store, an annoying tendency I admittedly commit, there are plenty of healthy and unhealthy items to choose from. The key is identifying the items that are the best for your financial health. After carrying out this gluttonous information-stuffing business for more than twenty years, I’ve gotten much better at separating the data wheat from information chaff. This is critical in avoiding heartburn for my Sidoxia clients and me.
One might ask, “What harmless headline or innocent anecdote could possibly cause harmful financial indigestion?” I don’t know about you, but in recent months, gobbling down these following headlines without discretion can lead to a serious case of acid reflux:
- “Stocks Tumble as Bernanke Discusses Tapering” – USA Today
- “China’s Economy is Freezing Up. How Freaked Out Should We Be?” – Washington Post
- ” ‘Suffocating in the Streets’: Chemical Weapons Attack Reported in Syria” – NBC News
- “Europe’s Zombie Banks – Blight of the Living Dead” – The Economist
- “Threats from Extremists as Egypt Slides into Turmoil” – The Times
- “Japan Market Plunge Sparks Global Sell-Off” – Los Angeles Times
I think you get the idea. No wonder investors collectively are acting like a deer in headlights, resulting in declining stock market participation – a 15-year low (see Investing Caffeine’s DMV Economy)
In the world of competitive eating, the execution of improper consumption technique can lead to a so-called “reversal of fortune,” as can be experienced by the last video on my Investing Caffeine article, Baseball and Hot Dogs. Disciplined processes are needed to prevent such an event when devouring excessive amounts of information. This is a timely topic as Joey Chestnut recently set a new world record by eating 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes.
While digesting the avalanche of daily data is quite complex, understanding the harmful consequences of doing so is quite simple. Carl Richards, a contributor writer to the The New York Times and Morningstar Advisor does a great job of outlining the detrimental impact of information consumption on investors’ wealth and happiness through minimalist charts found at BehaviorGap.com.
Here is my co-mingled version of Richards’ work:
As Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” It’s perfectly fine to remain current with major economic, political, and worldly events, but the consequences to overreacting to the ever-changing news flow can be disastrous to your financial and personal well-being. Managing your life savings can be stressful and if not managed correctly will damage your financial goals.
If you do not have the time, interest, or self-control to digest the massive buffet of endless information, do yourself a favor and find an experienced and trusted advisor that can assist you with the Heimlich maneuver, so you don’t choke on the infinite amount of data.
See also (Investing Caffeine: Age of Information Overload)
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 CMCSA, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in GCI, WPO, NYT, MORN 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.
“A challenge only becomes an obstacle when you bow to it.”
― Ray Davis (Famous General in the Marines)
In the investing world, one major challenge is defining the differences between “growth” vs. “value”. Warren Buffett said it best when he described growth and value as two separate sides of the same coin. In general, low or declining growth will be valued less than a comparable company with faster growth. Often, most companies go through a life cycle just like a human would (see Equity Life Cycle). In other words, companies frequently start small, grow larger, mature, and then die. Of course, some companies never grow, or because of lack of funding or outsized losses, end up suffering an early death. It’s tough to generalize with companies, because some businesses are more cat-like than human. For example, Apple Inc. (AAPL) may not have had nine lives, but the stock has been left for dead several times during its lifespan, before managing to resurrect itself from value status to growth darling (with a little assistance from Steve Jobs). Whether Tim Cook can lead Apple back to the Promised Land of growth remains to be seen, but many investors still see value.
Fluctuating price and earnings trends over a company’s life cycle frequently create confusion surrounding the proper categorization of a stock as growth or value. The other frustrating aspect to this debate is the absence of a universally accepted definition of growth and value. A few specialty companies have chosen to address this challenge. Russell Investments in Seattle, Washington is a leader in the benchmark/index creation field. Russell tackles the definitional issue by creating quantitatively based definitions, tediously explained in a thrilling 44-page paper titled, “Construction and Methodology.” Here is an exhilarating excerpt:
“Russell Investments uses a ‘non-linear probability’ method to assign stocks to the growth and value style valuation indexes. Russell uses three variables in the determination of growth and value. On the value side, book-to-price is used, while on the growth side, the I/B/E/S long-term growth variable was replaced by two variables- I/B/E/S forecast medium-term growth (2 yr) and sales per share historical growth (5 yr).”
As I bite my tongue in sarcasm, I like to point out that these methodologies constantly change – Russell most recently changed their methodology in 2011. What’s more, there are numerous other indexing companies that define growth and value quite differently (e.g., Standard & Poor’s, Lipper, MSCI, etc.).
Like religious beliefs that are viewed quite differently and are prone to passionate arguments, so too can be the debates over growth vs. value categorization. I’ve been brainwashed by numerous great investors (see Investor Hall Fame), and underpinning my philosophy is the belief that price follows earnings (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). As a result, I am constantly on the lookout for attractively priced stocks that have strong growth prospects. If Russell or S&P looked under the hood of my client portfolios, I’m certain they would find a healthy mix of growth and value stocks, as they define it. If they looked in Warren Buffett’s portfolio, arguably similar conclusions could be made. Most observers call Buffett a value investor, but over Buffett’s career, he has owned some of the greatest growth stocks of all-time (e.g., Coca Cola (KO), American Express Co (AXP), and Procter & Gamble (PG)).
At the end of the day, expectations embedded in the value of share prices determine future appreciation or depreciation, depending on how actual results register relative to those expectations. If stock prices are too high (as measured by the P/E, Price/Free-Cash-Flow, or other valuation metrics), slowing growth can lead to sharp and painful price declines. On the flip side, cheap or reasonably priced stocks can experience significant price appreciation if earnings and cash flows sustainably improve or accelerate.
In my view, the greatest stock pickers think about investing like sports handicapping (see What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas). The key isn’t buying fast growth (high P/E) or slow growth (low P/E) companies, but rather discovering which stocks are mispriced. Finding heavily shorted stocks that are poised for growth, or discovering unloved stocks with underappreciated potential are both ways to make money.
While defining growth vs. value is certainly difficult, the more important challenge is calibrating a company’s future growth expectations and determining the fair price to pay for a stock based on those prospects. Investing entails many difficulties, but categorizing investors or stocks as growth or value is a less important challenge than honing forecasting and valuation skills. Investing is challenging enough without worrying about superfluous growth vs. value definitions.
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 AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in KO, AXP, PG, MHP, 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.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary newsletter (May 1, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for an entire monthly update.
As the stock market continues to set new, all-time record highs and the Dow Jones Industrial index nears another historic milestone (15,000 level), investors remain cautiously skeptical of the rebound – like a nervous toddler choosing to ride a tricycle instead of a bicycle. Investors have been moving slowly, but stock prices have not – the Dow has risen +13% in 2013 alone. What’s more, over the last four years the S&P 500 index (which represents large companies) has climbed +140%; the S&P 400 (mid-sized companies) +195%; and the S&P 600 (small-sized companies) +200%.
The gains have been staggering, but like the experience of riding a bicycle, the bumps, scrapes, and bruises suffered during the 2008-2009 financial crash have caused investors to abandon their investment bikes for a perceived safer vehicle…a tricycle. What do I mean by that? Well, over the last six years, investors have pulled out more than -$521,000,000,000 from stock funds and piled those proceeds into bonds (Calafia Beach Pundit chart below). For retirees and billionaires this strategy may make sense in certain instances. But for millions of others, interest rate risk, inflation risk, and the risk of outliving your money can be more hazardous to financial well-being, than the artificially perceived safety expected from bonds. The fact of the matter is investing inefficiently in cash, money markets, CDs, and low-yielding fixed income securities can be riskier in the long-run than a globally diversified portfolio invested across a broad set of asset classes (including equities). The latter should be the strategy of choice, unless of course you are someone who yearns to work at Wal-Mart (WMT) as a greeter in your 80s!
Investor Training Wheels
I don’t want to irresponsibly flog everyone, because investing attitudes have begun to change a little in 2013, as investors have added $66 billion to stock funds (data from ICI). Effectively, some investors have gone from riding their tricycle to hopping on a bike with training wheels. With this change in mindset, surely people have commenced selling bonds to buy stocks, right? Wrong! Investors have actually bought more bonds (+$69 billion) than stocks in the first three months of the year, which helps explain why interest rates on the 10-year Treasury are only yielding a paltry 1.67% (near last year’s record summer low) – remember, bond buying causes interest rates to go down. If you really want to do research, you could ask your parents when rates were ever this low, but some readers’ parents may not even had been born yet. The previous record low in interest rates, according to Bloomberg, at 1.95% was achieved in 1941.
Over the last five years the news has been atrocious, and as we have proven, investing based off of current headlines is a horrible investment strategy. As we’ve seen firsthand, there can be very long, multi-year periods when stock performance has absolutely no correlation with the positive or negative nature of news reports. To better make my point, I ask you, what types of headlines have you been reading over the last four years? I can answer the question for you with a few examples. For starters, we’ve endured financial collapses in Iceland, Ireland, Dubai, Greece, and now Cyprus. At home domestically, we’ve experienced a “flash crash” that temporarily evaporated about $1 trillion dollars in value (and 1,000 Dow points) within a few minutes due to high frequency algorithmic traders. How about unemployment data? We’ve witnessed the slowest, jobless U.S. recovery in a generation (since World War II), and European countries have it much worse than we do (e.g., Spain just registered a 27% unemployment rate). What about political gridlock and brinksmanship? We’ve seen debt ceiling stand-offs lead to a historic loss of our country’s AAA debt status; a partisan presidential election; a deafening fiscal cliff debate; and now mindless sequestration. Nevertheless, large cap stocks and small cap stocks have more than doubled and tripled, respectively.
Fear sells advertising, and sounds smarter than “everything is rosy,” but the fact remains, things are not as bad as many bears claim. Corporations are earning record profits, and hold trillions in cash (e.g., Apple Inc.’s recent announcement of more than $50 billion in share repurchase and $11 billion in annual dividend payments are proof). Moreover, central banks around the globe are doing whatever it takes to stimulate growth – most recently the Bank of Japan promised to inject $1.4 trillion into its economy by the end of 2014, in order to kick-start expansion. Lastly, the U.S. employment picture continues to improve, albeit slowly (7.6% unemployment in March), allowing consumers to pay down debt, buy more homes, and spend money to spur economic growth.
Dangers of Being Informed
Hopefully this clarifies how useless and futile newspaper headlines are when it comes to effective investing. As Mark Twain astutely noted, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” It’s perfectly fine to remain in tune with current events, but shuffling around your life’s savings based on this information is a foolish plan.
If the concerns and worries du jour have you nervously riding a tricycle, just realize that you may not reach your investment destination with this mode of transportation. I understand that it is not all hearts and flowers in the financial markets, and there are plenty of legitimate risks to consider. However, excessive exposure in low-rate asset classes may be riskier than many realize. If you’re still riding your investment tricycle, you’re probably better off by grabbing a helmet and pads (i.e., globally diversified portfolio) and jumping on a bike – you are more likely to reach your financial destination.
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), WMT and AAPL, 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.
With the Easter bunny relaxing after a busy holiday, kids from all over are given the task of organizing the candy and money collected during their hunts. Investors are also constantly reminded that their portfolio eggs should not be solely placed in one basket either. Instead, investors are told to diversify their investments across a whole host of asset classes, geographies, styles, and sizes. In other words, this means investors should be spreading their money across commodity, real estate, international, emerging market, value, growth, small-cap, and large-cap investments. As Jason Zweig, journalist from a the Wall Street Journal points out, much of the diversification benefits can be achieved with relatively small change in the position count of a portfolio:
“As many studies have shown, at least 40% of the variability in returns can be reduced by moving from a single company to 20. Once a portfolio contains 20 or 30 stocks, adding more does little to damp the fluctuations in wealth over time.”
But wait. Going from one banking stock to 20 banking stocks is not going to provide you with the proper diversification you want or need. Rather, what is as important as investing across asset class, geography, style, and size, is to follow the individual stock strategies of guru Peter Lynch. In order to put his performance into perspective, Lynch’s Fidelity Magellan fund averaged +29% per year from 1977 – 1990 – almost doubling the return of the S&P 500 index for that period.
More specifically, to achieve these heroic returns, Lynch divided the stocks in his fund into the following categories:
Slow Growers: This group of stocks wasn’t Lynch’s favorite because these companies typically operate in mature industries with limited expansion opportunities. For these single-digit EPS growers, Lynch focused more on identifying high dividend-paying stocks that were trading at attractive valuations. In particular, he paid attention to a dividend-adjusted PEG ratio (Price-to-Earnings Growth). A utility company would be an example of a “Slow Grower.”
Stalwarts: These are large established companies that still have the ability to achieve +10% to +12% annual earnings growth regardless of the economic cycle. Lynch liked these stocks especially during recessions and downturns. Valuations are still very important for Stalwarts, and many of them pay dividends. An investor may not realize a “home run” with respect to returns, but a +30% to 50% return over a few years is not out of the question, if selected correctly. Former examples of “Stalwarts” include Coca Cola (KO) and Procter & Gamble (PG).
Fast Growers: This categorization applies to small aggressive firms averaging about +20% to +25% annual earnings growth. While “Fast Growers” offer the most price appreciation potential, these stocks also offer the most risk, especially once growth/momentum slows. If timed correctly, as Lynch adeptly achieved, these stocks can increase multi-fold in value. The great thing about these “Fast Growers” is they don’t have to reside in fast growth industries. Lynch actually preferred market share gainers in legacy industries.
Cyclicals: These companies tend to see their sales and profits rise and fall with the overall economic cycle. The hyper-sensitivity to economic fluctuations makes the timing on these stocks extremely tricky, leading to losses and tears – especially if you get in too late or get out too late. To emphasize his point, Lynch states, “Cyclicals are like blackjack: stay in the game too long and it’s bound to take all your profit.” The other mistake inexperienced investors make is mistaking a “Cyclical” company as a “Stalwart” at the peak of a cycle. Examples of cyclical industries include airline, auto, steel, travel, and chemical industries.
Turnarounds: Lynch calls these stocks, “No Growers,” and they primarily of consist of situations like bail-outs, spin-offs, and restructurings. Unlike cyclical stocks, “Turnarounds” are usually least sensitive to the overall market. Even though these stocks are beaten down or depressed, they are enormously risky. Chyrysler, during the 1980s, was an example of a favorable Lynch turnaround.
Asset Plays: Overlooked or underappreciated assets such as real estate, oil reserves, patented drugs, and/or cash on the balance sheet are all examples of “Asset Plays” that Lynch would consider. Patience is paramount with these types of investments because it may take considerable time for the market to recognize such concealed assets.
Worth noting is that not all stocks remain in the same Lynch category. Apple Inc. (AAPL) is an example of a “Fast Grower” that has migrated to “Stalwart” or “Slow Grower” status, therefore items such as valuation and capital deployment (dividends and share buyback) become more important.
Peter Lynch’s heroic track record speaks for itself. Traditional diversification methods of spreading your eggs across various asset class baskets is useful, but this approach can be enhanced by identifying worthy candidates across Lynch’s six specific stock categories. Hunting for these winners is something Lynch and the Easter bunny could both agree upon.
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 AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in KO, PG, Chrysler, Fidelity Magellan, 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.
In the stock market you are damned if you do, and more damned if you don’t.
There are a million reasons why the market should or can go down, and the press, media, and bears come out with creative explanations every day. The “Flash Crash,” debt ceiling debate, credit downgrades, elections, and fiscal cliff were all credible events supposed to permanently crater the market. Now we have higher taxes (capital gains, income, and payroll), sequester spending cuts, and a nagging recession in Europe. What’s more, the pessimists point to the unsustainable nature of elevated corporate profit margins, and use the ludicrous Robert Shiller 10-year Price-Earnings ratio as evidence of an expensive market (see also Foggy Rearview Mirror). If an apple sold for $10 ten days ago and $0.50 today, would you say, I am not buying an apple today because the 10-day average price is too high? If you followed Robert Shiller’s thinking, this logic would make sense.
Despite the barrage of daily concerns and excuses, the market continues to set new record highs and the S&P 500 is up by more than +130% since the 2009 lows – just a tad higher than the returns earned on cash, gold, and bonds (please note sarcasm). Cash has trickled into equities for the first few months of 2013 after years of outflows, but average investors have only moved from fear to skepticism (see also Investing with the Sentiment Pendulum ). With cash and bonds earning next to nothing; gold underperforming for years; and inflationary pressures eroding long-term purchasing power, the vice is only squeezing tighter on the worrywarts.
Are there legitimate reasons to worry? Certainly, and the opportunities are not what they used to be a few years ago (see also Missing the Pre-Party). Although an endangered species, long-term investors understand backwards looking economic news is useless. Or as Peter Lynch wisely stated, “If you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.” The fact remains that the market is up 70% of the time, on an annual basis, and has been a great place to beat inflation over time. It’s a tempting endeavor to avoid the down markets that occur 30% of the time, but those who try to time the market fail miserably over the long-run (see also Market Timing Treadmill).
Equity investors would be better served by looking at their investment portfolios like real estate. Homeowners implicitly know the value of their home changes on a daily basis, but there are no accurate, real-time quotes to reference your home value on a minute by minute basis, as you can with stocks. Most property owners know that real estate is a cyclical asset class that is not impacted by daily headlines, and if purchased at a reasonable price, will generally go up in value over many years. Unfortunately, for many average investors, equity portfolios are treated more like gambling bets in Vegas, and get continually traded based on gut instincts.
Volatility is at six-year lows, and investors are getting less uncomfortable with owning stocks. Although everybody and their mother has been waiting for a pullback (myself included), don’t get too myopically focused. For the vast majority of investors, who should have more than a ten year time horizon, you should understand that volatility is normal and recessions will cause stocks to gown significantly, twice every ten years on average. If you are a long-term investor, like you should be, and you understand these dynamics, then you will also understand that you will be more damned if you don’t invest in equities as part of a diversified portfolio.
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.
If you are one of those fishing hobbyists crowded among a large group while hunting for a big fish, mathematics dictates your odds of reeling in a grand prize are significantly diminished. Expert fishermen are generally the first to arrive because they understand once the masses appear the opportunities will disappear. Like big fish, colossal stocks are rarely discovered by a large herd of investors. Financial bubbles occur in this manner, however these periods are usually short-lived and the investor pack often ends up losing more money on the way down relative to the profits earned on the way up. Successful investors are usually the ones following a disciplined systematic approach that is often contrarian in nature. In other words, not chasing performance requires patience, an elusive quality in these fast-paced, frenetic financial markets.
More prevalent in these markets are impulsive day-traders, unruly high frequency traders, and tempestuous hedge funds. Why own stocks, if you can rent them? Like a fisherman who constantly casts his/her bait in and out of the water, a short-sighted investor cannot realize outsized gains, unless the bait is given sufficient time to lure (find) the next winning idea.
Like many professions, experts often optimally mix the quantitative science and behavioral art of their craft. Whether it’s a teacher, doctor, accountant, attorney, or bus driver, the people who excel in their profession are the ones who move beyond the statistical and procedural basics of their trade. Practicing and understanding the nuts and bolts of your job is important, but developing those intangible, artistic skills only comes with experience. Unfortunately, many investing hobbyists don’t appreciate these artistic nuances and as a result go on destroying their portfolios, even though they act as if they were experts.
On the flip-side, decisions purely based on gut instincts will also lead to sub-par outcomes. The fisherman who does not account for the wind, temperature, geography, light, and seasonal differences will be at a distinct disadvantage to those who have studied these scientific factors.
In the fishing world, there is no miracle GPS device that will guide fish onto your hook, and the same is true for stocks. No software package or technical pattern will be a panacea for profits, however having some type of scientific tool to assist in the identification of investment opportunities should be exploited to its fullest. For us at Sidoxia Capital Management (www.Sidoxia.com), our tool is called SHGR (pronounced “SUGAR”), or Sidoxia Holy Grail Ranking. The name was created tongue-in-cheek; however its purpose is crucial. Following a quantitative system like SHGR ensures that a healthy dosage of discipline and objectivity is factored into our investment decisions, so inherent biases do not creep into our process and detract from performance. Specifically, our proprietary SHGR model incorporates multiple factors, including valuation, growth, sentiment indicators, profitability, and other qualitative measurements.
Although we use a “Holy Grail” ranking system, the fact of the matter is there are none in existence – for fishermen or investors. Experience teaches us the best opportunities are found where few are looking, and if proper quantitative tools are integrated into a multi-pronged process, then you will be uniquely positioned to catch a big fish.
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 CMCSA, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BRKB, HNZ, HRL, UL, T, VZ, CAR, ZIP, AMR, LCC, ORCL, APKT, DELL, MSFT, RDSA, Repsol, ODP, OMX, HLF, BUD, STZ, GE, 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.