Posts filed under ‘Stocks’
The massive rally of the stock market since March 2009 has been perplexing for many, but the state of confusion has reached new heights as the stock market has surged another +2.0% in May, surpassing the Dow 15,000 index milestone and hovering near all-time record highs. Over the last few weeks, the volume of questions and tone of disbelief emanating from my social circles has become deafening. Here are some of the questions and comments I’ve received lately:
“Wade, why in the heck is the market up so much?”; “This market makes absolutely no sense!”; “Why should I buy at the peak when I can buy at the bottom?”; “With all this bad news, when is the stock market going to go down?”; “You must be shorting (betting against) this market, right?”
If all the concerns about the Benghazi tragedy, IRS conservative targeting, and Federal Reserve bond “tapering” are warranted, then it begs the question, “How can the Dow Jones and other indexes be setting new all-time highs?” In short, here are a few reasons:
You hear a lot of noise on TV and read a lot of blathering in newspapers/blogs, but what you don’t hear much about is how corporate profits have about tripled since the year 2000 (see red line in chart above), and how the profit recovery from the recent recession has been the strongest in 55 years (Scott Grannis). The profit collapse during the Great Recession was closely chronicled in nail-biting detail, but a boring profit recovery story sells a lot less media advertising, and therefore gets swept under the rug.
II.) Reasonable Prices (Comparing Apples & Oranges):
The Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) is a general barometer of stock price levels, and as you can see from the chart above (Ed Yardeni), current stock price levels are near the historical average of 13.7x – not at frothy levels experienced during the late-1990s and early 2000s.
Comparing Apples & Oranges:
At the most basic level of analysis, investors are like farmers who choose between apples (stocks) and oranges (bonds). On the investment farm, growers are generally going to pick the fruit that generates the largest harvest and provide the best return. Stocks (apples) have historically offered the best prices and yielded the best harvests over longer periods of time, but unfortunately stocks (apples) also have wild swings in annual production compared to the historically steady crop of bonds (oranges). The disastrous apple crop of 2008-2009 led a massive group of farmers to flood into buying a stable supply of oranges (bonds). Unfortunately the price of growing oranges (i.e., buying bonds) has grown to the highest levels in a generation, with crop yields (interest rates) also at a generational low. Even though I strongly believe apples (stocks) currently offer a better long-term profit potential, I continue to remind every farmer (investor) that their own personal situation is unique, and therefore they should not be overly concentrated in either apples (stocks) or oranges (bonds).
Regardless, you can see from the chart above (Dr. Ed’s Blog), the red line (stocks) is yielding substantially more than the blue line (bonds) – around 7% vs. 2%. The key for every investor is to discover an optimal balance of apples (stocks) and oranges (bonds) that meets personal objectives and constraints.
III.) Skepticism (Market Climbs a Wall of Worry):
Although corporate profits are strong, and equity prices are reasonably priced, investors have been withdrawing hundreds of billions of dollars from equity funds (negative blue lines in chart above - Calafia Beach Pundit). While the panic of 2008-2009 has been extinguished from average investors’ psyches, the Recession in Europe, slowing growth in China, Washington gridlock, and the fresh memories of the U.S. financial crisis have created a palpable, nervous skepticism. Most recently, investors were bombarded with the mantra of “Selling in May, and Going Away” – so far that advice hasn’t worked so well. To buttress my point about this underlying skepticism, one need not look any further than a recent CNBC segment titled, “The Most Confusing Market Ever” (see video below):
It’s clear that investors remain skittish, but as legendary investor Sir John Templeton so aptly stated, ”Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.” The sentiment pendulum has been swinging in the right direction (see previous Investing Caffeine article), but when money flows sustainably into equities and optimism/euphoria rules the day, then I will become much more fearful.
Being a successful investor or a farmer is a tough job. I’ll stop growing apples when my overly optimistic customers beg for more apples, and yields on oranges also improve. In the meantime, investors need to remember that no matter how confusing the market is, don’t put all your oranges (bonds) or apples (stocks) in one basket (portfolio) because the financial markets do not need to get any crazier than they are already.
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.
I have seen a lot of things in my two decades in the investment industry, but seeing a verbal cage fight between a senile 76 year-old corporate raider and a white-haired, 46 year-old Harvard grad makes for surprisingly entertaining viewing. The investment heavyweights I am referring to are the elder Carl Icahn, Chairman of Icahn Enterprises, and junior Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management. If getting a few billionaires yelling at each other on live TV is not enough to interest you, then how about adding some tongue-laced f-bombs coupled with blow-by-blow screaming from background traders?
What’s the source of the venomous, spitting hatred between these stock market tycoons? In short, it can be boiled down to a decade old lawsuit (profitable for both I might add), and a disagreement over the short position of a controversial stock, Herbalife (HLF). Regarding the legal spat, in 2003 the SEC was investigating Ackman while his Gotham Partners hedge fund was collapsing, so Ackman asked Icahn to buy shares of Hallwood Realty in hopes of salvaging his fund. Eventually, Icahn bought shares, but a difference in opinion over the transaction led to a lawsuit that Icahn lost, thereby forcing him to pay Ackman $9 million.
Icahn also had a beef with Ackman’s handling of Herbalife: Parading in front of hundreds of investors to self-indulgently create a bear raid on an unsuspecting company is poor form in Icahn’s view, and Carl wanted to make sure Ackman was aware of this investing faux pas.
Normally, investing reporting over cable television is rather mundane, unless you consider entertainers like Jim Cramer yelling “booyah” amusing (see also my article on Mr. Booyah)? On the other hand, if you enjoy billionaires embracing the spirit of the Jerry Springer Show by screaming purple-faced profanities, then you should check out the CNBC cage fight here in its entirety:
If you lack time in your busy schedule to soak in the full bloody battle, then here is a synopsis of my favorite highlights:
Icahn on Ackman the “Crybaby”: “I really sort of have had it with this guy Ackman….I get a call from this Ackman guy. I’m telling you, he’s like the crybaby in the schoolyard. I went to a tough school in Queens. They used to beat up the little Jewish boys. He was like a little Jewish boy crying that the world was taking advantage of him.”
Ackman Referring to Icahn as a “Bully” and Himself as “Roadkill on the Hedge Fund Highway”: “Why did he [Icahn] threaten to sue me? He was a bully. Okay? I was not in a good place in my business career. I was under investigation by Spitzer, winding down my fund. There was negative press about Gotham Partners. I was short MBIA (MBI). They were aggressively attacking me and Carl Icahn thought this guy [Ackman] is roadkill on the hedge fund highway… This is not an honest guy [Icahn] who keeps his word. This is a guy who takes advantage of little people.”
Agitated Icahn Tearing a New One for Scott Wapner (CNBC Commentator): “I didn’t get on to be bullied by you [Wapner]… I’m going to talk about what I want to talk about. Okay? If you want to take that position, I will never go on CNBC. You can say what the hell you want. I’m going to talk about what Ackman just said about me, not about Herbalife. I’ll talk about Herbalife when I want to, not when you ask me. I’m never going on a show with you again, that’s for damn sure. Let’s start with what I want to say. Ackman is a liar.”
Icahn on Another Ackman Rampage: “I will tell you something. As far as I’m concerned, he wanted to have dinner with me and I laughed. I couldn’t figure out if he was the most sanctimonious guy or the most arrogant… the guy takes inordinate risk…I don’t have an investment with Ackman. I wouldn’t have one if you paid me, if Ackman paid me to do it… I made a huge mistake getting involved with him…After he won [the lawsuit], he planted some article in the New York Times pounding his chest telling the world how great he was. You know, as far as I’m concerned the guy is a major loser.”
New CNBC Revenue Stream?
There hasn’t been this much fireworks since Professor Jeremy Siegel took Bill Gross to task on the Pimco Boss’s assessment that the “cult of equity is dying” last July. In retrospect, that minor tiff was child’s play relative to the Icahn vs. Ackman battle. With CNBC viewership down from pre-crisis levels, the network may strongly consider instituting a new pay-per-view revenue stream dedicated to battles between opposing investment enemies. I will even offer up my services to verbally smack down some of the enemies I’ve written about previously. If my phones don’t ring, then I can always offer up my American Investment Idol concept in which I can play Simon Cowell.
This may or may not be the last round of the Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman fight, but the ultimate bragging rights may depend on the ultimate outcome of Ackman’s Herbalife short. If Icahn makes a tender offer for Herbalife, I will anxiously wait for CNBC’s Scott Wapner to invite Carl back on the show. I can hardly wait…
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 HLF, MBI, NYT, Hallwood Realty, 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.
Gorging oneself at an all-you-can eat buffet has its advantages, but managing the associated extra pounds and bloatedness carries its own challenges. In a similar fashion, businesses and consumers are devouring data at an exponential rate, while simultaneously attempting to slice, dice, manage, and store all of this information. Data is quickly becoming as cheap as oxygen, and there are virtually no limitations on the amount consumed.
With the help of my handy smart phone, tablet, and digital camera, I can almost store and watch every moment of my life, very much like the movie The Truman Show. Social media and cloud services, coupled with inexpensive storage, have only made it simpler to digitally archive my life. Pretty soon, with the click of a mouse (or tap of the tablet) everyone will be able to instantaneously access every important moment of their life from cradle to grave.
Consuming Data Bytes at a Time
If you are in the mood for consuming free data, there are plenty of free multi-gigabyte services to choose from, including Dropbox, Mozy, and SkyDrive among other. For those chomping on more than 25 gigabytes of data, paid services like Amazon.com’s (AMZN) Simple Storage Service (a.k.a, “S3”) allow users to store a terabyte of data for about $0.01 – $0.05 per month. However, if renting storage is not your gig (no pun intended), you can own your personal storage device for next to nothing. In fact, you can buy a 1 terabyte (equal to 1,000 gigabytes) external hard drive today for less than $70. If that’s too rich for your blood, then just wait 12 months or so and pay $50 bucks. To put a terabyte in context, this amount of storage can hold approximately 625,000 high quality photos or 412 DVD quality movies, according to a Financial Times article talking about “big data.”
A terabyte may sound like a lot, but if we’re going to be honest, this amount of storage is Tiddly Winks. Once we start talking about petabytes (1,000 terabytes), exabytes (1,000,000 terabytes), and zettabytes (1 billion terabytes), things begin to get a little more interesting (see chart below). If you consider that 2012 global data center traffic estimates amount to 2.6 zettabytes (or 2.6 billion terabytes), it doesn’t take long to appreciate the enormity of the data management challenge facing billions of people.
The Financial Times also points out the following:
“From the beginning of recorded time until 2003, we created five exabytes of data. In 2011 the same amount was created every two days. By 2013 it’s expected that the time will shrink to 10 minutes.”
Digital World Driving Data Appetite
What’s driving the global gusher of data growth? There’s not just one answer, but one can start understanding the scope of the issue after contemplating the trillions of annual text messages; 1 billion Facebook (FB) users; 800 million monthly YouTube visitors watching 4 billion hours of videos; six billion cell phones worldwide; and a global 122 million tablet market (IDC).
I certainly wasn’t the first person to discover this megatrend, but I am not hesitating to invest both my client’s money and my money into benefiting from this massive growth trend. Businesses are prospering from the data tidal wave too, as evidenced in part by Oracle Corp’s (ORCL) stellar quarterly earnings results reported just a few days ago. The mass migration of services to the “cloud” (software delivered over the internet) combined with the need to manage and store exploding industry data, resulted in Oracle reporting growth of +18% in its profitable Software License Sales and Cloud Subscriptions segment. With results like these, no wonder Oracle’s founder and CEO Larry Ellison owns a 141-mile square island, a multi-hundred million yacht, and is worth $41 billion according to Forbes (#3 on the Forbes 400 list).
Whether you realize it or not, we are all consuming heaps of all-you-can eat data at the digital buffet. Rather than rolling over into a data consumption coma, you will be much better off figuring out how to profit from the exploding data trends.
See also: The 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), GOOG, and AMZN, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in FB, ORCL, 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.
Apple pie is an unrivaled American dessert that optimally mixes the elements of dough, sugar, cinnamon, and apples. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I can already taste that Costco (COST) apple pie that is about to snap my belt buckle open as I proceed to eat pie for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A different dessert of the stock variety, Apple Inc. (AAPL), recently received a sour reception after reporting its 3rd quarter financial results.
Despite reporting +27% year-over-year revenue growth and +23% earnings growth, investors have continued to spew the stock out as the share price has fallen from $700 per share down to $600 per share in about a month. With all this indigestion, is now the time to reach for the Tums or should we serve ourselves up another helping of some tasty Apple pie? Not everybody loves this particular fruity dessert, so let’s cut into the Apple pie stock and see if there is any dough to be made here.
Point #1 (Cash Giant): Apple Inc. is a profit machine with a fortress balance sheet. More specifically, Apple has around $121 billion dollars in cash in its checking account and generated over $42 billion in free cash flow in fiscal 2012. And by free cash flow, I mean the excess cash Apple gets to stuff in its pockets after ALL expenses have been paid AND after spending more than $8 billion in capital expenditures (including spending for their new 2.8 million sq. foot spaceship campus expected to open in 2015 and house 13,000 employees).
Point #2: (Brand): A brand has value that will not show up on a balance sheet, and according to Forbes, Apple’s brand is rated #1 on a global basis, outstripping iconic brands like IBM, McDonald’s (MCD) and Microsoft (MSFT). BrandZ, a division of advertising giant WPP, values Apple’s 2012 brand value at approximately $183 billion.
Point #3 (Product Pipeline): Apple is no one-trick pony. Apple’s iPhone sales account for about half of the company’s sales, but a whole new slate of products positions them well for the critical calendar fourth quarter period. Apple’s iPhone 5, iPad 3 (aka, “New iPad”), and iPad Mini should translate into robust holiday sales for Apple. What’s more, a +39% increase in Apple’s fiscal 2012 R&D (research and development) should mean a continued healthy pipeline of new products, including the ever-rumored new integrated version of Apple TV that could be coming in 2013.
Point #4 (Mobile & Tablets): Apple is at the center of the mobile revolution. There are approximately 5 billion cell phones globally, and about 2 billion new phones are sold each year. Of that 2 billion, Apple sold a paltry 125 million units (tongue firmly in cheek) with the market growing faster in Apple iPhone’s key smart phone market. As the approximately 500 million smart phone market grows to about 5 billion units over the next decade, Apple is uniquely positioned to capitalize on this trend. Beyond cell phones, the table market is bursting as traditional personal computer growth declines. Although Apple has made computers for 36 years, the company impressively generated +40% more revenue from fiscal 2012 iPad tablet sales, relative to Apple desktop and laptop sales.
Point #5 (Valuation): With all these positives, what type of premium would you pay for Apple’s stock? Does a +100% premium sound reasonable? OK, maybe a tad high, so how about a +50% premium? Alright, alright, I know you want a good bargain, so surely a +20% premium is warranted? Well in fact, if you account for Apple’s $121 billion cash hoard, Apple’s stock is currently trading at about a -22% DISCOUNT to the average S&P 500 stock on a P/E basis (Price-Earnings). You heard that correctly, a significant discount. If Apple is trading at a P/E discount, surely mature staple stocks like Procter & Gamble (PG) and Colgate Palmolive (CL), which both reported negative Q3 revenue declines coupled with meager bottom-line growth of 5%, deserve even steeper discounts…right? WRONG. These stocks trade at a 70-80% PREMIUM to Apple and a 35-40% PREMIUM to the overall market. Toilet paper and toothpaste I guess are a lot more popular than consumer electronics these days. Clear as mud to me.
Risks: I understand that Apple is not a risk-free Treasury security. Research in Motion’s (RIMM) rapid collapse over the last two years serves as a fresh reminder that in technology land, competition and obsolescence risks play a much larger role compared to other industries. Apple must still deliver on its product visions, and as the king of the hill Apple will have a big bulls-eye on its back from both competitors and regulators. Hence, we will continue to read overblown headlines about map application glitches and photographic purple haze.
In the end, a significant amount of pessimism is already built into Apple’s stock price (yes, I did say “pessimism” – even with the stock’s share price up +49% this year). If Apple can uphold the quality of its products and maintain modest growth, then I’m confident shareholders will happily eat another slice of Apple pie.
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 positions in COST, IBM, MCD, CL, PG, MSFT, WPP, RIMM, 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.
Google Inc. (GOOG) got caught naked yesterday with the early release of its lackluster numbers and “Pending Larry Quote,” but is Google’s loss your gain? An endless number of bloggers and media outlets were quick to jump on the bandwagon, highlighting the sophomor-ish early dissemination of quarterly results, and then simultaneously headlines were blasted about a -20% drop in profits.
I love these sensationalist headlines that I hear chirped in the local Starbucks (SBUX), on the elevator, or at the grocery store. The Armageddon headlines and cascading minute-by-minute charts make for entertaining viewing, but the gaudy $40 billion in cash piling up on Google’s balance sheet, including the measly $3 billion it added in the quarter, may also be news-worthy. Fear sells more than greed, which may explain why there is little mention of Google’s +45% revenue growth (equally misleading because of the Motorola deal). Let me remind you, the $3 billion of cold hard cash created in a single 90 day period is the equivalent size of many large established companies – companies like Groupon Inc. (GRPN), Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA), and Weight Watchers International Inc. (WTW).
If people could take off their panic caps for a minute, they would be able to see the explosion in smart phones (now around 1 billion) is on pace to swell to 5 billion over the next decade. What will that mean for a market leader like Google with over ½ billion Android devices that is activating 1.3 million more every day? I don’t know for sure, but I’m willing to venture it is going to mean a lot of dough for Google. What further inspires my confidence? Well, the fact that Google’s mobile related revenues have gone from $2.5 billion run rate last year to over $8 billion today indicates they are on the right track.
Google got caught naked with its press release flub, and the frail Motorola acquisition may cause a little indigestion in the coming quarters, but any short-run Google losses may be your opportunity for long-term gains.
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 GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in SBUX, TSLA, GRPN, WTW, 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.
The recently reported lackluster, monthly employment report made stockholders grumpy (as measured by the recent -168 point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial index) and bondholders ecstatic (as measured by the surge in the 10-year Treasury note price and plunge in yield to a meager 1.88% annual rate). Stocks on the other hand are yielding a much more attractive rate of approximately 7.70% based on 2012 earnings estimates (see chart below) and are also offering a dividend yield of about 2.25%.
In my view, either stock prices go higher and drive equity yields lower; bonds sell off and Treasury yields spike higher; or a combination of the two. Either way, there are not many compelling reasons to pile into Treasuries, although I fully understand some Treasuries are needed in many investors’ portfolios for income, diversification, and risk tolerance reasons.
Not only are equity earnings yields beating Treasury yields, but so are dividend yields. It has been a generation, or more than 50 years, since the last time stock dividends were yielding more than 10-year Treasuries (see chart below). If you invested in stocks back when dividend yields outpaced bond yields, and held onto your shares, you did pretty well in stocks (the Dow Jones Industrial index traded around 600 in 1960 and over 13,000 today).
The Dynamic Dividend Payers
The problem with bond payments (coupons), in most cases, is that they are static. I have never heard of a bond issuer sending a notice to a bond holder stating they wanted to increase the size of interest payments to their investors. On the flip side, stocks can and do increase payments to investors all the time. In fact here is a list of some of the longest paying dividend dynamos that have incredible dividend hike streaks:
• Procter & Gamble (PG – 55 consecutive years)
• Emerson Electric (EMR – 54 years)
• 3M Company (MMM – 53 years)
• The Coca-Cola Company (KO – 49 years)
• Johnson & Johnson (JNJ – 49 years)
• Colgate-Palmolive Company (CL – 48 years)
• Target Corporation (TGT – 43 years)
• PepsiCo Inc. (PEP – 39 years)
• Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT – 38 years)
• McDonald’s Corporation (MCD – 35 years)
This is obviously a small number of the long-term consecutive dividend hikers, but on a shorter term basis, more and more players are joining the dividend paying team. So far, in 2012 alone through April, there have been 152 companies in the S&P 500 index that have raised their dividend (a +11% increase over the same period a year ago). Of those 152 companies that increased the dividend this year, the average boost was more than +23%. Some notable names that have had significant dividend increases in 2012 include the following companies:
• Macy’s Inc. (M: +100% dividend increase)
• Mastercard Inc. (MA: +100%)
• Wells Fargo & Company (WFC: +83%)
• Comcast Corp. (CMCSA: +44%)
• Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO: +33%)
• Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS: +31%)
• Freeport McMoran (FCX: +25%)
• Harley Davidson Inc. (HOG: +24%)
• Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM: +21%)
• JP Morgan Chase & Co. (JPM: +20%)
Lots of Dividend Headroom
The nervous mood of investors is not much different from the temperament of uneasy business executives, so companies have been slow to hire; unhurried to acquire; and deliberate with their expansion plans. Rather than aggressively spend, corporations have chosen to cut costs, hoard cash, grow earnings, buy back shares, and pay out ever increasing dividends from the trillions in cash piling up.
When a company on average is earning an 8% yield on their stock price, there is plenty of headroom to increase the dividend. As a matter of fact, a company paying a 2% yield could increase its dividend by 10% for about 15 consecutive years and still pay a quadrupling dividend with NO earnings growth. Simply put, there is a lot of room for companies to increase dividends further despite the floodgate of dividend increases we have experienced over the last few years. If you look at the chart below, the dividend yield is the lowest it has been in more than a century (1900).
Perhaps we will experience another “Summer Swoon” this year, but for those selective and patient investors that sniff out high-quality, dividend paying stocks, you will be getting “paid to wait” while the dividend floodgates continue to widen.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including Treasury bond ETFs), CMCSA and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in PG, EMR, MMM, KO, JNJ, CL, TGT, PEP, MCD, M, MA, WFC, CSCO, GS, FCX, HOG, XOM, JPM, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Article is an excerpt from Sidoxia Capital Management’s April 2012 newsletter. Subscribe on right side of page.
That warm safety blanket of cash that millions of Americans have clutched on to during the 2008-09 financial crisis; the 2010 “Flash Crash”; and the 2011 U.S. credit downgrade felt cozy during the bumpy ride we experienced over the last three years. Now with domestic stocks (S&P 500) up +12% in the first quarter of 2012, that same comfy blanket of CDs, money market, and checking accounts is switching into a painful tourniquet, cutting off the lucrative blood and oxygen supply to millions of Americans’ future retirement plans.
Earning next to nothing by stuffing your money under the mattress (0.7% average CD rate – Bankrate.com) isn’t going to make many financial dreams a reality. The truth of the matter is that due to inflation (running +2% to +3% per year), blanket holders are losing about -2% per year in the true value of their savings.
Your Choice: 3 Years or 107 years?
If you like to accumulate money, would you prefer doubling your money in 3 years or 107 years? Although the S&P 500 has more than doubled over the last three years, based on fund flows data and cash balances at the banks, apparently more individuals prefer waiting until the year 2119 (107 years from now) for their money to double – SEE CHART BELOW.
Obviously the massive underperformance of CDs cherry picks the time-period a bit, given the superb performance of stocks from 2009 – 2012 year-to-date. Over 1999-2012 stock performance hasn’t been as spectacular, but what we do know is that despite the lackluster performance of stocks over the last 12 years, corporate profits have about doubled in a similar timeframe, making equity prices that much more attractive relative to 1999.
With the economy and employment picture improving, some doomsday scenarios have temporarily been put on the backburner. As the recovery has gained some steam, many people are opening their bank statements with the painful realization, “I just made $31.49 on my checking maximizer account last year! Wow, how incredible…I can now go out and buy a half-tank of gas.” Never mind that healthcare premiums are exploding, food costs are skyrocketing, and that vacation you were planning is now out of reach. If you’re a mega-millionaire, perhaps you can make these stingy rates work for you, but for most of the other people, successful retirements will require more efficient use of their investment dollars. Or of course you can always work at Wal-Mart (WMT) as a greeter in your 80s.
Rationalizing with a Teen
Some people get it and some don’t. Trying to time the market, by getting in and out at the right times is a losing battle (see Getting Off the Market Timing Treadmill). Even the smartest professionals in the industry have little accuracy and cannot consistently predict the direction of the markets. Rationalizing the ups and downs of the financial markets is equivalent to rationalizing the actions of a teenager. Sometimes the outcomes are explainable, but most of the times they are not.
What an astute investor does know is that higher long-term returns come with higher volatility. So while the last four years have been a bumpy ride for investors, this is nothing new for an experienced investor who has studied the history of financial markets. There have been a dozen or so recessions since World War II, and we’ll have a dozen or so more over the next 50-60 years. Wars, banking crises, currency crises, and political turmoil have been a constant over history. Despite all these setbacks, the equity markets have climbed over +1,300% over the last 30 years or so. The smartest financial minds on the planet (e.g., the Ben Bernankes and Alan Greenspans of the world) haven’t been able to figure it out, so if they couldn’t do it, how is an average Joe supposed to be able to time the market? The answer is nobody can predict the direction of the market reliably.
As my clients and Investing Caffeine followers know, for those individuals with adequate savings and shorter time horizons, much of this conversation is irrelevant. However, based on our country’s low savings rate and the demographics of longer Baby Boomer life expectancies, most individuals can’t afford to stuff all their money under the mattress. As famous investor Sir John Templeton stated, “The only way to avoid mistakes is not to invest – which is the biggest mistake of all.” Earning 0.7% on your nest egg is difficult to call investing.
Ignoring the Experts
Why is the investing game so difficult? For starters, individuals are constantly bombarded by so-called experts through television, radio, and newspapers. Not only did Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke get the economy, financial markets, and housing markets wrong, the most powerful and smart financial institution CEOs were dead wrong as well. Look no further than Lehman Brothers (Dick Fuld), Citigroup Inc. (Chuck Prince), and American International Group (Martin Sullivan), which were believed to house some of the shrewdest executives – they too completely missed the financial crisis.
Rather than listening to shoddy predictions from pundits who have little to no investing experience, it makes more sense to listen to successful long-term investors who have survived multiple investment cycles and lived to tell the tale. Those people include the great fund manager Peter Lynch who said it is better to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly,” rather than try to time the market.
What You Hear
As the market has more than doubled over the last 37 months, here are some clouds of pessimism that these same shoddy economists, strategists, and analysts have described for investors:
* Europe and Greece’s impending fiscal domino collapse
* Excessive money printing at the Federal Reserve through quantitative easing and other programs
* Imminent government disintegration due to unresolved structural debts and deficits
* Elevated unemployment rates and pathetic job creation statistics
* Rigged high frequency trading and “Flash Crash”
* Credit downgrade and political turmoil in Washington
* Looming Chinese real estate bubble and subsequent hard economic landing
Unfortunately, many investors got sucked up in these ominous warnings and missed most, if not all, of the recent doubling in equity markets.
What You Don’t Hear
What you haven’t heard from the popular press are the following headlines:
* 10 consecutive quarters of GDP growth
* Record corporate profits and profit margins
* Equity valuations attractively priced below 50-year average (14.4 < 16.6 via Calafia Beach Pundit)
* Rising dividends with yields approaching 3%, if you consider recent bank announcements
* Record low interest rates and moderate inflation make earnings streams and dividends that much more valuable
* Four million new jobs created over the last three years
* S&P Smallcap near all-time highs (21 years); S&P Midcap index near all-time highs (20 years); NASDAQ is at 11-year highs; Dow Jones Industrials and S&P 500 near 4-year-highs.
* Record retail sales with a consumer that has reduced household debt
Given the massive upward run in the stock market over the last few years (and a complacent short-term VIX reading of 15), stocks are ripe for a breather. With that said, I would advise any blanket holders to not get too comfy with that money decaying away in a CD, money market, or savings account. Waiting too long may turn that security blanket into a tourniquet – forcing investors to amputate a portion of their future retirement savings.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and WMT, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in C, AIG, RATE, Lehman Brothers, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
I’m no wine connoisseur, but I do know I would pay more for a bottle of Dom Pérignon champagne than I would pay for a container of Franzia box wine. In the world of stocks, the quality disparity is massive too. In order to navigate the virtually infinite number of stocks, we need to have an instrument in our toolbox that can assist us in accurately comparing stocks across the quality spectrum. Thank goodness we have the handy PEG ratio (Price/Earnings to Growth) that elegantly marries the price paid for a stock (as measured by the P/E ratio) with the relative quality of the stock (as measured by its future earnings growth rate).
Famed investor Peter Lynch (see Inside the Brain of an Investing Genius) understood the PEG concept all too well as he used this tool religiously in valuing and analyzing different companies. Given that Lynch earned a +29% annual return from 1977-1990, I’ll take his word for it that the PEG ratio is a useful tool. As highlighted by Lynch (and others), the key factor in using the PEG ratio is to identify companies that trade with a PEG ratio of less than 1. All else equal, the lower the ratio, the better potential for future price appreciation. Facebook Vs. Eastman Kodak
To illustrate the concept of how a PEG ratio can be used to compare stocks with two completely different profiles, let’s start by answering a few questions. Would a rational investor pay the same price (i.e., Price-Earnings [P/E] ratio) for a company with skyrocketing profits as they would for a company going into bankruptcy? Look no further than the lofty expected P/E multiple to be afforded to the shares of the widely anticipated Facebook (FB) initial public offering (IPO). That same rational investor is unlikely to pay the same P/E multiple for a money losing company like Eastman Kodak Co. (EKDKQ.PK) that faces product obsolescence. The contrasting values for these two companies are stark. Some pundits are projecting that Facebook shares could fetch upwards of a 100x P/E ratio, while not too long ago, Kodak was trading at a P/E ratio of 4x. Plenty of low priced stocks have outperformed expensive ones, but remember, just because a “value” stock may have a lower absolute P/E ratio in the recent past, does not mean it will be a better investment than a “growth” stock sporting a higher P/E ratio (see Fallacy of High P/Es).
Price, Earnings, and Dividends
As I’ve written in the past, a key determinant of future stock prices is future earnings growth (see It’s the Earnings Stupid). The higher the P/E multiple, the more important future earnings growth becomes. The lower the future growth, the more important valuation and dividends become.
We can look at various money-making scenarios that incorporate these factors. If my goal were to double my money in 5 years (i.e., earn a 100% return), there are numerous ways to skin the profit-making cat. Here are four examples:
1) Buy a non-dividend paying stock of a company that achieves earnings growth of 15%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.
2) Buy a stock of a company that has a 5% dividend and achieves earnings growth of 11%/year and maintains its current P/E ratio over time.
3) Buy a value stock with a 5% dividend that achieves earnings growth of 5%/year and increase its P/E ratio by 10% each year.
4) Buy a non-dividend paying growth stock that achieves earnings growth of 20%/year and decreases its P/E ratio by about 5% each year.
I think you get the idea, but as you can see, in addition to earnings growth, dividends and valuation do play a significant role in how an investor can earn excess returns.
Lynch’s Adjusted PEG
Peter Lynch added a slight twist to the traditional PEG analysis by accounting for the role of dividends in the denominator of the PEG equation:
PEG (adjusted by Lynch) = PE Ratio/(Earnings Growth Rate + Dividend Yield)
This “adjusted PEG” ratio makes intuitive sense under various perspectives. For starters, if two different companies both had a PEG ratio of 0.8, but one of the two stocks paid a 3% dividend, Lynch’s adjusted PEG would register in at a more attractive level of 0.6 for the dividend paying stock.
Looked at under a different lens, let’s suppose there are two lemonade stands that IPO their stocks at the same time, and both companies use the exact same business model. Moreover, let us assume the following:
• Lemonade stand #1 has a P/E of 14x and growth rate of 15%.
• Lemonade stand #2 has a P/E of 12x and growth rate of 8%, but it also pays a dividend of 3%.
Given this information, which one of the two lemonade stands would you invest in? Many investors see the lower P/E of Lemonade stand #2, coupled with a nice dividend, as the more attractive opportunity of the two. But as we can see from Lynch’s “adjusted PEG” ratio, Lemonade stand #1 actually has the lower, more attractive value (.9 or 14/15 vs 1.1 or 12/(8+3)).
This analysis may be delving into the weeds a bit, but this framework is critical nonetheless. Valuation and earnings projections should be essential components of any investment decision, and with record low interest rates, dividend yields are playing a much more important role in the investment selection process. Regardless of your purchase decision thought process, whether deciding between Dom Perignon and box wine, or Facebook and Kodak shares, having the PEG ratio at your disposal should help you make wise and lucrative decisions.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in FB, EKDKQ.PK, 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.
If you don’t pay close enough attention, you may miss the Facebook initial public offering (IPO) in the blink of an eye. Since computer programming or Botox has frozen Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s face into a wide-eyed, blink-free state, you may have bought yourself a little more time to buy shares in this imminent IPO, which is estimated to value the company at upwards of $100 billion.
We don’t know a lot of details about the financial health of Facebook right now, but what we do know is that this snot-nosed, 27-year-old Mark Zuckerberg has created one of the most powerful companies on this planet and his estimated net worth is currently around $17 billion. Not bad for a college drop-out who started Facebook in 2004 as a freshman at Harvard University. Hmmm, maybe I should have dropped out of college like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates, and I too could have become a billionaire? OK, maybe not, but sometimes living in dreamland can be fun.
Speaking of dreams, Zuckerberg has a dream of connecting the whole world, and with more than 800 million-plus Facebook users, he is well on his way. If Facebook users made their own own country, it would be #3 behind only China and India – I’ll check back in a few years to see if Facebook can climb to the top position.
The Pre-IPO Interview
Charlie Rose recently ditched the tie and headed to Silicon Valley to conduct an interview at Facebook headquarters with Mark Zuckerberg and his Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. If you fast forward to MINUTE 9:30 you can listen to the official Facebook IPO response:
The Hype Machine
The hype surrounding the Facebook IPO is palpable and feels a lot like the Google Inc. (GOOG) IPO in 2004, but that capital raising event only resulted in proceeds of $1.9 billion for Google. The recent chatter surrounding the pending Facebook IPO places the value to be raised closer to $10 billion. Partial offerings seem to be the trend du jour in the social media IPO world, where companies like LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD), Groupon Inc. (GRPN), and Zillow Inc. (Z) all sold just a sliver of their shares to the public in order to create artificial scarcity, thereby pumping up short-term demand for their respective stocks. These companies trade at or above their initial offering price, but significantly below the early investor mouth-frothing spikes in share prices near the time of the IPOs. Facebook appears to be using the same playbook to build up hype for its eventual offering.
Even at an estimated value of $100 billion, Facebook still has some wood to chop if wants to pass Google (about $185 billion in value) and Apple Inc’s (AAPL) approximate $415 billion, but Zuckerberg is no stranger to ambition. When Facebook unveils its inevitable IPO prospectus in the not too distant future, we will have a better idea of whether Facebook and the 2010 Time magazine Person of the Year deserve all the mega-billion dollar accolades, or will an IPO feeding frenzy bring tears to those investors’ eyes that are not privileged enough to receive IPO allocated shares? Regardless of your faith or skepticism, we’re likely to find out the answer to these critical questions in a blink of an eye.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AGN, AAPL, GOOG but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Facebook, MSFT, LNKD, GRPN, Z, TWX, 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.
Simon had Garfunkel, Batman had Robin, Hall had Oates, Dr. Evil had Mini Me, Sonny had Cher, and Malone had Stockton. In the investing world, Buffett has Munger. Charlie Munger is one of the most successful and famous wingmen of all-time - evidenced by Berkshire Hathaway Corporation’s (BRKA/B) outperformance of the S&P 500 index by approximately +624% from 1977 – 2009, according to MarketWatch. Munger not only provides critical insights to his legendary billionaire boss, Warren Buffett, but he also is Chairman of Berkshire’s insurance subsidiary, Wesco Financial Corporation. The magic of this dynamic duo began when they met at a dinner party during 1959.
In an article he published in 2006, the magnificent Munger describes the “Art of Stock Picking” in a thorough review about the secrets of equity investing. We’ll now explore some of the 88-year-old’s sage advice and wisdom.
Charlie Munger believes an individual needs a solid general education before becoming a successful investor, and in order to do that one needs to study and understand multiple “models.”
“You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”
Although Munger indicates there are 80 or 90 important models, the examples he provides include mathematics, accounting, biology, physiology, psychology, and microeconomics.
Advantages of Scale
Great businesses in many cases enjoy the benefits of scale, and Munger devotes a good amount of time to this subject. Scale advantages can be realized through advertising, information, psychological “social proofing,” and structural factors.
The newspaper industry is an example of a structural scale business in which a “winner takes all” phenomenon applies. Munger aptly points out, “There’s practically no city left in the U.S., aside from a few very big ones, where there’s more than one daily newspaper.”
General Electric Co. (GE) is another example of a company that uses scale to its advantage. Jack Welch, the former General Electric CEO, learned an early lesson. If the GE division is not large enough to be a leader in a particular industry, then they should exit. Or as Welch put it, “To hell with it. We’re either going to be # 1 or #2 in every field we’re in or we’re going to be out. I don’t care how many people I have to fire and what I have to sell. We’re going to be #I or #2 or out.”
Bigger Not Always Better
Scale comes with its advantages, but if not managed correctly, size can weigh on a company like an anchor. Munger highlights the tendency of large corporations to become “big, fat, dumb, unmotivated bureaucracies.” An implicit corruption also leads to “layers of management and associated costs that nobody needs. Then, while people are justifying all these layers, it takes forever to get anything done. They’re too slow to make decisions and nimbler people run circles around them.”
Becoming too large can also create group-think, or what Munger calls “Pavlovian Association.” Munger goes onto add, “If people tell you what you really don’t want to hear what’s unpleasant there’s an almost automatic reaction of antipathy…You can get severe malfunction in the high ranks of business. And of course, if you’re investing, it can make a lot of difference.”
Technology: Benefit or Burden?
Munger recognizes that technology lowers costs for companies, but the important question that many managers fail to ask themselves is whether the benefits from technology investments accrue to the company or to the customer? Munger summed it up here:
“There are all kinds of wonderful new inventions that give you nothing as owners except the opportunity to spend a lot more money in a business that’s still going to be lousy. The money still won’t come to you. All of the advantages from great improvements are going to flow through to the customers.”
Buffett and Munger realized this lesson early on when productivity improvements gained from technology investments in the textile business all went to the buyers.
Surfing the Wave
When looking for good businesses, Munger and Buffett are looking to “surf” waves or trends that will generate healthy returns for an extended period of time. “When a surfer gets up and catches the wave and just stays there, he can go a long, long time. But if he gets off the wave, he becomes mired in shallows,” states Munger. He notes that it’s the “early bird,” or company that identifies a big trend before others that enjoys the spoils. Examples Munger uses to illustrate this point are Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), Intel Corp. (INTC), and National Cash Register from the old days.
Large profits will be collected by those investors that can identify and surf those rare large waves. Unfortunately, taking advantage of these rare circumstances becomes tougher and tougher for larger investors like Berkshire. If you’re an elephant trying to surf a wave, you need to find larger and larger waves, and even then, due to your size, you will be unable to surf as long as small investors.
Circle of Competence
Circle of competence is not a new subject discussed by Buffett and Munger, but it is always worth reviewing. Here’s how Munger describes the concept:
“You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence.”
For Munger and Buffett, sticking to their circle of competence means staying away from high-technology companies, although more recently they have expanded this view to include International Business Machines (IBM), which they invested in late last year.
Market Efficiency or Lack Thereof
Munger acknowledges that financial markets are quite difficult to beat. Since the markets are “partly efficient and partly inefficient,” he believes there is a minority of individuals who can outperform the markets. To expand on this idea, he compares stock investing to the pari-mutuel system at the racetrack, which despite the odds stacked against the bettor (17% in fees going to the racetrack), there are a few individuals who can still make decent money.
The transactional costs are much lower for stocks, but success for an investor still requires discipline and patience. As Munger declares, “The way to win is to work, work, work, work and hope to have a few insights.”
Winning the Game – 10 Insights / 20 Punches
As the previous section implies, outperformance requires patience and a discriminating eye, which has allowed Berkshire to create the bulk of its wealth from a relatively small number of investment insights. Here’s Munger’s explanation on this matter:
“How many insights do you need? Well, I’d argue: that you don’t need many in a lifetime. If you look at Berkshire Hathaway and all of its accumulated billions, the top ten insights account for most of it….I don’t mean to say that [Warren] only had ten insights. I’m just saying, that most of the money came from ten insights.”
Chasing performance, trading too much, being too timid, and paying too high a price are not recipes for success. Independent thought accompanied with selective, bold decisions is the way to go. Munger’s solution to these problems is to provide investors with a Buffett 20-punch ticket:
“I could improve your ultimate financial welfare by giving you a ticket with only 20 slots in it so that you had 20 punches ‑ representing all the investments that you got to make in a lifetime. And once you’d punched through the card, you couldn’t make any more investments at all.”
The great thing about Munger and Buffett’s advice is that it is digestible by the masses. Like dieting, investing can be very simple to understand, but difficult to execute, and legends like these always remind us of the important investing basics. Even though Charlie Munger may be slowing down a tad at 88-years-old, Warren Buffett and investors everywhere are blessed to have this wingman around spreading his knowledge about investing and the art of stock picking.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BRKA/B, GE, MSFT, INTC, National Cash Register, IBM, 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.