Posts filed under ‘Trading’

Passive vs. Active Investing: Darts, Monkeys & Pros

Bob Turner is founder of Turner Investments and a manager of several funds at the investment company. In a recent article he reintroduces the all-important, longstanding debate of active management (“hands-on”) versus passive management (“hands off”) approaches to investing. Mr. Turner makes some good arguments for the active management camp, however some feel differently – take for example Burton Malkiel. The Princeton professor theorizes in his book A Random Walk Down Wall Street that “a blindfolded monkey throwing darts at a newspaper’s stock page could select a portfolio that would do just as well as one carefully selected by experts.” In fact, The Wall Street Journal manages an Investment Dartboard contest that stacks up amateur investors’ picks against the pros’ and random stock picks selected by randomly thrown darts. In many instances, the dartboard picks outperform the professionals. Given the controversy, who’s right…the darts, monkeys, or pros? Distinguishing between the different categorizations can be difficult, but we will take a stab nevertheless.

Arguments for Active Management

Turner contends, active management outperforms in periods of high volatility and he believes the industry will be entering such a phase:

“Active managers historically have tended to perform best in a market in which the performance of individual stocks varies widely.”

He also acknowledges that not all active managers outperform and admits there are periods where passive management will do better:

“The reason why most active investors fail to outperform is because they in fact constitute most of the market. Even in the best of times, not all active managers can hope to outperform…The business of picking stocks is to some degree a zero-sum game; the results achieved by the best managers will be offset at least somewhat by the subpar performance of other managers.”

Buttressing his argument for active management, Turner references data from Advisor Perspectives showing an inconclusive percentage (40.5%-67.8%) of the actively managed funds trailing the passively managed indexes from 2000 to 2008.

The Case for Passive Management

Turner cites one specific study to support his active management cause. However, my experience gleaned from the vast amounts of academic and industry data point to approximately 75% of active managers underperforming their passively managed indexes, over longer periods of time. Notably, a recent study conducted by Standard & Poor’s SPIVA division (S&P Indices Versus Active Funds) discovered the following conclusions over the five year market cycle from 2004 to 2008:

  • S&P 500 outperformed 71.9% of actively managed large cap funds;
  • S&P MidCap 400 outperformed 79.1% of mid cap funds;
  • S&P SmallCap 600 outperformed 85.5% of small cap funds.

Read more about  the dirty secrets shrinking your portfolio. According to the Vanguard Group and the Investment Company Institute, about 25% of institutional assets and about 12% of individual investors’ assets are currently indexed (passive strategies).  If you doubt the popularity of passive investment strategies, then look no further than the growth of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs – see chart), index funds, or Vanguard Groups more than $1 trillion dollars in assets under management.

Although I am a firm believer in passive investing, one of its shortcomings is mean reversion. This is the idea that upward or downward moving trends tend to revert back to an average or normal level over time. Active investing can take advantage of mean reversion, conversely passive investing cannot. Indexes can get very top-heavy in weightings of outperforming sectors or industries, meaning theoretically you could be buying larger and larger shares of an index in overpriced glamour stocks on the verge of collapse.  We experienced these lopsided index weightings through the technology bubbles in the late 1990s and financials in 2008. Some strategies may be better than other over the long run, but every strategy, even passive investing, has its own unique set of deficiencies and risks.

Professional Sports and Investing

As I discuss in my book, there are similarities that can be drawn between professional sports and investing with respect to active vs. passive management. Like the scarce number of .300 hitters in baseball, I believe there are a select few investment managers who can consistently outperform the market. In 2007, AssociatedContent.com did a study that showed there were only 22 active career .300 hitters in Major League Baseball. I recognize in the investing world there can be a larger role for “luck,” which is difficult, if not impossible, to measure (luck won’t help me much in hitting a 100 mile per hour fastball thrown by Nolan Ryan). Nonetheless, in the professional sports arena, there are some Hall of Famers (prospects) that have proved they could (can) consistently outperform their peers for extended durations of time. Experience is another distinction I would highlight in comparing sports and investing. Unlike sports, in the investment world I believe there is a positive correlation between age and ability. The more experience an investor gains, generally the better long-term return achieved. Like many professions, the more experience you gain, the more valuable you become. Unfortunately, in many sports, ability deteriorates and muscles atrophy over time.

Size Matters

Experience alone will not make you a better investor. Some investors are born with an innate gift or intellect that propels them ahead of the pack. However, most great investors eventually get cursed by their own success thanks to accumulating assets. Warren Buffet knows the consequences of managing large amounts of dollars, “gravity always wins.”  Having managed a $20 billion fund, I fully appreciate the challenges of investing larger sums of money. Managing a smaller fund is similar to navigating a speed boat – not too difficult to maneuver and fairly easy to dodge obstacles. Managing heftier pools of money can be like captaining a supertanker, but unfortunately the same rapid u-turn expectations of the speedboat remain. Managing large amounts of capital can be crippling, and that’s why captaining a supertanker requires the proper foresight and experience.

Room for All

As I’ve stated before, I believe the market is efficient in the long run, but can be terribly inefficient in the short-run, especially when the behavioral aspects of emotion (fear and greed) take over. The “wait for me, I want to play too” greed from the late 1990s technology craze and the credit-based economic collapse of 2008-2009 are further examples of inefficient situations that can be exploited by active managers. However, due to multiple fees, transaction costs, taxes, not to mention the short-term performance/compensation pressures to perform, I believe the odds are stacked against the active managers. For those experienced managers that have played the game for a long period and have a track record of success, I feel active management can play a role. At Sidoxia Capital Management, I choose to create investment portfolios that blend a mixture of passive and active investment strategies. Although my hedge fund has outperformed the S&P 500 in 4 of the last 5 years, that fact does not necessarily mean it’s the appropriate sole approach for all clients. As Warren Buffet states, investors should stick to their “circle of competence” so they can confidently invest in what they know.  That’s why I generally stick to the areas of my expertise when I’m actively investing in stocks, and fill in the remainder of client portfolios with transparent, low-cost, tax-efficient equity and fixed income products (i.e., Exchange Traded Funds). Even though the actively managed Turner Funds appear to have a mixed-bag of performance numbers relative to passively managed strategies, I appreciate Bob Turner’s article for addressing this important issue.  I’m sure the debate will never fully be resolved. In the meantime, my client portfolios will aim to mix the best of both worlds within active and passive management strategies in the eternal quest of outwitting the darts, monkeys, and other pros.

Read the full Bob Turner article on Morningstar.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds but had no direct position in stocks mentioned 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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March 29, 2014 at 3:19 pm 4 comments

Trading Obama, Romney and Extraterrestrials

Source: Photobucket

Investors vote on stocks every day by buying shares in favored positions and selling shares in those out-of-favor. But shouldn’t voting on stocks be different from voting for politicians? Actually, no! Now, politicians can be traded just like traditional stocks or other liquid securities. If you don’t believe me, then you should check out www.Intrade.com. Intrade is an online trading platform that is home to various prediction markets that forecast the probability of outcomes of various real-world events, including who will win the 2012 U.S. Presidential election. Just like investors can trade IBM on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) or Apple Inc. (AAPL) on the NASDAQ exchange, so too can individuals trade election shares in Barack Obama (ticker: OBMA) and Mitt Romney (ticker: RMNY) on the Intrade platform (see chart below).

Source: Intrade.com

By definition, the trading mechanics of Intrade involve a resolution of a particular event structured as a binary “Yes” or “No” result. Similar to a sports bet, Intrade eventually declares a winning or losing outcome – but there are no ties. For example, by November 6, 2012, we will know whether Obama’s shares will be trading either at $10 per share, if he becomes re-elected, or $0 per share if he loses to Romney. Just like a stock, traders can go long Obama shares, if they think he will win, or short Obama shares, if they think he will lose. Analogous to stocks, holding periods may vary too. Traders can either hold their position until the event expiration, and realize a gain or loss, or instead traders can lock in shorter-term profits/losses by closing a position before the official outcome ends.

Another great thing about Intrade’s prediction markets is that each event share price can be quickly converted to an outcome probability. So as you can see from Obama’s Intrade chart above, the current $5.28 share price signifies a 52.8% probability of Obama winning the 2012 Presidential election. No need to worry about distracting stock-splits, share offerings, or stock buybacks that could distort the true underlying dynamics of the Intrade event fundamentals.

Bizarre Bets and Over-the-Top Trades

Crazy Super Bowl “prop” bets have been around for ages, and the senseless nature of the bets did not disappoint this year, if you consider the following ridiculous Super Bowl XLVI prop bets:

• Will it take Kelly Clarkson longer or shorter than 1 minute 34 seconds to sing the National Anthem?

• Will Madonna’s hair color be blonde when she begins the Super Bowl Halftime show?

• How many times will model Giselle Bundchen be shown on TV during the game?

• What Color will the Gatorade be that is dumped on the Head Coach of the Winning Super Bowl Team?

I think you get the idea from these examples, and I believe Intrade figured out the quirky benefits as well. Betting on unusual or strange outcomes can be a lucrative endeavor.

Here are just a few of the bizarre and remarkable events you can trade on Intrade:

 NASA to announce discovery of extraterrestrial life before midnight Dec. 31, 2012

• Arctic sea ice area for Sep. 2012 to be less than 4.3 million square kilometers?

• Magnitude 9.0 (or higher) earthquake to occur anywhere before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• The Dark Knight Rises to break the all-time opening weekend box-office record   

• The US debt limit to be raised before midnight Dec. 31, 2012 

• Bashar al-Assad to no longer be President of Syria before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• The US Supreme Court to rule individual mandate unconstitutional before midnight Dec. 31, 2012  

• Higgs Boson Particle to be observed on/before Dec. 31, 2013  

Rules of the Game

You may be asking yourself, “All this betting/trading sounds like fun, but isn’t this Intrade thing illegal gambling?” If your thought process went in this direction, you are not alone – I asked myself the same question. I’m no attorney, but the apparent loophole for Intrade’s business operation appears to be tied to its foreign incorporation in Ireland. Less apparent is how American law applies to Intrade as referenced in a recent New York Times article that states, “It is unclear whether American law applies to Intrade.”

Although U.S. residents may not be able to trade legally on Intrade, roaming the site may provide some quirky entertainment and provide profound answers to critical questions like, “Do extraterrestrials exist?; How much money will the new Batman movie make at the box office?; And which President are we going to get stuck with for the next four years?” Surfing around on Intrade can be a blast, but if it gets too boring, you can always go back to trading regular stocks.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and Wade Slome have no affiliation with Intrade. SCM and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in NYX, IBM 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.

June 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm Leave a comment

Snoozing Your Way to Investment Prosperity

When it comes to investing, do you trade like Jim Cramer on Red Bull – grinding your teeth to every tick or news headline? With the advent of the internet, an unrelenting, real-time avalanche of news items spreads like a furious plague – just ask Anthony Weiner.    As fear and greed incessantly permeate the web, and day-trading systems and software are increasingly peddled as profit elixirs, investors are getting itchier and itchier trading fingers. Just consider that investment holding periods have plummeted from approximately 10 years around the time of World War II to 8 months today (see GMO chart below). Certainly, the reduction in trading costs along with the ever-proliferating trend of technology advancements (see Buggy Whip Déjà Vu) is a contributor to the price of trading, but the ADHD-effect of information overload cannot be underestimated (see The Age of Information Overload).

Source: GMO (James Montier)

But fear not, there is a prescription for those addicted, nail-biting day-traders who endlessly pound away on their keyboards with bloody hangnails. The remedy is a healthy dosage of long-term growth investing in quality companies and sustainably expanding trends. I know this is blasphemy in the era of “de-risking” (see It’s All Greek to Me), short-term “risk controls” (i.e. panicking at bottoms and chasing performance), and “benchmark hugging,” but I believe T. Rowe Price had it right:

“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.”

This assessment makes intuitive sense to me, but how can one invest for the long-term when there are structural deficits, inflation, decelerating GDP growth, international nuclear catastrophes, escalated gasoline prices, and Greek debt concerns? There are always concerns, and if there none, then you should in fact be concerned (e.g., when investors piled into equities during the “New Economy” right before the bubble burst in 2000). In order to gain perspective, consider what happened at other points in history when our country was involved in war; came out of recession; faced high employment; experienced Middle East supply fears; battled banking problems; handled political scandals; and dealt with rising inflation trends. One comparably bleak period was the 1974 bear market.

Let’s take a look at how that bear market compared to the current environment:

Then (1974)                                                    Now (2011)

End of Vietnam War                        End of Iraq War (battles in Afghanistan and Libya)
Exiting recession                              Exiting recession
9% Unemployment                          9% Unemployment
Arab Oil Embargo                            Arab Spring and Israeli-Palestinian tensions
Watergate political scandal            Anthony Weiner political scandal
Franklin National Bank failure       Banking system bailout
Rising inflation trends                     Rising inflation trends

We can debate the comparability of events and degree of pessimism, but suffice it to say the outlook was not very rosy 37 years ago, nor is it today. History never repeats itself, but it does tend to rhyme. Although attitudes were dour four decades ago, the Dow Jones exploded from 627 in late 1974 to 12,004 today. I’m not calling for another near 20-fold increase in prices over the next 37 years, but a small fraction of that improvement would put a smile on equity investors’ faces. Jim Fullerton, the former chairman of the Capital Group of the American Funds understood pundits’ skepticism during times of opportunity when he wrote the following in November 1974:

“Today there are thoughtful, experienced, respected economists, bankers, investors and businessmen who can give you well-reasoned, logical, documented arguments why this bear market is different; why this time the economic problems are different; why this time things are going to get worse — and hence, why this is not a good time to invest in common stocks, even though they may appear low.”

Rather than getting glued to the TV horror story headline du jour, perhaps investors should take some of the sage advice provided by investment Hall of Famer, Peter Lynch (Lynch averaged a +29% annual return from 1977-1990 while at Fidelity Investments). Rather than try to time the market, he told investors to “assume the market is going nowhere and invest accordingly.” And Lynch offered these additional words of wisdom to the many anxious investors who fret about macroeconomics and timing corrections:

•    “It’s lovely to know when there’s recession. I don’t remember anybody predicting 1982 we’re going to have 14 percent inflation, 12 percent unemployment, a 20 percent prime rate, you know, the worst recession since the Depression. I don’t remember any of that being predicted. It just happened. It was there. It was ugly. And I don’t remember anybody telling me about it. So I don’t worry about any of that stuff. I’ve always said if you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”
•    “Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
•    “Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”

Real money is not made by following the crowd. Real money is made by buying quality companies and securities at attractive prices. The prescription to generating above-average profits is finding those quality market leaders (or sustainable trends) that can compound earnings growth for multiple years, not chasing every up-tick and panicking out of every down-tick. Following these doctor’s orders will lead to a strong assured mind and a healthy financial portfolio – key factors allowing you to peacefully snooze to investment prosperity.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Performance data from Morningstar.com. 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 TROW, 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.

June 18, 2011 at 6:29 pm 1 comment

Bin Laden Killing Overshadows Royal Rally

Excerpt from No-Cost May Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)

Before the announcement of the killing of the most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama bin Laden, the royal wedding of Prince William Arthur Philip Louis and Catherine Middleton (Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) grabbed the hearts, headlines, and minds of people around the world. As we exited the month, a less conspicuous royal rally in the U.S. stock market has continued into May, with the S&P 500 index climbing +2.8% last month as the economic recovery gained firmer footing from the recession of 2008 and early 2009. As always, there is no shortage of issues to worry about as traders and speculators (investors not included) have an itchy sell-trigger finger, anxiously fretting over the possibility of losing gains accumulated over the last two years.

Here are some of the attention-grabbing issues that occurred last month:

Powerful Profits: According to Thomson Reuters, first quarter profit growth as measured by S&P 500 companies is estimated at a very handsome +18% thus far. At this point, approximately 84% of companies are exceeding or meeting expectations by a margin of 7%, which is above the long-term average of a 2% surprise factor.

Debt Anchor Front & Center: Budget battles remain over record deficits and debt levels anchoring our economy, but clashes over the extension of our debt ceiling will occur first in the coming weeks. Skepticism and concern were so high on this issue of our fiscal situation that the Standard & Poor’s rating agency reduced its outlook on the sovereign debt rating of U.S. Treasury securities to “negative,” meaning there is a one-in-three chance our country’s debt rating could be reduced in the next two years.  Democrats and Republicans have put forth various plans on the negotiating table that would cut the national debt by $4 – $6 trillion over the next 10-12 years, but a chasm still remains between both sides with regard to how these cuts will be best achieved.

Inflation Heating Up: The global economic recovery, fueled by loose global central bank monetary policies, has resulted in fanning of the inflation flames. Crude oil prices have jumped to $113 per barrel and gasoline has spiked to over $4 per gallon. Commodity prices have jumped up across the board, as measured by the CRB (Commodity Research Bureau) BLS Index, which measures the price movements of a basket of 22 different commodities. The CRB Index has risen over +28% from a year ago. Although the topic of inflation is dominating the airwaves, this problem is not only a domestic phenomenon. Inflation in emerging markets, like China and Brazil, has also expanded into a dangerous range of 6-7%, and many of these governments are doing their best to slow-down or reverse loose monetary policies from a few years ago.

Expansion Continues but Slows: Economic expansion continued in the first quarter, but slowed to a snail’s pace. The initial GDP (Gross Domestic Product) reading for Q1 slowed down to +1.8% growth. Brakes on government stimulus and spending subtracted from growth, and high fuel costs are pinching consumer spending.  

Ben Holds the Course: One person who is not overly eager to reverse loose monetary policies is Federal Reserve Chairman, Ben Bernanke. The Chairman vowed to keep interest rates low for an “extended period,” and he committed the Federal Reserve to complete his $600 billion QE2 (Quantitative Easing) bond buying program through the end of June. If that wasn’t enough news, Bernanke held a historic, first-ever news conference. He fielded a broad range of questions and felt the first quarter GDP slowdown and inflation uptick would be transitory.

Skyrocketing Silver Prices: Silver surged ahead +28% in April, the largest monthly gain since April 1987, and reached a 30-year high in price before closing at around $49 per ounce at the end of the month. Speculators and investors have been piling into silver as evidenced by activity in the SLV (iShares Silver Trust) exchange traded fund, which on occasion has seen its daily April volume exceed that of the SPY (iShares SPDR S&P 500) exchange traded fund.

Obama-Trump Birth Certificate Faceoff: Real estate magnate and TV personality Donald Trump broached the birther issue again, questioning whether President Barack Obama was indeed born in the United States. President Obama produced his full Hawaiian birth certificate in hopes of putting the question behind him. If somehow Trump can be selected as the Republican presidential candidate for 2012, he will certainly try to get President Obama “fired!”

Charlie Sheen…Losing!  The Charlie Sheen soap opera continues. Ever since Sheen has gotten kicked off the show Two and a Half Men, speculation has percolated as to whether someone would replace Sheen to act next to co-star John Cryer. Names traveling through the gossip circles include everyone from Woody Harrelson to Jeremy Piven to Rob Lowe. Time will tell whether the audience will laugh or cry, but regardless, Sheen will be laughing to the bank if he wins his $100 million lawsuit against Warner Brothers (TWX).

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain commodity and S&P 500 exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SLV, SPY, 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.

May 2, 2011 at 10:42 am Leave a comment

Reasoning with Investment Confusion

Some things never change, and in the world of investing many of the same principles instituted a century ago are just as important today. So while we are dealing with wars, military conflicts, civil unrest, and natural disasters, today’s process of filtering and discounting all these events into stock prices is very similar to the process that George Selden describes in his 1912 book, “Psychology of the Stock Market.”

Snub the Public

Investing in stocks is nowhere close to a risk-free endeavor, and 2008-2009 was a harsh reminder of that fact. Since a large part of the stock market is based on emotions and public opinion, stock prices can swing wildly. Public opinion may explain why the market is peaking or troughing, but Selden highlights the importance of the silent millionaires (today’s billionaires and institutional investors), and that the true measurement of the stock market is dollars (not opinions of the masses):

“Public opinion in a speculative market is measured in dollars, not in population. One man controlling one million dollars has double the weight of five hundred men with one thousand dollars each. Dollars are the horsepower of the markets–the mere number of men does not signify.”

When the overwhelming consensus of participants is bullish, by definition, the small inexperienced investors and speculators are supplied stock from someone else – the silent, wealthy millionaires.

The newspaper headlines that we get bombarded with on a daily basis are a mirror reflection of the general public’s attitudes and when the euphoria or despondency reaches extreme levels, these points in time have been shown to correlate with market tops and bottoms (see Back to the Future Magazine Covers).

In the short-run, professional traders understand this dynamic and will often take a contrarian approach to news flow. Or as Seldon explains:

“A market which repeatedly refuses to respond to good news after a considerable advance is likelely to be ‘full of stocks.’ Likewise a market which will not go down on bad news is usually ‘bare of stock.’”

This contrarian dynamic in the market makes it virtually impossible for the average investor to trade the market based on the news flow of headlines and commentator. Before the advent of the internet, 98 years ago, Selden prophetically noted that the increasing difficulty of responding to sentiment and tracking market information:

“Public opinion is becoming more volatile and changeable by the year, owing to the quicker spread of information and the rapid multiplication of the reading public.”

Following what the so-called pundits are saying is fruitless, or as Gary Helms says, “If anybody really knew, they wouldn’t tell you.”

Selden’s Sage Advice

If trading was difficult in 1912, it must be more challenging today. Selden’s advice is fairly straightforward:

“Stick to common sense. Maintain a balanced, receptive mind and avoid abstruse deductions…After a prolonged advance, do not call inverted reasoning to your aid in order to prove that prices are going still higher; likewise after a big break do not let your bearish deductions become too complicated.”

The brain is a complex organ, but we humans are limited in the amount and difficulty of information we can assimilate.

“When it comes to so complicated a matter as the price of stocks, our haziness increases in proportion to the difficulty of the subject and our ignorance of it.”

The mental somersault that investors continually manage is due to the practice of “discounting.” Discounting is a process that adjusts today’s price based on future expected news.  Handicapping sports “spreads” involves a very similar methodology as discounting stock prices (read What Happens in Vegas). But not all events can be discounted, for instance the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan. When certain factors are over-discounted or under-discounted, these are the situations to profit from on a purchase or shorting basis.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded below a value of 100 versus more than 12,000 today, but over that period some things never change, like the emotional and mental aspects of investing. George Selden makes this point clear in his century old writings – it’s better to focus on the future rather than fall prey to the game of mental somersault we call the stock market.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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 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 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment

Playing the Field with Your Investments

For some, casually dating can be fun and exciting. The same goes for trading and speculating – the freedom to make free- wheeling, non-committal purchases can be exhilarating. Unfortunately the costs (fiscally and emotionally) of short-term dating/investing often outweigh the benefits.

Fortunately, in the investment world, you can get to know an investment pretty well through fundamental research that is widely available (e.g., 10Ks, 10Qs, press releases, analyst days, quarterly conference calls, management interviews, trade rags, research reports). Unlike dating, researching stocks can be very cheap, and you do not need to worry about being rejected.

Dating is important early in adulthood because we make many mistakes choosing whom we date, but in the process we learn from our misjudgments and discover the important qualities we value in relationships. The same goes for stocks. Nothing beats experience, and in my long investment career, I can honestly say I’ve dated/traded a lot of pigs and gained valuable lessons that have improved my investing capabilities. Now, however, I don’t just casually date my investments – I factor in a rigorous, disciplined process that requires a serious commitment. I no longer enter positions lightly.

One of my investment heroes, Peter Lynch, appropriately stated, “In stocks as in romance, ease of divorce is not a sound basis for commitment. If you’ve chosen wisely to begin with, you won’t want a divorce.”

Charles Ellis shared these thoughts on relationships with mutual funds:

“If you invest in mutual funds and make mutual funds investment changes in less than 10 years…you’re really just ‘dating.’ Investing in mutual funds should be marital – for richer, for poorer, and so on; mutual fund decisions should be entered into soberly and advisedly and for the truly long term.”

 

No relationship comes without wild swings, and stocks are no different. If you want to survive the volatile ups and downs of a relationship (or stock ownership), you better do your homework before blindly jumping into bed. The consequences can be punishing.

Buy and Hold is Dead…Unless Stocks Go Up

If you are serious about your investments, I believe you must be mentally willing to commit to a relationship with your stock, not for a day, not for a week, or not for a month, but rather for years. Now, I know this is blasphemy in the age when “buy-and-hold” investing is considered dead, but I refute that basic premise whole-heartedly…with a few caveats.

Sure, buy-and-hold is a stupid strategy when stocks do nothing for a decade – like they have done in the 2000s, but buying and holding was an absolutely brilliant strategy in the 1980s and 1990s. Moreover, even in the miserable 2000s, there have been many buy-and-hold investments that have made owners a fortune (see Questioning Buy & Hold ). So, the moral of the story for me is “buy-and-hold” is good for stocks that go up in price, and bad for stocks that go flat or down in price. Wow, how deeply profound!

To measure my personal commitment to an investment prospect, a bachelorette investment I am courting must pass another test…a test from another one of my investment idols, Phil Fisher, called the three-year rule. This is what the late Mr. Fisher had to say about this topic:

“While I realized thoroughly that if I were to make the kinds of profits that are made possible by [my] process … it was vital that I have some sort of quantitative check… With this in mind, I established what I called my three-year rule.” Fisher adds, “I have repeated again and again to my clients that when I purchase something for them, not to judge the results in a matter of a month or a year, but allow me a three year period.”

 

Certainly, there will be situations where an investment thesis is wrong, valuation explodes, or there are superior investment opportunities that will trigger a sale before the three-year minimum expires. Nonetheless, I follow Fisher’s rule in principle in hopes of setting the bar high enough to only let the best ideas into both my client and personal portfolios.

As I have written in the past, there are always reasons of why you should not invest for the long-term and instead sell your position, such as: 1) new competition; 2) cost pressures; 3) slowing growth; 4) management change; 5) valuation; 6) change in industry regulation; 7) slowing economy; 8 ) loss of market share; 9) product obsolescence; 10) etc, etc, etc. You get the idea.

Don Hays summed it up best: “Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.”

Peter Lynch shares similar sympathies when it comes to noise in the marketplace:

“Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.”

 

Every once in a while there is validity to some of the concerns, but more often than not, the scare campaigns are merely Chicken Little calling for the world to come to an end.

Patience is a Virtue

In the instant gratification society we live in, patience is difficult to come by, and for many people ignoring the constant chatter of fear is challenging. Pundits spend every waking hour trying to explain each blip in the market, but in the short-run, prices often move up or down irrespective of the daily headlines. Explaining this randomness, Peter Lynch said the following:

“Often, there is no correlation between the success of a company’s operations and the success of its stock over a few months or even a few years. In the long term, there is a 100% correlation between the success of a company and the success of its stock. It pays to be patient, and to own successful companies.”

 

Long-term investing, like long-term relationships, is not a new concept. Investment time horizons have been shortening for decades, so talking about the long-term is generally considered heresy. Rather than casually date a stock position, perhaps you should commit to a long-term relationship and divorce your field-playing habits. Now that sounds like a sweet kiss of success.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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 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 28, 2011 at 1:03 am 1 comment

The Art of Weather Forecasting and Investing

Source: Photobucket

I’ve lived across the country and traveled around the world and have experienced everything from triple-digit desert heat to sub-zero wind chill. The financial markets experience the same variability over time.

Forecasting the weather is a lot like forecasting the stock market. In the short-run, volatility in patterns can be very difficult to predict, but if efforts are energized into analyzing long-term factors, trends can be identified.

For example, I live here in Southern California, and although weather is fairly homogenous, the variability can be significant on a day-to-day basis. I’m much more likely to be accurate in estimating the long-term climate than the forecast seven days from now. I’m not trying to rub salt in the wounds of those people freezing in Antarctica or the upper-Midwest, but forecasting a climate of 72 degrees, sunny, and blue skies is a good fall-back scenario if you are a television weatherman in Southern California.

Charles Ellis, author of the Winning the Loser’s Game – “WTLG” (see Investing Caffeine  article #1 and article #2), highlights the weather analogy more convincingly:

“Weather is about the short run; climate is about the long run – and that makes all the difference. In choosing a climate in which to build a home, we would not be deflected by last week’s weather. Similarly, in choosing a long-term investment program, we don’t want to be deflected by temporary market conditions.”

 

Ellis adds:

“Like the weather, the average long-term experience in investing is never surprising, but the short-term experience is constantly surprising.”

 

In the financial markets the weather predicting principle applies to long-term economic forecasts as well. Predicting annual GDP growth can often be more accurate than the expected change in Dow Jones Industrial Index points tomorrow or the next day.

Economic Weathermen

As I outlined in Professional Guesses Probably Wrong, economists and strategists use several means of making their guesses.

  • One method is to simply not make forecasts at all, but rather use some big words and current news to explain what currently is happening in the economy and financial markets.
  • A second approach used by prognosticators is to constantly change forecasts. Consider a person making a weather forecast every minute…his/her forecast would be very accurate, but it would be changing constantly and not provide much more value than what an ordinary person could gather by looking out their own window.
  • Thirdly, some use the “spaghetti approach” – throw enough scenarios out there against the wall and something is bound to stick – regardless of accuracy.
  • Lastly, the “extend and pretend” method is often implemented. Forecasters make big bold economic predictions that garner lots of attention, but when the expectations don’t come true, the original forecast is either forgotten by investors or the original forecast just becomes extended further into the future.

Coin Flipping

If the weather analogy doesn’t work for you, how about a coin-flipping analogy? The short-term randomness surrounding the consecutive number of heads and tails may make no sense in the short-run, but will mean revert to an average over time. In other words, it is possible for someone to flip 10 consecutive “tails,” but in the long-run, the number of times a coin will land on “tails” will come close to averaging half of all coin tosses. The same dynamic is observed in the investment world. Often, short-term spikes or declines are short lived and return toward a mean average. IN WTLG, Ellis provides some more color on the topic:

“The manager whose favorable investment performance in the recent past appears to be ‘proving’ that he or she is a better manager is often – not always, but all too often – about to produce below-average results…A large part of the apparently superior performance was not due to superior skill that will continue to produce superior results but was instead due to that particular manager’s sector of the market temporarily enjoying above-average rates of return – or luck.”

 

Regardless of your interests in weather forecasting or coin-flipping, when it comes to investing you will be better served by following the long-term climate trends and probabilities. Otherwise, the performance outlook for your investment portfolio may be cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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 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 12, 2011 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

Invisible Costs of Trading

Source: Photobucket

You can feel them, but you can’t see them. I’m talking about invisible trading costs. Although some single transaction trading costs can run as high as hundreds of dollars at the large brokerage firms, investors are generally aware of the bottom-basement commissions paid on trades executed at discount brokerage firms like Scottrade, TD Ameritrade (AMTD), E-Trade (ETFC), and Charles Schwab (SCHW) – generally less than $10 per trade. Unfortunately, these commissions are estimated to only account for 20% of total trading costs1. What most investors are unaware of are the host of invisible trading costs and expenses associated with active trading.

Here are some of the invisible costs:

Bid-Ask Spread: Besides the explicit commissions charged, traders must incur the implicit costs of the bid-ask spread. Let’s suppose you have a stock trading at $12.50 per share (ask price) and $12.25 per share (bid price). If you were to immediately buy one share for $12.50 (ask) and sell immediately for $12.25 (ask), then you would be -2% in the hole instantly – more than double the $7.95 commission paid on a $1,000 investment. Effectively, the investor would already be down about -3% the instant the small investment was made.

Impact Costs: The issue of impact costs is a bigger problem for larger institutional investors, although thinly traded stocks (those securities with relatively small trading volume) can even become expensive for retail investors. Suppose the same stock mentioned previously initially traded at $12.50 per share before you transacted, but reached $13.00 per share upon completion (with an average $12.75 price paid). The $.25 cent increase (average price minus initial price) translates into another -2% increase in the costs.

Taxes: It’s not what you make that matters, but rather what you keep that makes the difference. If you make a decent amount of money actively trading, but end up giving Uncle Sam more than potentially 40% of the gains, then your bank account may grow less than expected.

While my examples may shed some light on the costs of trading, an in-depth study using data from Morningstar and NYSE was conducted by three astute professors (Roger Edelen [University of California, Davis], Richard Evans [University of Virginia], and Gregory Kadlec [Virginia Polytechnic Institute]) showing that an average fund’s annual trading costs were estimated to be 1.44%, higher than an average fund’s overall expense ratio of 1.21%.

Unfortunately from an investor’s standpoint, as much as 30% of all trading costs can be attributed to money naturally pouring in and out of funds, due to fund share purchases and redemptions. Therefore, wildly popular or out-of-favor funds will have a detrimental impact on performance. I know firsthand the costs of managing a large fund, much like captaining a supertanker – you create a lot of waves and it can take a while to change directions. Smaller funds, however, can navigate trades more nimbly, much like a speedboat leaving behind smaller cost waves in its wake.

Style can also have an impact on trading costs. Value-based funds that sell into strength or buy into weakness can be considered liquidity providers, and therefore will experience lower trading costs. On the flip side, momentum strategies effectively pour gasoline on hot stocks purchases and pile on damaging sales to cratering losers.

Emotional Costs of Trading

More impactful, but more difficult to quantify, are the emotional trading costs of greed and fear (i.e., chasing extended winners out of greed and panicking out of losing positions due to fear). Constantly hounding winners and capitulating your losers may work in a few instances, but can lead to disastrous results in the long-run. Even if an investor is correct on the sale of a security, the investor must also be right on the subsequent buy transaction (no easy feat).

With that said, there are no hard and fast rules when buying/selling stocks. Buying a stock that has doubled or tripled in and of itself is not necessarily a bad idea, as long as you have credible assumptions and data to support adequate earnings/cash flow growth and/or multiple expansion. Consistent with that thought process, a plummeting stock is not reason enough to buy, and does not automatically mean the price will subsequently rebound. Reversion to the mean can be a powerful force in security selection, but you need a disciplined process to underpin those investment decisions.

Spiritual Savings

As I have stated in the past, investing is like a religion (read more Investing Religion). Most investors stubbornly believe their financial religion is the right way to make money. I personally believe there is more than one way to make money, just as I believe different religions can coexist to achieve their spiritual goals. Through academic research, and a lot of practical experience, my religion believes in the implementation of low-cost, tax efficient products and strategies used over longer-term time horizons. I use a blend of active and passive management that leverages my professional experience (see Sidoxia’s Fusion product), but I would fault nobody for pursuing a purely passive investment strategy. As John Bogle shows, and has proven with the financial success of his company Vanguard, passive investing by and large materially outperforms professional mutual fund managers (see Hammered Investors article).

Investing can be thrilling and exciting, but like a leaky faucet, the relatively small and apparently harmless list of trading costs have a way of collecting over the long-run before sinking long-term performance returns. Sure, there are some high-frequency traders that make a living by amassing a large sums of rebates for providing short-term liquidity, but for most investors, excessive exposure to invisible trading costs will lead to visible underperformance.

Read more about trading cost study here1

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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

December 15, 2010 at 12:05 am Leave a comment

Waiting for the Hundred Minute Flood

Investors have been scarred over the last decade and many retirees have seen massive setbacks to their retirement plans. We have witnessed the proverbial “100 year flood” twice in the 2000s in the shape of a bursting technology and credit bubble in 2000 and 2008, respectively. The instantaneous transmission of data around the globe, facilitated by 24/7 news cycles and non-stop internet access, has only accelerated investor panic attacks – the 100 year flood is now expected every 100 minutes.

If drowning in the 100 year flood of events surrounding Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Washington Mutual, AIG, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, TARP bank bailouts, Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, and Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute appreciation activities were not enough in 2008, investors (and many bearish bloggers) have been left facing the challenge of reconciling an +80% move in the S&P 500 index and +100% move in the NASDAQ index with the following outcomes (through the bulk of 2009 and 2010):

  • Flash crash, high frequency traders, and “dark pools”
  • GM and Chrysler’s bankruptcies
  • Dubai debt crisis
  • Goldman Sachs – John Paulson hearings
  • Tiger Woods cheating scandal
  • Greece bailout
  • BP oil spill
  • Healthcare reform
  • China real estate bubble concerns
  • Congressional leadership changes
  • European austerity riots
  • North Korea – South Korea provocations
  • Insider trading raids
  • Ireland bailout
  • Next: ?????

With all this dreadful news, how in the heck have the equity markets about doubled from the lows of last year? The “Zombie Bears,” as Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture has affectionately coined, would have you believe this is merely a dead-cat bounce in a longer-term bear-market. Never mind the five consecutive quarters of GDP growth, the 10 consecutive months of private job creation, or the record 2010 projected profits, the Zombie Bears attribute this fleeting rebound to temporary stimulus, short-term inventory rebuild, and unsustainable printing press activity by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Perhaps the Zombie Bears will change their mind once the markets advance another 25-30%? Regardless of the market action, individual investors have taken the pessimism bait and continue to hide in their caves. This strategy makes sense for wealthy retirees with adequate resources, but for the vast majority of Americans, earning next to nothing on their nest egg in cash and overpriced Treasuries isn’t going to help much in achieving your retirement goals. Unless of course, you like working  as a greeter at Wal-Mart in your 80s and eating mac & cheese for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

This Time is Different

The Zombies would also have you believe this time is different, or in other words, historical economic cycles do not apply to the recent recession. I’ll stick with French novelist Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) who famously stated, “The more things change, the more things stay the same.”

As you can see from the data below, the recent recession lasted two months longer than the 16 month cycle average from 1854 – 2009. We have had 33 recessions and 33 recoveries, so I am going to go out on a limb and say this time will not be any different. Could we have a double dip recession? Sure, but odds are on our side for an average five year expansion, not the 18 month expansion experienced thus far.

The Grandma Sentiment Indicator

I love all these sentiment indicators, surveys, and various ratios that constantly get thrown around the blogosphere because it is never difficult to choose one matching a specific investment thesis. Strategists urge us to follow the actions of the “smart money” and do the opposite (like George Costanza) when looking at the “dumb money” indicators. The bears would also have you believe the world is coming to an end if you look at the current put/call data (see Smart Money Prepares for Sell Off). Instead, I choose to listen to my grandma, who has wisely reminded me that actions speak louder than words. Right now, those actions are screaming pure, unadulterated fear – a positive contrarian dynamic.

Over the last few years there has been more than $250 billion in equity outflows according to data from the Investment Company Institute (ICI). Bond funds on the other hand have taken in an unprecedented $376 billion in 2009 and about another $216 billion in 2010 through August.

As investment guru Sir John Templeton famously stated, “Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” Judging by the asset outflows, I would say we haven’t quite reached the euphoria phase quite yet. I won’t complain though because the more fear out there, the more opportunity for me and my investors.

As I have consistently stated, I have no clue what equity markets are going to do over the next six to twelve months, nor does my bottom-up philosophy rely upon making market forecasts to succeed. Evaluating investor sentiment and timing economic cycles are difficult skills to master, but judging by the panicked actions and bond heavy asset inflows, investors are nervously awaiting another 100 year flood to occur in the next hundred minutes.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, WMT, and AIG derivative security, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, JPM, Washington Mutual, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, GS, BP, GM, Chrysler, and any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 29, 2010 at 1:09 am 3 comments

Insider Trading Interview with Sidoxia Capital Management

 
 

I am recovering from one too many servings of turkey and pumpkin pie, so perhaps you can enjoy an interview I conducted with CNBC’s Erin Burnett on the subject of insider trading earlier this week (Minute 2:00).

Once I awake from the food-induced coma, I promise to return with a more typical article on Investing Caffeine’s site.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday…

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

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 any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm 2 comments

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