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The EPS House of Cards: Tricks of the Trade

House of cards and money

 

As we enter the quarterly ritual of the tsunami of earnings reports, investors will be combing through the financial reports. Due to the flood of information, and increasingly shorter and shorter investment time horizons, much of investors’ focus will center on a few quarterly report metrics – primarily earnings per share (EPS), revenues, and forecasts/guidance (if provided).

Many lessons have been learned from the financial crisis over the last few years, and one of the major ones is to do your homework thoroughly. Relying on a AAA ratings from Moody’s (MCO) and S&P (when ratings should have been more appropriately graded D or F) or blindly following a “Buy” rating from a conflicted investment banking firm just does not make sense.

FINANCIAL SECTOR COLLAPSE

Given the severity of the losses, investors need to be more demanding and comprehensive in their earnings analysis. In many instances the reported earnings numbers resemble a deceptive house of cards on a weak foundation, merely overlooked by distracted investors. Case in point is the Financial sector, which before the financial collapse saw distorted multi-year growth, propelled by phantom earnings due to artificial asset inflation and excessive leverage. One need look no further than the weighting of Financial stocks, which ballooned from 5% of the total S&P 500 Index market capitalization in 1980 to a peak of 23% in 2007. Once the credit and real estate bubble burst, the sector subsequently imploded to around 9% of the index value around the March 2009 lows. Let’s be honest, and ask ourselves how much faith can we put in the Financial sector earnings figures that moved from +$22.79 in 2007 to a loss of -$21.24 in 2008? Since that time regulation and reform has put the sector on a more solid footing.  Luckily, the opacity and black box nature of many of these Financials largely kept me out of the 2009 sector implosion.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

But the Financial sector is not the only fuzzy areas of accounting manipulation. Thanks to our friends at the FASB (Financial Accounting Standards Board), company management teams have discretion in how they apply different GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles) rules. Saj Karsan, a contributing writer at Morningstar.com, also writes about the “Fallacy of Earnings Per Share.”

“EPS can fluctuate wildly from year to year. Writedowns, abnormal business conditions, asset sale gains/losses and other unusual factors find their way into EPS quite often. Investors are urged to average EPS over a business cycle, as stressed in Security Analysis Chapter 37, in order to get a true picture of a company’s earnings power.”

 

These gray areas of interpretation can lead to a range of distorted EPS outcomes. Here are a few ways companies can manipulate their EPS:

Distorted Expenses: If a $10 million manufacturing plant is expected to last 10 years, then the depreciation expense should be $1 million per year. If for some reason the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) suddenly decided the building would last 40 years rather than 10 years, then the expense would only be $250,000 per year. Voila, an instant $750,000 annual gain was created out of thin air due to management’s change in estimates.

Magical Revenues: Some companies have been known to do what’s called “stuffing the channel.” Or in other words, companies sometimes will ship product to a distributor or customer even if there is no immediate demand for that product. This practice can potentially increase the revenue of the reporting company, while providing the customer with more inventory on-hand. The major problem with the strategy is cash collection, which can be pushed way off in the future or become uncollectible.

Accounting Shifts: Under certain circumstances, specific expenses can be converted to an asset on the balance sheet, leading to inflated EPS numbers. A common example of this phenomenon occurs in the software industry, where software engineering expenses on the income statement get converted to capitalized software assets on the balance sheet. Again, like other schemes, this practice delays the negative expense effects on reported earnings.

Artificial Income: Not only did many of the trouble banks make imprudent loans to borrowers that were unlikely to repay, but the loans were made based on assumptions that asset prices would go up indefinitely and credit costs would remain freakishly low. Based on the overly optimistic repayment and loss assumptions, banks recognized massive amounts of gains which propelled even more imprudent loans. Needless to say, investors are now more tightly questioning these assumptions. That said, recent relaxation of mark-to-market accounting makes it even more difficult to estimate the true values of assets on the bank’s balance sheets.

Like dieting, there are no easy solutions. Tearing through the financial statements is tough work and requires a lot of diligence. My process of identifying winning stocks is heavily cash flow based (see my article on cash flow investing) analysis, which although lumpier and more volatile than basic EPS analysis, provides a deeper understanding of a company’s value-creating capabilities and true cash generation powers.

As earnings season kicks into full gear, do yourself a favor and not only take a more critical” eye towards company earnings, but follow the cash to a firmer conviction in your stock picks. Otherwise, those shaky EPS numbers may lead to a tumbling house of cards.

Read Saj Karsan’s Full Article

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management has no direct position in MCO or MHP at the time this article was originally posted. 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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April 18, 2014 at 1:02 pm 4 comments

The Ski Slope Market: What’s Next in 2014?

ski

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (January 2, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

Skiing, or snowboarding in my case, is a lot like investing in the stock market…a bumpy ride. Snow, wind, ice, and moguls are common for seasoned skiers, and interest rate fluctuations, commodity price spikes, geopolitical turmoil, and -10% corrections are ordinary occurrences for veteran equity investors. However, in 2013 stock investors enjoyed pristine conditions, resulting in the best year for the Dow Jones Industrial Average since 1996. Individuals owning stocks witnessed their portfolios smoothly race to sunny, powder-like returns. More specifically, a December Santa Claus rally (S&P +2.4% for the month) capped off a spectacular year, which resulted in the S&P 500 Index soaring +30%, the NASDAQ Composite Index +38%, and the Dow +26%.

Despite the meteoric move in stocks this year, many observers missed the excitement of the equity ski slopes in exchange for lounging in the comfort of the deceivingly risky but warm lodge. In the lodge, these stock-frightened individuals sipped hot cocoa with wads of inflation-losing cash, bonds, and gold. As a result, these perceived safe assets have now become symbolic relics of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. In the short-run, the risk-averse coziness of the lodge may feel wonderful, but before the lounging observers can say “bull market,” the overpriced cocoas and holiday drinks will eat holes through retirement wallets and purses.

As you can see from the chart below, it is easy for the nervous lodge loungers to vividly remember the scary collapse of 2008-09 (point A to B). Surprisingly, many of these same skeptics are able to ignore or discount the explosive move of 2009-13 (point B to C). There’s another way of looking at this volatile time period. Had an investor fallen into a coma six years ago and then awakened today, an S&P portfolio would still have risen a respectable +26% (point A to C), plus more than +10% or so from dividends.

chart123

Turbulent Times on Back-Country Bond & Gold Trails

While stockholders have thoroughly enjoyed the recent climate, the 2013 weather conditions haven’t been as ideal for gold and bond investors. Gold investors felt less-than-precious in 2013 as they went flying off a cliff and broke a leg. In fact, the shiny metal suffered its worst performance in 30 years and underperformed stocks by a whopping -58%. With this year’s -28% loss (GLD), gold has underperformed stocks over the last six years, after including the impact of dividends.

Like gold traders, most bondholders were wounded in 2013 as well, but they did not get completely buried in an avalanche. Nevertheless, 2013 was a rocky ride overall for the bond haven hunters, as evidenced by the iShares Barclays Aggregate Bond composite (AGG), which fell -4%. As I’ve discussed previously, in Confessions of a Bond Hater, not all bonds are created equally, and actually many Sidoxia client portfolios include shorter-duration bonds, inflation protection bonds, convertible bonds, floating rate bonds, and high-yield bonds. Structured correctly, a thoughtfully constructed bond portfolio can outperform in a rising rate environment like we experienced in 2013.

Although bonds as a broad category may not currently offer great risk-reward characteristics, individuals in the mid-to-latter part of retirement need less volatility and more income – attributes bonds (not stocks) can offer. In other words, certain people are better served by snow-shoeing, or going on sleigh rides rather than risking a wipeout or tree collision on a downhill ski adventure. By owning the right types of bonds, your portfolio can avoid a severe investment crash.

Positive 2014 Outlook but Helmet Advised

With the NASDAQ index having more than tripled to over 4,176 from the 2009 lows, napping spectators are beginning to wake up and take notice. After money hemorrhaged out of the stock market for years (despite positive total returns in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012), the fear trend began to reverse itself in 2013 and investment capital began returning to stock funds (see Here Comes the Dumb Money).

Adding fuel to the bull market fire, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Christine Lagarde recently signaled an increase in economic growth forecasts for the U.S. in 2014, thanks to an improving employment picture, successful Congressional budget negotiations, and actions by the Federal Reserve to unwind unprecedented monetary stimulus. If you consider the added factors of rising corporate profits, improving CEO confidence (e.g., Ford expansion), the shale energy boom, an expanding housing market, and our technology leadership position, one can paint a reasonably optimistic picture for the upcoming years.

Nonetheless, I am quick to remind investors and clients that the pace of the +30% appreciation in 2013 is unsustainable, and we are still overdue for a -10% correction in the major stock indexes.

The fundamental outlook for the economy may be improving, but there are still plenty of clouds on the horizon that could create a short-term market snowstorm. Domestically, we have the upcoming 2014 mid-term elections; debt ceiling negotiations; and a likely continuation of the Federal Reserve tapering program. Abroad, there are Iranian nuclear program talks; instability in Syria; meager and uncertain growth in Europe; and volatile economic climates in emerging markets like China, Brazil and India. After such a large advance this year, any one of these concerns (or some other unforeseen event) could provide an ample excuse to sell stocks and take some profits.

Since wipeouts are common, a protective helmet in the form of a valuation-oriented, globally diversified portfolio is strongly advised. For seasoned skiers and long-term investors, experiencing the never-ending ups and downs of skiing (investing) is a necessity to reach a desired destination. If you have trouble controlling your skis (money/emotions), it’s wise to seek the assistance of an experienced instructor (investment advisor) so your investment portfolio doesn’t crash.  

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

January 4, 2014 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Investors Feast While Bears Get Cooked

turkey wade 

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (December 2, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

As I ponder this year’s events with a notch-loosened belt after a belly-busting Thanksgiving gorging, I give thanks for my many blessings this year (see my last year’s Top 10). Investors in the stock market have had quite a feast in 2013 as well, while pessimistic bears have gotten cooked. Just this month, stock indexes reached all-time record highs (16,000 for the Dow Jones Industrial average and 1,800 for the S&P 500). Even the tech-heavy NASDAQ index surpassed 4,000 – a level not seen since 1999. How does this translate in percentage terms? Here’s what the stellar 2013 numbers looks like so far:

  • Dow Jones: +22.8%
  • S&P 500: +26.6%
  • NASDAQ: +34.5%

These results demolish the near 0.0% returns earned on the sidelines, sitting on cash. And worth noting, these gains become even more impressive once you add dividends to the mix. To put these numbers into better perspective, it would take you more than a few decades of your lifetime to achieve this year’s stock gains, if your cash was invested at today’s CD and savings account rates.

For the bears, the indigestion has become even more unbearable if you consider the 2013 bloodbath in gold. The endless mantra of unsustainable QE (Quantitative Easing) hasn’t played out quite as the cynics planned this year (see also QE – Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread):

  • CBOE Gold Index (GOX): -51.5%
  • SPDR Gold Shares (GLD): -25.5%

Bonds have been challenging too. Investors and Nervous Nellies have not been able to hide in longer-term Treasury bonds or broader bond indexes without some pain during 2013:

  • iShares 20-Year Treasury Bond (TLT): -13.8%
  • iShares Total U.S. Bond Market (AGG): -3.3%

As I’ve preached in the past, bonds have a place in most portfolios for income and diversification purposes, and many of my clients own them in their portfolios. But not all bonds are created equally. At Sidoxia (Sidoxia.com), we’ve smoothed out interest rate volatility and even recorded some gains by investing in specific classes of bonds such as short duration, floating rate, and convertible securities.

Why the Turkey High?

Since I invest professionally, inevitably the dinner table conversation switches from stuffing to stock market, or from pumpkin pie to politics. More often than not, the discussion reflects a tone such as, “This market is crazy! We’re due for a crash aren’t we?”

Without coming off as Pollyannaish, or offending anyone, I am quick to acknowledge I too am unhappy with Obamacare (my health insurance coverage was recently dropped due to the Affordable Care Act) and recognize that most politicians are bottom-feeders. Objectively, an argument can also be made by the doubters that a bubble is forming in a sub-segment of the market (see also Confusing Stock Bubbles). While the Yelps (YELP), Twitters (TWTR), and Teslas (TSLA) of the world may be dramatically inflated in price, there are plenty of attractively and reasonably priced areas of the market to opportunistically exploit.

Unfortunately, many people fail to recognize there are other factors besides politics and fad stocks that drive financial markets higher or lower. As the chart below shows (see also Conquering Politics & Hurricanes), the stock market has gone up and down regardless of party politics.

Source: Yardeni.com

Besides politics, there is an infinite number of other factors affecting financial markets. While Obamacare, Iran, Syria, 2014 elections, Federal Reserve QE tapering, etc. may account for many of the concerns du jour, there are other important factors driving stock prices higher.

Here are but a few:

  • Record corporate profits
  • Near record-low interest rates
  • Improving fiscal deficit / debt situation relative to our economy
  • Improving housing and jobs picture
  • Reasonable stock valuations
  • Low inflation / declining oil prices

The stock market feast has been exceptional, but even I acknowledge the pace of this year’s advance is not sustainable. Like an overloading of pie or an unnecessary, extra drumstick, we’re bound to experience another -10% correction, just like a common case of heartburn. For long-term investors however, fear of a temporary upset stomach is no reason to leave the investing dining table. Focusing only on the negatives and ignoring the positives may result in your investment portfolio getting cooked…just like the poor Thanksgiving turkey.

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

December 2, 2013 at 10:46 am Leave a comment

Hunt for Red October Turns Green

Submarine

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (November 1, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

In the movie the Hunt for Red October, Sean Connery plays Marko Ramius, a Soviet Union submarine commander, who wants to defect to the United States. Jack Ryan, played by Alec Baldwin, plays a CIA analyst who attempts to prevent Ramius’ stealthy submarine from attacking American soil.

October has historically been viewed as a bloody period in the stock market, given the multiple October crashes occurring in 1929, 1987, and 2008. However, the large number of bears and skeptics who were on a hunt for red (losing) October were rudely surprised last month. Rather than plunging in value, stocks ascended to new record green heights. Specifically, the S&P 500 index rose +4.5% in October, bringing 2013’s total climb to +23.2% (NASDAQ +29.8% for the year).

While the Soviet “Cold War” may have ended in the early 1990s, when it comes to retirement and financial assets, the emotional war for a prosperous future seems to never end for those without an investment plan.

How Can it Be?!

  

As the financial markets have recently grinded to new all-time record highs, I still stumble across a vast number of skeptics and doubters. These cynical cats make comments and ask questions like:

  • “You’re shorting the market, right?” (i.e., betting prices will go down)
  • “I’ll just get in and buy when the market goes down.”
  • “How can the stock market keep setting new highs when the economy is so weak?”
  • “This country is going to hell in a handbasket…what are these politicians in Washington thinking?!”
  • “The only reason the market is up is due to the Federal Reserve’s money printing and artificial manipulation of the financial system.” (see also Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread)

These are but a few of the widespread concerns, and understandably so because fear, uncertainty, and doubt are exactly what media outlets shovel in the faces of the masses. However, unlike humans, the financial markets do not watch TV or listen to the radio. As famed investor Benjamin Graham notes, “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.” Or in other words, emotions can rule the short-term, but positive or negative fundamentals will rule the day over the long-term.

While the concerns listed above may have some validity, here are some alternative perspectives to help explain why patient investors have been rewarded:

Record Profits

Source: Ed Yardeni (Dr. Ed’s Blog)

This isn’t the first or last time I’ve focused on earnings data. At the end of the day, my investment philosophy that “prices follow earnings” aligns with legend Peter Lynch’s views:

People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.”

Stocks are Cheap (Not Expensive)

Despite the massive run-up in prices, stocks are cheap. There are some metrics that show equity prices as fairly valued, but there is plenty of data to support why stocks have and continue to be loved.

Source: Ed Yardeni (Dr. Ed’s Blog)

Although the Federal Reserve’s economic model above shows how overvalued technology stocks were during the late-1990s bubble, eventually the speculative period burst. On the flip side, you can see how attractively priced (undervalued) stocks look today (prices are significantly below the historical average).

If that’s not enough evidence for you, take a peek at strategist Don Hays’s “Rule of Twenty” chart below (see also Investing Caffeine article). If you go back multiple decades, you can see a fairly tight correlation between the blue line (stock valuation/prices) and red line (Rule of 20), which creates an estimated fair value target that integrates inflation. So as you can see, when the blue line rises above the red line, stock prices are overvalued. Once again, you can see that stocks currently are relatively cheap historically (blue line below the red line), based on Hays’s analysis.

Source: Hays Advisory

Economy Keeps Chugging Along

The job market has improved dramatically, housing prices have rebounded, and families have lowered the debt on their balance sheets. The net result of these developments is evidenced by record consumer spending at retail (see chart below):

Source: Calculated Risk

The 15 out of 16 quarters of economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) have also been assisted by record exports (see chart below). Even though growth in the U.S. remains sluggish, innovative companies have found creative ways to export unique goods and services abroad.

 Source: Calculated Risk

Even though Halloween is behind us, there are still bound to be some scary tricks ahead of us, including heated debates over government shutdowns, debt ceilings, and sequestrations. The key to a successful financial future is having a balanced, diversified portfolio that meets your long-term objectives, while helping you avoid investment torpedoes. Investing based on emotional, knee-jerk reactions to noisy mainstream media headlines is a sure way to sink your portfolio. That’s advice I’m sure Jack Ryan could agree on. If investors follow this guidance, their Hunt for Red October can turn into green portfolios.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

November 3, 2013 at 6:00 am Leave a comment

100-Year Flood ≠ 100-Day Flood

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (September 3, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text. 

Investors experienced a 100-year flood in 2008-2009 and now it seems a broad array of media outlets endlessly bombards us with new, impending 100-day floods that are expected to drown investment portfolios and wash the economy into recession. The -3% drop in the S&P 500 index during August is symptomatic of investor nervousness.

This is nothing new. The media has been reporting scary forecasts every day over the last four years. Yesterday, we heard about the flash crash, Dubai, debt ceiling debate, Greece, Cyprus, eurozone demise, presidential election uncertainty, fiscal cliff, Iranian nuclear threats, North Korean provocations, and other potentially deadly floods.

Today, the worrisome flood forecasts include Syria, bond tapering, rising interest rates, debt ceiling part II, Ben Bernanke’s Federal Reserve successor, sequestration part II, Egypt, mid-term Congressional elections, and other natural and artificial disasters.

Despite a tsunami of unrelenting worries, the fact remains that corporate profits are at record levels (see chart below), corporations are holding record levels of cash, and even with a weak performance by stocks in August, the market is still up +15% this year, only off all-time record highs.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Notwithstanding the recent record levels, stock ownership is at 15-year lows (see Markets Soar and Investors Snore) and skepticism still reigns supreme. By the time the coast is clear, and confidence returns, the opportunities will be vastly diminished. For the overwhelming majority of Baby Boomers and younger retirees, the investing game will remain challenging.

Wear a Raincoat & Ignore Data

Rather than succumbing to fears arising from volatile data and gloomy predictions, it is better to grab an investment raincoat and ignore the data. Sticking to your long-term investment plan is paramount. Legendary investor Sir John Templeton encapsulated the relationship of emotions and stock prices perfectly when he stated, “Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” Fellow investor extraordinaire Peter Lynch highlighted the irrelevance of tracking macroeconomic data by noting, “If you spend 13 minutes a year on economics, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”

When describing investment success, Lynch went on to say, “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.”

We’ve all survived the 100-year flood of 2008-09 with our lives, but confidence has been beaten down with the subsequent list of scary, misplaced forecasted floods over the last four years. Patient, long-term investors have been handsomely rewarded, with approximately +150% returns in stocks from the lows, but ominous economic predictions will persist. While the next 100-year flood probably won’t be here for another generation, disastrous forecasts will continue. As I’ve pointed out earlier, there is no shortage of concerns. There is always something horrible going on in this world somewhere and there will always be something to worry about. Who knows, tomorrow could bring an earthquake, terrorist attack, Russian currency crisis, Iranian regime change, Zimbabwean hyperinflation, or some other unforeseen concern.

There will be plenty of economic thunderstorms and showers ahead, but hiding in inflation eroding cash, or attempting to time the market is a recipe for financial disaster. Volatility is here to stay, so that’s why it’s so important to have a disciplined investment plan in place. Creating a globally diversified portfolio, across numerous asset classes, to smoothen volatility in a manner that meets your time horizon and risk tolerance is critical. Do yourself a favor and have your grandchildren (not you) worry about the next 100-year flood…that way you can ignore the multitude of phantom, 100-day floods.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

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

September 3, 2013 at 10:55 am Leave a comment

What’s Going on with This Crazy Market?!

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?”

With the stock market up about +14% in 2013, as measured by the S&P 500 index (on top of another +13% increase in 2012), absent bystandershave frustratingly watched stock prices rise about +150% from the 2009 lows. Those investors who appropriately controlled risk in their diversified portfolios and did not panic in 2008-2009, have been handsomely rewarded for their patience. Those individuals who have had their money stuffed under the mattress in savings accounts, money markets, CDs, and low-yielding bonds have continued to watch inflation eat away their wealth. If the investing bystanders make no changes to their portfolios, inflationary and interest risks could outweigh the unlikely potential of Armageddon. Overly nervous investors will have to wait generations for the paltry 0.2% bank rates to equalize the equity market returns earned thus far.

For years I have been listening to the skeptics calling for a purported artificially-inflated stock market to crash. When prices continued to more than double over the last few years, the doubters blamed Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve as the instigators. The bears continue to point fingers at the Federal Reserve for spiking the financial punch bowl with unnaturally low interest rates (through Quantitative Easing bond purchases), thereby laying the foundation for a looming, inevitable market crash. So far, the boogeyman is still hiding.

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:

I.) Record Profits:
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

 

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):

Historical PE Ratios

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

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:

Apples vs 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).

Earnings Yield vs Bond Yields

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

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):

Stock Fund Flows

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

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):

CNBC Most Confusing Market Ever?

Source: CNBC

CLICK HERE FOR VIDEO

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.

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

June 3, 2013 at 10:51 am Leave a comment

Construction Complete on New & Improved Sidoxia.com Website

After five years in business, Sidoxia decided it was time to give its website a digital facelift. As part of the home page remodel, a number of new features and fresh content have been added to streamline the site.

Overall, we are proud of our newly constructed website because we strongly believe it accurately reflects our values (i.e., Philosophy & Investment Approach) and clarifies the differentiated servicesSidoxia brings to the marketplace.

Here are a few additional highlights:

Videos PageThrough a collection of four videos, President & Founder Wade Slome provides an overview of the firm, and also speaks to Sidoxia’s investing process and philosophy.

Books PageBesides investing money and providing financial planning services for clients, Mr. Slome shares financial experiences and views through two different books available for purchase on Amazon.com.

Blog (Investing Caffeine): Keeping in-tune with the ebbs and flows of the financial markets is critical in order to provide our clients with leading-edge service. Since 2009, Investing Caffeine has provided thousands of monthly viewers with insightful and educational financial material.

Take a look around the site and let us know what you think!

Sidoxia.com

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.

May 31, 2013 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

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