Posts filed under ‘Education’

Day Trading Your House

House Day Trade

By several measures, this economic recovery has been the slowest, most-challenging  expansion since World War II. Offsetting the painfully slow recovery has been a massive bull market in stocks, now hovering near all-time record highs, after about tripling in value since early 2009. Unfortunately, many investors have missed the boat (see Markets Soar – Investors Snore and Gallup Survey) with stock ownership near a 15-year low.

But it’s not too late for the “sideliners” to get in…is it? (see Get out of Stocks!*). Milfred and Buford are asking themselves that same question (see Investor Wake-Up Call). Milfred and Buford are like many other individuals searching for the American Dream and are looking for ways to pad their retirement nest egg. The seasoned couple has been around the block a few times and are somewhat familiar with one get-rich-quick strategy…day trading stocks. Thankfully, they learned that day trading stocks didn’t work out too well once the technology boom music ended in the late 1990s. Here’s what the SEC has to say about day trading on their government site:

Be prepared to suffer severe financial losses. Day traders typically suffer severe financial losses in their first months of trading, and many never graduate to profit-making status. Given these outcomes, it’s clear: day traders should only risk money they can afford to lose. They should never use money they will need for daily living expenses, retirement, take out a second mortgage, or use their student loan money for day trading.

 

Milfred & Buford Day Trade House

Milfred: “Now, Buford, I know we lost of our IRA retirement money day trading tech stocks, but if technical analysis works and all the financial news shows and talking babies on TV say it will make us a lot of cabbage, maybe we should try day trading our house?”

Buford: “Now I know why I married you 60 years ago – it’s that brilliant mind of yours that complements that sexy figure!”

Veteran readers of Investing Caffeine know I’ve been a skeptic of technical analysis (see Technical Analysis: Astrology or Lob Wedge), but a successful investor has to be open to new ideas, correct? So, if technical analysis works for stocks, then why not for houses? The recovery in housing prices hasn’t been nearly as robust as we’ve seen in stocks, so perhaps there’s more upside in housing. If I can get free stock charting technicals from my brokerage firm or online, there’s no reason I couldn’t access free charting technicals from Zillow (or Trulia) to make my fortunes. Case in point, I think I see a double-bottom and reverse head-and-shoulders pattern on the home price chart of Kim Kardashian’s house:

Source: Zillow

Source: Zillow

Of course, day trading isn’t solely dependent on random chart part patterns. Pundits, bloggers, and brokerage firms would also have you believe instant profits are attainable by trading based on the flow of news headlines. This is how Milfred and Buford would make their millions:

Milfred: “Snookums, it’s time for you to pack up all our stuff.”

Buford: “Huh? What are you talking about honey buns?”

Milfred: “Didn’t you see?! The University of Michigan consumer confidence index fell to a level of 81.3 vs. Wall street estimates of 83.0, bringing this measure to a new 4-month low.”

Buford: “I can’t believe I missed that. Nice catch ‘hun’. I’ll start packing, but where will we stay after we sell the house?”

Milfred: “We can hang out at the Motel 6, but it shouldn’t be long. I’m expecting the Philly Fed Manufacturing index to come in above 23 and I also expect a cease fire in Ukraine and Gaza. We can buy a new house then.”

I obviously frame this example very tongue-in-cheek, but buying and selling a house based on squiggly lines and ever-changing news headlines is as ridiculous as it sounds for trading stocks. The basis for any asset purchase or sale should be primarily based on the cash flow dynamics (e.g., rent, dividends, interest, etc., if there are any) of the asset, coupled with the appreciation/depreciation expectations based on a rigorous long-term analysis.

When Day Trading Works

Obviously there are some differences between real estate and stocks (see Stocks & Real Estate), including the practical utility of real estate and other subjective factors (i.e., proximity to family, schools, restaurants, beach, crime rates, etc.). Real estate is also a relatively illiquid and expensive asset to buy or sell compared to stocks. – However, that dynamic is rapidly changing. Like we witness in stocks, technology and the internet is making real estate cheaper and easier to match buyers and sellers.

Does day trading a stock ever work? Sure, even after excluding the factor of luck, having a fundamental information advantage can lead to immediate profits, but one must be careful how they capture the information. Raj Rajaratnam used this strategy but suffered the consequences of his insider trading conviction. Furthermore, the information advantage game can be expensive, as proven by Steven Cohen’s agreement to pay $1.2 billion to settle criminal charges. While I remain a day trading and technical analysis skeptic, I have noted a few instances when I use it.

Whatever your views are on the topics of day trading and technical analysis, do Milfred and Buford a favor by leading by example…invest for the long-term.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Z, TRLA, 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.

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July 19, 2014 at 6:13 pm Leave a comment

The Thrill of the Chase

Chasing FreeImages

Men (and arguably women to a lesser extent) enjoy the process of hunting for a mate. Chasing the seemingly unattainable event aligns with man’s innate competitive nature. But the quest for the inaccessible is not solely limited to dating. When it comes to other aspirational categories, humans also want what they cannot have because they revel in a challenge. Whether it’s a desirable job, car, romantic partner, or even an investment, people bask in the pursuit.

For many investment daters and trading speculators, 2008-2009 was a period of massive rejection. Rather than embracing the losses as a new opportunity, many wallowed in cash, CDs, bonds, and/or gold. This strategy felt OK until the massive 5-year bull market went on a persistent, upward tear beginning in 2009. Now, as the relentless bull market has continued to set new all-time record highs, the negative sentiment cycle has slowly shifted in the other direction. Back in 2009, many investors regretted owning stocks and as a result locked in losses by selling at depressed prices. Now, the regret of owning stocks has shifted to remorse for not owning stocks. Missing a +23% annual return for five years, while getting stuck with a paltry 0.25% return in a savings account or 3-4% annual return achieved in bonds, can harm the psyche and make savers bitter.

Greed hasn’t fully set in like we witnessed in the late period of the 1990s tech boom, but nevertheless, some of the previous overly cautious “sideliners” feel compelled to now get into the stock game (see Get Out of Stocks!*) or increase their equity allocation. Like a desperate, testosterone-amped teen chasing a prom date, some speculators are chasing stocks, regardless of the price paid. As I’ve noted before, the overall valuation of the stock market seems quite reasonable (see PE ratio chart in Risk Aversion Declining - S. Grannis), despite selective pockets of froth popping up in areas like biotech stocks, internet companies, and junk bonds.

Even if chasing is a bad general investment practice, in the short-run, chasing stocks (or increasing equity allocations) may work because overall prices of stocks remain about half the price they were at the 2000 bubble peak (see Siegel Bubblicious article). How can stocks be -50% off when stock prices today (S&P 500) are more than +25% higher today than the peak in 2000? Plain and simply, it’s the record earnings (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). In the latest Sidoxia newsletter we highlighted the all-time record corporate profits, which are conveniently excluded from most stock market discussions in the blogosphere and other media outlets.

The Investor’s Emotional Roller Coaster (Perceived Risk vs Actual Risk)

Emotion Chart Ritholtz

The “Thrill of the Chase” is but a single emotion on the roller coaster sentiment spectrum (see Barry Ritholtz chart in Sentiment Cycle of Fear and Greed). The problem with the above chart is many investors confuse actual risk from perceived risk. Many investors perceive the “euphoric” stage of an economic cycle (top of the chart) as low-risk, when in actuality this point reflects peak risk. One can look back to the late 1990s and early 2000 when technology shares were priced at more than 100x years in earnings and every hairdresser, cabdriver and relative were plunging their life savings into stocks. The good news from my vantage point is we are a ways from that euphoric state (asset fund flows and consumer confidence are but a few data points to support this assertion).

The key to reversing the sentiment roller coaster is to follow the thought process of investment greats who learned to avoid euphoria in up markets:

“I’m always more depressed by an overpriced market in which many stocks are hitting new highs every day than by a beaten-down market in a recession.” -Peter Lynch

“Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” –Warren Buffett

 

While the “Thrill of the Chase” can seem exciting and a rational strategy at the time, successful long-term investors are better served by remaining objective, unemotional, and numbers-driven. If you don’t have the time, interest, or emotional fortitude to be disciplined, then find an experienced investment manager or advisor to assist you. That will make your emotional roller coaster ride even more thrilling.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

July 13, 2014 at 7:39 pm 4 comments

The Buyback Bonanza Boost

Trampoline 2

With the S&P 500 off -1% from its all-time record high, many bears have continued to wait for and talk about a looming crash. For the naysayers, the main focus has been on the distorted monetary policies instituted by the Federal Reserve, but as I pointed out in Fed Fatigue is Setting In, QE and tapering talk are not the end-all, be-all of global financial markets. One need not look further than the dozen or so countries listed in the FT that have bond yields below the abnormally low yields we are experiencing in the U.S. (10-Year Treasury +2.75%).

Although there are many who believe a freefall is coming, much like a trampoline, a naturally occurring financial mechanism has provided a relentless bid to boost stock prices higher…a buyback bonanza! How significant have corporate stock repurchases been to spring prices higher? Jason Zweig, in his Intelligent Investor column, wrote the following:

In the Russell 3000, a broad U.S. stock index, repurchased $567.6 billion worth of their own shares—a 21% increase over 2012, calculates Rob Leiphart, an analyst at Birinyi Associates, a research firm in Westport, Conn. That brings total buybacks since the beginning of 2005 to $4.21 trillion—or nearly one-fifth of the total value of all U.S. stocks today.

 

To further put this gargantuan buyback bonanza into perspective, a recent Fox Business article described it this way:

Companies spent an estimated $477 billion on share buybacks last year. That’s enough to buy every NFL team 12 times over, run the federal government for 50 days or host the next nine Olympic Games with several billion left to spare. This year, companies are expected to ramp up buybacks by 35%, according to Goldman Sachs.

 

The bears continue to scream, while purple in the face, that the Fed’s QE and zero interest rate program (ZIRP) shenanigans are artificially propping up stock prices. The narrative then states the tapering and inevitable Fed Funds rate reversal will cause the market to come crashing down. While there is some truth behind this commentary, history reminds us that not all rate rising cycles end in bloodshed (see 1994 Bond Repeat or Stock Defeat?). Even if you believe in Armageddon, this rate reversal scenario is unlikely to happen until mid-2015 or beyond.

And for those worshipping the actions of Ms. Yellen at the Fed altar, believe it or not, there are other factors besides monetary policy that cause stock prices to go up or down. In addition to stock buybacks, there are dynamics such as record corporate profits, rising dividends, expanding earnings, reasonable valuations, improving international economies, and other factors that have contributed to this robust bull market.

At the end of the day, as I have continued to argue for some time, money goes where it is treated best – and generally that is not in savings accounts earning 0.003%. There is no reason to be a perma-bull, and I have freely acknowledged the expansion of froth in areas such as social media, biotech, Bitcoin and other areas. Regardless, there is, and will always be areas of speculation, in bull and bear markets (e.g., gold in the 2008-2009 period).

Magical Math

Investing involves a mixture of art and science, but with a few exceptions (i.e., fraud), numbers do not lie, and using math when investing is a good place to start. A simple but powerful mathematical formula instituted at Sidoxia Capital Management is the “Free Cash Flow Yield”, which is a metric we integrate into our proprietary SHGR (a.k.a.,“Sugar”) quantitative model (see Investing Holy Grail).

Free Cash Flow Graphic

Quite simply, Free Cash Flow (FCF) is computed by taking the excess cash generated by a company after ALL expenses/expenditures (marketing, payroll, R&D, CAPEX, etc.) over a trailing twelve month period (TTM), then dividing that figure by the total equity value of a company (Market Capitalization). Mechanically, FCF is calculated by taking “Cash Flow from Operations” and subtracting “Capital Expenditures” – both figures can be found on the Cash Flow Statement.  The Free Cash Flow ratio may sound complicated, but straightforwardly this is the leftover cash generated by a business that can be used for share buybacks, dividends, acquisitions, investments, debt pay-down, and/or placed in a banking account to pile up.

The great thing about FCF yields is that this ratio (%) can be compared across asset classes. For example, I can compare the FCF yield of Apple Inc – AAPL (+9.5%) versus a 10-Year Treasury (+2.75%), 1-year CD (+0.85%), Tesla Motors – TSLA (0.0%), Netflix, Inc – NFLX (-0.001%), or Twitter, Inc – TWTR (-0.003%). For growth and capital intensive companies, I can make adjustments to this calculation. However, what you quickly realize is that even if you assume massive growth in the coming years (i.e., $100s of millions in FCF), the prices for many of these momentum stocks are still astronomical.

An important insight about the current corporate buyback bonanza is that much of this price boost is being fueled by the colossal free cash flow generation of corporate America. Sure, some companies are borrowing through the debt markets to buy back stock, but if you were the Apple CFO sitting on $159,000,000,000 in cash earning 1%, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to sit on the cash earning nothing. It also doesn’t take a genius (or Carl Icahn) to figure out borrowing at record low rates (2.75% 10-year) while earning +10% on a stock buyback will increase shareholder value and earnings per share (EPS). More specifically, when Apple borrowed $17 billion  at interest rates ranging from 0.5% – 3.9%, a shrewd, rational human being would borrow to the max all day long at those rates, if you could earn +10% on that investment. It is true that Apple’s profitability could drop and the numerator in our FCF ratio could decrease, but with $45 billion smackers coming in every year on top of $142 billion in net cash on the balance sheet, Apple has a healthy margin of safety to make the math work.

Where the math doesn’t compute is in insanely priced deals. For example, the recent merger in which Facebook Inc (FB) paid $19 billion (1,000 x’s the estimated 2013 annual revenues) for a 50-person, money-losing company (WhatsApp) that is offering a free service, makes zero financial sense to me. Suffice it to say, the FCF yield on WhatsApp could cause Warren Buffett to have a coronary event. Yes, diamond covered countertops would be nice to have in my kitchen, but I probably wouldn’t get much of a return on that investment.

Share buybacks are not a magical elixir to endless prosperity (see Share Buybacks & Bathroom Violators), but given the record profits and record low interest rates, basic math shows that even if stock prices correct (as should be expected), the trampolining effect of this buyback bonanza will provide support to the market.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AAPL and a short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TSLA, TWTR, FB, Bitcoin, 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.

March 22, 2014 at 1:17 pm 1 comment

Investing, Housing, and Speculating

House Dollar Sign

We all know there was a lot of speculation going on in the housing market during 2005-2007 as risk-loving adventurists loaded up on NINJA loans (No Income, No Job, and No Assets) and subprime CDS (Credit Default Swap) securities. But there is a different kind of speculation going on now, and it isn’t tied directly to housing. Instead of buying a house with no down payment and a no interest loan, speculators are leaping into other hazardous areas of danger. Like a frog jumping from lily pad to lily pad, speculators are now hopping around onto money-chasing industries, including biotech, social media, Bitcoin, and alternative energy.

As French novelist Jean-Baptise Alphonse Karr noted, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Irrespective of the painful consequences of the bubble-bursting aftermaths, human behavior and psychology addictively succumb to the ever-seductive emotion of greed. Over the last 15 years, massive fortunes have been gained and lost while chasing frothy financial dreams in areas like technology, housing, and gold.

Most get-rich-quick dream chasers have no idea of how to invest in or value a stock, but they sure know a good story when they hear one. Chasing top performing stocks is lot like jumping off a bridge – anyone can do it, and it feels exhilarating until you hit the ground. However, there is a better way to create wealth. Despite rampant speculation, most individuals understand the principles behind buying a house, which if applied to stocks, can make you a superior investor, and assist you in avoiding dangerous, speculative investments.

Here are some valuable housing insights to improve your stock buying:

#1.) Price is the Almighty Variable: Successful real estate investors don’t make their fortunes by chasing properties that double or triple in value. Buying a rusty tool shed for $1 million makes about as much sense as Facebook paying $19 billion (1,000 x’s the estimated 2013 annual revenues) for a money-losing company, WhatsApp. Better to buy real estate when there is blood in the street. Like the stock market, housing is cyclical. Many traders believe that price patterns are more important than the actual price. If squiggly, technical price moving averages (see Technical Analysis article) make so much money for stock-renting speculators, then how come day traders haven’t used their same crossing-lines and Point & Figure software in the housing market? Yes, it’s true that the real estate transactions costs and illiquidity can be costly for real estate buyers, but 6% load fees, lockup periods, 20% hedge fund fees, and 9% margin rates haven’t stopped stock speculators either.

#2). Cash is King: It doesn’t take a genius to purchase a rental property – I know because practically half the people I know in Southern California own rental properties. For example, if I buy a rental property for $1 million cash, is it a good purchase? Well, it depends on how much after-tax cash I can collect by renting it out? If I can only net $3,000 per month (3.6% annualized return), and be responsible for replacing roofs, fixing toilets, and evicting tenants, then perhaps I would be better off by collecting 6.5% from a low-cost, tax-efficient exchange traded real estate fund, without having to suffer from all the headaches that physical real estate investing brings. Forecasting future asset price appreciation is tougher, but the point is, understanding the underlying cash flow dynamics of a company is just as important as it is for housing purchases.

#3). Debt/Leverage Cuts in Both Directions: Adding debt (or leverage) to a housing or stock investment can be fantastic if prices go up, and disastrous if prices go down. Putting a 20% down payment on a $1 million house works out wonderfully, if the price of the house increases to $1.2 million. My $200,000 down payment is now worth $400,000, or up +100%. The same math works in reverse. If the price of the home drops to $800,000, then my $200,000 down payment is now worth $0, or down -100% (ouch). Margin debt on an equity brokerage account works in a similar fashion, but usually a 50% down payment is needed (less risky than real estate). That’s why I always chuckle when many real estate investors tell me they steer clear of stocks because they are “too risky”.

#4). Growth Matters: If you buy a home for $1 million, is it likely to be worth more if you add a kitchen, tennis court, swimming pull, third floor, and putting green? In short, the answer is yes. The same principle applies to stocks. All else equal, if a company based in Los Angeles, establishes new offices in New York, London, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro, and then acquires a profitable competitor at a discounted price, chances are the company will be much more valuable after the additions. The key concept here is that asset values are not static. Asset valuations are impacted in both directions, whether we are talking about positive growth opportunities or negative disruptions.

Overall, speculatively chasing performance is tempting, but if you don’t want your financial foundation to crumble, then build your successful investment future by sticking to the fundamentals and financial basics.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in FB, Bitcoin, 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.

March 15, 2014 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Speculative Animal (Hamster) Spirits on the Rise

Hamster Wheel

“Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

- Vince Lombardi

And one thing is for sure…day traders have a habit of losing. Like a hamster on a spinning wheel, day traders use a lot of energy in creating loads of activity, but end up getting nowhere in the process. This subject is important because the animal (hamster) spirits are on the rise as evidenced by the 22% and 17% increase in average client trades per day reported last month by TD Ameritrade (TD) and Charles Schwab (SCHW), respectively.

The statistics speak for themselves, and the numbers are not pretty. An often cited study by Terrence Odeon (U.C. Berkely) and Brad Barber (U.C. Davis) showed that 80% of active traders lose money. The duo came to this conclusion over six years of research by studying 66,465 accounts. More importantly, they “found that if you were to look at the past performance of these traders, only 1 percent of them could be called predictably profitable.” Uggh!

How can this horrendous performance be? Especially when we are continually bombarded with the endless commercials of talking babies and perpetual software bells & whistles that shamelessly promote and pledge a simple path to prosperity. The answer to why active trading fails for the overwhelming masses is the following:

  • Taxes/Capital Gains
  • Transactions costs/commissions
  • Research costs/software
  • Lack of institutional advantages (speed, beneficial rates, I.T./automation, execution, etc.)
  • Impact costs (buying handicaps returns by pushing purchase prices higher, and selling handicaps returns by pushing sale prices lower)
  • Absence from participation in long-term upward drift in equity prices

After considering the horrible odds stacked against the active trader, the atrocious results are not surprising.

The Blemished Investing Brain

So far, we’ve discussed the mechanics behind the money-losing results of active trading, but the underlying reasons can be further explained by the three-pound, 100,000,000,000 amalgamation of cells located between our ears. Evolution has formed our brains to seek pleasure and avoid pain, and trading stocks can create a rush like no other activity. Similar to the orgasmic emotions triggered by making a quick buck at the blackjack table in Las Vegas or scratching off a winning number on a lottery ticket, buying and selling stocks creates comparable effects.

Through the use of high-powered, multi-million imaging technology (i.e., functional-MRI), Brian Knutson, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Stanford University discovered that active trading for money impacts the brain in a similar fashion as do sex and drugs. The data is pretty compelling because you can see the pleasure center images of the brain light up dynamically in real time.

To put the results of his human trading experiments in context, Knutson noted:

“We very quickly found out that nothing had an effect on people like money — not naked bodies, not corpses. It got people riled up. Like food provides motivation for dogs, money provides it for people.”

Brokerage firms and casinos have figured out the greed-seeking weakness in human brains and exploited this vulnerability to the maximum. By rigging the system in their favor, mega-billion dollar financial institutions and gaming empires continue to sprawl around the globe.

The emotional high experienced by day traders is one explanation for the excessive trading, but there is another contributing factor. The inherent human cognitive bias that behavioral finance academics call overconfidence (or illusory superiority) helps fuel the destructive behavior. Surveys that ask people if they are above-average drivers highlight the overconfidence phenomenon by showing the mathematical impossibility of having 93% of a population as above-average drivers. Similarly, a study of Stanford MBA students showed 87% of the respondents rating their academic performance above median.

Even, arguably the greatest trader of all-time, Jesse Livermore realized the negative impacts of emotions and active trading when he said, “It was never my thinking that made big money for me. It always was my sitting.” As I’ve written in the past, active trading is hazardous to your long-term wealth. Rather than succumbing to the endless pitfalls of day trading and getting nowhere like a hamster on a spinning wheel, it’s better to use a long-term, objective and unemotional investing process to achieve investment success.

See also: Brain Scans Show Link Between Lust for Sex and Money

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in TD, SCHW, 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.

March 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm Leave a comment

Retirement Epidemic: Poison Now or Later?

Poison

We live in an instant gratification society. The house, the car, and annual vacation take precedence over contributions to retirement and savings accounts. It therefore comes as no surprise to me that Americans spend more time on planning for vacation than they do on planning for retirement.

Given the choice of spending or saving, Americans in large part choose, “spend now, save later.” Or in other words, Americans choose to drink $10 margaritas now (spend) and swallow the more expensive poison (save) later. Spending now and saving later sounds good in theory until you reach your mid-60s and realize you’re going to have to work as a Wal-Mart Stores (WMT) greeter into your 80s while eating cat food in your tent.

To make matters worse, you don’t have to be a genius to see irresponsible government spending and globalization has compromised the health of our countries entitlements (Social Security and Medicare). Benefits are likely to be reduced over time and age eligibility requirements are likely to increase. If you fold in the dynamic of exploding healthcare costs and broad-based inflationary pressures, one can quickly realize savings habits need to change. The traditional model of working for 40 years and then relying on a pension and Social Security payments to cover a blissful multi-decade retirement just doesn’t apply to current reality. On top of the disappearance of plump pensions, life expectancy is rising (around 80 years in the U.S.), so the realistic risk of outliving your savings has a larger probability of occurring.

Surely I am overly dramatizing the situation by sounding the investing alarm bells out of self-interest…right? Wrong. As a geeky, financial numbers guy, I can objectively rely on numbers, and the statistics aren’t pretty.

Here’s a sampling:

  • Empty Savings Cupboard: A 2013 study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that nearly half of workers had less than $10,000 saved,  and according to Blackrock Inc (BLK), CEO, Larry Fink, the average American has saved only $25,000 for retirement
  • 401(k) Will Not Save the Day: Compared to other forms of savings, the average 401(k) balance reached $89,300 at the end of 2013  - that’s the good news. The bad news is that only about half of all companies offer their employees 401(k) benefits, and for the approximately 60 million people that participate, about a fourth withdraw these 401(k) funds before retirement – out of necessity or for frivolous reasons. Even if you cheerily accept the size of the average balance, sadly this dollar amount is still massively deficient in meeting retirement needs. It’s believed that your savings should approximate 15-20 times your annual retirement expenses that aren’t covered by outside sources of income, such as social security or a pension.

If these figures aren’t scary enough to get you saving more, then just use common sense and understand the future is very uncertain. A 2012 New York Times article sarcastically captured how easy it is to plan for retirement:

First, figure out when you and your spouse will be laid off or be too sick to work. Second, figure out when you will die. Third, understand that you need to save 7 percent of every dollar you earn. (30 percent of every dollar [if you are 55 now].) Fourth, earn at least 3 percent above inflation on your investments, every year. (Easy. Just find the best funds for the lowest price and have them optimally allocated.) Fifth, do not withdraw any funds when you lose your job, have a health problem, get divorced, buy a house or send a kid to college. Sixth, time your retirement account withdrawals so the last cent is spent the day you die.

 

What to Do?

The short answer is save! Simplistically, this can be achieved in one of two ways: cut expenses or raise income. I won’t go into the infinite ways of doing this, but adjusting your mindset to live within your means is probably the first necessary step for most.

As it relates to your investments, fees should be your other major area of focus.  The godfather of passive investing, Jack Bogle, highlighted the dramatic impact of fees on retirement savings. As you can see from the chart below, the difference between making 7% vs. 5% over an investing career by reducing fees can equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars, and prevent your nest egg from collapsing 2/3rd in value.

Source: CNBC

Source: CNBC

Lastly, if you are going to use an investment advisor, make sure to ask the advisor whether they are a “fiduciary” who legally is required to place your interests first. Sidoxia Capital Management is certainly not the only fiduciary firm in the industry, but less than 10% of advisors operate under this gold standard.

Investing and saving is a lot like dieting…easy to understand the concept but difficult to execute. The numbers speak for themselves. Rather than dealing with a crisis in your 70s and 80s, it’s better to take your poison now by investing, and reap the rewards of your hard work during your golden years.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct discretionary position in BLK, 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.

February 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm Leave a comment

Stock Market: Shrewd Bet or Stupid Gamble?

Playing Cards and Poker Chips

Trillions of dollars have been lost and gained over the last five years. The extreme volatility strangled investment portfolios, and as a result millions of investors capitulated by throwing in the towel and locking in losses. Melted 401ks, shrunken IRAs, and beat-up retirement accounts bruised the overarching psyche of Americans to the point they questioned whether the stock market is a shrewd bet or stupid gamble?

The warmth and safety of bonds provided some temporary relief in subsequent years, but the explosive rebound in stock prices to new record highs in 2013 coupled with the worst year in a decade for bonds still have many on the sidelines asking whether they should get back in?

As I’ve written many times in the past (see Timing Treadmill), timing the market is a fruitless effort. Elementary statistics, including the “Law of Large Numbers” will demonstrate that blind squirrels can and will beat the market on occasion, but very few can consistently beat the stock market indices for sustained periods (see Dart-Throwing Chimps).

However, there have been some gun-slinging hedge fund managers who have accumulated some impressive track records. Because of insanely high management fees, many overpaid hedge fund managers will swing for the fences by using a combination of excessive leverage and/or concentration. If the hedge funds connect with lucky returns, the managers can take the money and run. If they swing and miss…no problem. Close shop, hang out a shingle across the street, change the hedge fund’s name, and try again. Of course there are those successful hedge fund managers who have learned how to manipulate the system and exploit information to their advantage, but many of those managers like Raj Rajaratnam and Steven Cohen are either behind bars or dealing with the Feds (see fantastic Frontline piece on Cohen).           

But not everyone cheats. There actually are a minority of managers who consistently beat the market by taking a long-term approach like Warren Buffett. Long-term outperforming managers are like lifetime .300 hitters in Major League Baseball – the outperformers exist, but they are rare. In 2007, AssociatedContent.com did a study that showed there were only 12 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball.

Another legend in the investment industry is John Bogle, the founder of the Vanguard Group, a firm primarily focused on passive, index-based investment strategies. Although it is counter-intuitive to most, just matching the market (or index) will put you in the top-quartile over the long-run (see Darts, Monkeys & Pros). There’s a reason Vanguard manages more than $2,000,000,000,000+ (yes…trillion) of investors’ money. Even at this gargantuan size, Vanguard remains a fraction of the overall industry. Regardless, the gospel of low-cost, tax-efficient, long-term horizons is slowly leaking out to the masses (Disclosure: Sidoxia is a devoted user of Vanguard and other providers’ low-cost Exchange Traded Funds [ETFs]).

Rolling the Dice?

Unlike Las Vegas, where the odds are stacked against you, in the stock market the odds are stacked in your favor if you stay in the game long enough and don’t chase performance. Dr. Ed Yardeni has a great chart (below) summarizing stock market returns over the last 85 years, and what the data highlights is that the market is up (or flat) 69% of the time (59/86 years). The probabilities are so favorable that if I got comparable odds in Vegas, I’d probably live there!

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Unfortunately, rather than using this time arbitrage in conjunction with the incredible power of compounding (see A Penny Saved is Billions Earned), many individuals look at the stock market like a casino – similarly to betting on black or red at a roulette wheel. Speculating about the direction of the market can be fun, and I’ve been known to guess on occasion, but it’s a complete waste of time. Creating a long-term plan of reaching or maintaining your retirement goals through a diversified portfolio is the way to go – not bobbing in out of the market with cash and bonds.

At Sidoxia, we don’t actively trade and time individual stocks either. For the majority of our client portfolios, we follow a growth philosophy similar to the late T. Rowe Price:

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

Nobody knows the direction of the stocks with certainty, and irrespective of whether the market goes down this year or not, history has proven the stock market has been a shrewd, long-term bet. 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

February 8, 2014 at 1:10 pm 2 comments

Aaaaaaaah: Turbulence or Nosedive?

Airplane Landing

We’ve all been there on that rocky plane ride…clammy hands, heart beating rapidly, teeth clenched, body frozen, while firmly bracing the armrests with both appendages. The sky outside is dark and the interior fuselage rattles incessantly until….whhhhhssssshhh. Another quick jerking moment of turbulence has once again sucked the air out of your lungs and the blood from your heart. The rational part of your brain tries to assure you that this is normal choppy weather and will shortly transition to calm blue skies. The irrational and emotional, part of our brains  (see Lizard Brain) tells us the treacherous plane ride is on the cusp of plummeting into a nosedive with passengers’ last gasps saved for blood curdling screams before the inevitable fireball crash.

Well, we’re now beginning to experience some small turbulence in the financial markets, and at the center of the storm is a collapsing Argentinean peso and a perceived slowing in China. In the case of Argentina, there has been a century-long history of financial defaults and mismanagement (see great Scott Grannis overview). Currently, the Argentinean government has been painted into a corner due to the depletion of its foreign currency reserves and financial mismanagement, as evidenced by an inflation rate hitting a whopping 25% rate.

On the other hand, China has created its own set of worries in investors’ minds.  The flash Markit/HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) dropped to a level of 49.6 in January from 50.50 in December, which has investors concerned of a market crash. Adding fuel to the fear fire, Chinese government officials and banks have been trying to reverse excesses encountered in the country’s risky shadow banking system. While the size of Argentina’s economy may not be a drop in the bucket, the ultimate direction of the Chinese economy, which is almost 20x’s the size of Argentina’s, should be much more important to global investors.

At the end of the day, most of these mini-panics or crises (turbulence) are healthy for the overall financial system, as they create discipline and will eventually change irresponsible government behaviors. While Argentinean and Chinese issues dominate today’s headlines, these matters are not a whole lot different than what we have read about Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Turkey, and other negligent countries. As I’ve stated before, money goes where it’s treated best, and the stock, bond, and currency vigilantes ensure that this is the case by selling the assets associated with deadbeat countries. Price declines eventually catch the attention of politicians (remember the TARP vote failure of 2008?).

Is This the Beginning of the Crash?!

What goes up, must come down…right? That is the pervading sentiment I continually bump into when I speak to people on the street. Strategist Ed Yardeni did a great job of visually capturing the last six years of the stock market (below), which highlights the most recent bear market and subsequent major corrections. Noticeably absent in 2013 is any major decline. So, while many investors have been bracing for a major crash over the last five years, that scenario hasn’t happened yet. The S&P chart shows we appear to be due for a more painful blue (or red) period of decline in the not-too-distant future, but that is not necessarily the case. One would need only to thumb through the history books from 1990-1997 to see that investors lived through massive gains while avoiding any -10% correction – stocks skyrocketed +233% in 2,553 days. I’m not calling for that scenario, but I am just pointing out we don’t necessarily always live through -10% corrections annually.  

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Even though we’ve begun to experience some turbulence after flying high in 2013, one should not panic. You may be better off watching the end of the airline movie before putting your head in between your legs in preparation for a nosedive.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

January 25, 2014 at 3:56 pm 2 comments

Controlling the Investment Lizard Brain

Brain

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Investing is challenging enough without bringing emotions into the equation. Unfortunately, humans are emotional, and as a result investors often place too much reliance on their feelings, rather than using objective information to drive rational decision making.

What causes investors to make irrational decisions? The short answer: our “amygdala.” Author and marketer Seth Godin calls this almond-shaped tissue in the middle of our head, at the end of the brain stem, the “lizard brain” (video below). Evolution created the amygdala’s instinctual survival flight response for lizards to avoid hungry hawks and humans to flee ferocious lions.

 

Over time, the threat of  lions eating people in our modern lives has dramatically declined, but the human’s “lizard brain” is still running in full gear, worrying about  other fear-inducing warnings like Iran, Syria, Obamacare, government shutdowns, taxes, Cyprus, sequestration, etc. (see Series of Unfortunate Events)

When the brain in functioning properly, the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain in charge of reasoning) is actively communicating with the amygdala. Sadly, for many people, and investors, the emotional response from the amygdala dominates the rational reasoning portion of the prefrontal cortex. The best investors and traders have developed the ability of separating emotions from rational decision making, by keeping the amygdala in check.

With this genetically programmed tendency of constantly fearing the next lion or stock market crash, how does one control their lizard brain from making sub-optimal, rash investment decisions? Well, the first thing you should do is turn off the TV. And by turning off the TV, I mean stop listening to talking head commentators, economists, strategists, analysts, neighbors, co-workers, blogger hacks, newsletter writers, journalists, and other investing “wannabes”. Sure, you could throw my name into the list of people to ignore if you wanted to, but the difference is, at least I have actually invested real money for over 20 years (see How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00), whereas the vast majority of those I listed have not. But don’t take my word for it…listen or read the words of other experienced investors Warren Buffett, Peter Lynch, Ron Baron,  John Bogle, Phil Fisher, and other investment titans (see also Sidoxia Hall of Fame). These investment legends have successful long-term investment track records and they lived through wars, recessions, financial crises, and other calamities…and still managed to generate incredible returns.

Another famed investor, William O’Neil, summed this idea nicely by adding the following:

“Since the market tends to go in the opposite direction of what the majority of people think, 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.”

 

The Harmful Consequence of Brain on Pain

Besides forcing damaging decisions, another consequence of our lizard brain is its ability to distort reality. Behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Prize winner) and Amos Tversky through their research demonstrated the pain of $50 loss is more than twice as painful as the pleasure from $50 gain (see Pleasure/Pain Principle). Common sense would dictate our brains would treat equivalent scenarios in a proportional manner, but as the chart below shows, that is not the case:

Source: Investopedia

Source: Investopedia

Kahneman adds to the decision-making relationship of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex by describing the concepts of instinctual and deliberative choices in his most recent book, Thinking Fast and Slow  (see Decision Making on Freeways).

Optimizing Risk

Taking excessive risks in technology stocks in the 1990s or in housing in the mid-2000s was very damaging to many investors, but as we have seen, our lizard brains can cause investors to become overly risk averse. Over the last five years, many people have personally experienced the ill effects of unwarranted conservatism. Investment great Sir John Templeton summed up this risk by stating, “The only way to avoid mistakes is not to invest – which is the biggest mistake of all.”

Every person has a different perception and appetite for risk. The optimal amount of risk taken by any one investor should be driven by their unique liquidity needs and time horizon…not a perceived risk appetite. Typically risk appetites go up as markets peak, and conservatism reaches a fearful apex near market bottoms – the opposite tendency of rational decision making. Besides liquidity and time horizon, a focus on valuation coupled with diversification across asset class (stocks/bonds), geography (domestic/international), size (small/large), style (value/growth) is critical in controlling risk. If you can’t determine your personal, optimal risk profile, then find an experienced and knowledgeable investment advisor to assist you.

With the advent of the internet and mobile communication, our brains and amygdala continually get bombarded with fearful stimuli, leading to disastrous decision-making and damaging portfolio outcomes. Turning off the TV and selectively choosing the proper investment advice is paramount in keeping your amygdala in check. Your lizard brain may protect you from getting eaten by a lion, but falling prey to this structural brain flaw may eat your investment portfolio alive.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

January 11, 2014 at 4:39 pm 6 comments

Can Good News be Good News?

Smiley Face

There has been a lot of hyper-taper sensitivity of late, ever since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke broached the subject of reducing the monthly $85 billion bond buying stimulus program during the spring. With a better than expected ADP jobs report on Wednesday and a weekly jobless claims figure on Thursday, everyone (myself) included was nervously bracing for hot November jobs number on Friday. Why fret about potentially good economic numbers? Firstly, as a money manager my primary job is to fret, and secondarily, stronger than forecasted job additions in November would likely feed the fear monster with inflation and taper alarm, thus resulting in a triple digit Dow decline and a 20 basis point spike in 10-year Treasury rates. Right?

Well, the triple digit Dow move indeed came to fruition…but in the wrong direction. Rather than cratering, the Dow exploded higher by +200 points above 16,000 once again. Any worry of a potential bond market thrashing fizzled out to a flattish whimper in the 10-year Treasury yield (to approximately 2.86%). You certainly should not extrapolate one data point or one day of trading as a guaranteed indicator of future price directions. But, in the coming weeks and months, if the economic recovery gains steam I will be paying attention to how the market reacts to an inevitable Fed tapering and likely rise in interest rates.

The Expectations Game

Interpreting the correlation between the tone of news and stock direction is a challenging endeavor for most (see Circular Conversations & Tweet), but stock prices going up on bad news has not a been a new phenomenon. Many will argue the economy has been limp and the news flow extremely weak since stock prices bottomed in early 2009 (i.e., Europe, Iran, Syria, deficits, debt downgrade, unemployment, government shutdown, sequestration, taxes, etc.), yet actual stock prices have chugged higher, nearly tripling in value. There is one word that reconciles the counterintuitive link between ugly news and handsome gains…EXPECTATIONS. When expectations in 2009 were rapidly shifting towards a Great Depression and/or Armageddon scenario, it didn’t take much to move stock prices higher. In fact, sluggish growth coupled with historically low interest rates were enough to catapult equity indices upwards – even after factoring in a dysfunctional, ineffectual political backdrop.

From a longer term economic cycle perspective, this recovery, as measured by job creation, has been the slowest since World War II (see Calculated Risk chart below). However, if you consider other major garden variety historical global banking crises, our crisis is not much different (see Oregon economic study). 

EmploymentCalcRiskRecAlignNov2013

While it’s true that stock prices can go up on bad news (and go down on good news), it is also possible for prices to go up on good news. Friday’s trading action after the jobs report is the proof of concept. As I’ve stated before, with the meteoric rise in stock prices, it’s my view the low hanging profitable fruit has been plucked, but there is still plenty of fruit on the trees (see Missing the Pre-Party).  I am not the only person who shares this view.

Recently, legendary investor Warren Buffett had this to say about stocks (Source: Louis Navellier):

“I don’t have concerns about this market.” Buffet said stocks are “in a zone of reasonableness. Five years ago,” Buffett said, “I wrote an article for The New York Times that said they were very cheap. And every now and then, you can see that that they’re very overpriced or very underpriced.” Today, “they’re definitely not way overpriced. They’re definitely not underpriced.” “If you live long enough,” Buffett said, “you’ll see a lot higher prices. I don’t know what stocks will do next week or next month or next year, but five or 10 years from now, they are very likely to be higher.”

 

However, up cycles eventually run their course. As stocks continue to go up on good news, ultimately they begin to go down on good news. Expectations in time tend to get too lofty, and the market begins to anticipate a downturn. Stock prices are continually incorporating information that reflects the direction of future earnings and cash flow prospects. Looking into the rearview mirror at historical results may have some value, but gazing through the windshield and anticipating what’s around the corner is more important.

Rather than getting caught up with the daily mental somersault exercises of interpreting what the tone of news headlines means to the stock market (see Sentiment Pendulum), it’s better to take a longer-term cyclical sentiment gauge. As you can see from the chart below, waiting for the bad news to end can mean missing half of the upward cycle. And the same principle applies to good news.

Good News Bad News1

Bad news can be good news for stock prices, and good news can be bad for stock prices. With the spate of recent positive results (i.e., accelerating purchasing manager data, robust auto sales, improving GDP, better job growth, and more new-home sales), perhaps good news will be good news for stock prices?

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

December 8, 2013 at 11:53 am 1 comment

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