Pulling the Band-Aid Off Slowly

Bandaid

Federal Reserve monetary policy once again came to the forefront as the Fed released its April minutes this week. After living through years of a ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy) coupled with QE (Quantitative Easing), many market participants and commentators are begging for a swifter move back to “normalization” (a Federal Funds Rate target set closer to historical averages). The economic wounds from the financial crisis may be healing, as seen in the improving employment data, but rather than ripping off the interest rate Band-Aid quickly and putting the pain behind investors, the dovish Fed Chair Janet Yellen has been signaling for months the Fed will increase rates at a “gradual” pace.

Despite the more hawkish tone regarding the possibility of an additional rate hike in June, Fed interest rate futures are currently still only factoring in about a 26% probability of a rate increase in June. As I have been saying for years (see “Fed Fatigue”), there has, and will likely continue to be, an overly, hyper-sensitive focus on monetary policy and language disseminated by members of the Feral Reserve Open Market Committee.

For example, in 1994, despite the Fed increasing target rates by +2.5% in a single year (from 3.0% to 5.5%), stock prices finished roughly flat for the year, and the market resumed its decade-long bull market run the subsequent year. Today, the higher bound of Fed Funds sits at a mere 0.5%, and the Fed has announced only one target increase this cycle (equaling a fraction of the ’94 pace). Even if investors are panicking over another potential quarter point in June or July, can you say, “overkill?”

While the Fed is approaching the lower-end of the range for its employment mandate (unemployment currently sitting at 5%), despite the recent bounce in oil prices, core inflation remains in check (see Calafia Pundit chart below). This long-term benign pricing trend gives the Fed a longer leash as it relates to the pace of future rate hikes.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Sure, ripping off the Fed Band-Aid with a small handful of +0.5% (50 bps) hikes might appease hawkish investors, but Janet Yellen, the “Fed Fairy Godmother,” has made it abundantly clear she is in no hurry to raise rates. Whether there is zero, one, or two additional rate hikes this year is much less important than other fundamental factors. Adding fuel to the Fed-speak fire in the short-run will be Yellen speeches on May 27th at Harvard University and on June 6th at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. And then following that, we will have the “Brexit” referendum (i.e., the vote on whether Britain should exit the EU); a steady stream of election noise; and many other unanticipated economic/geopolitical headlines.

As I continually state, the key factors driving the direction of long-term stock prices are profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (see Follow the Stool). Profits (ex-energy) are growing near record levels; interest rates are near record lows (even with potential 2016 hikes); valuations remain near historical averages; and sentiment regarding stock ownership is firing strongly as a positive contrarian indicator.

While many pundits have been calling for and predicting the Fed to rip the Band-Aid off with a swift string of rate increases, persistently low inflation, coupled with a consistently dovish Fed Chair are likely to lead to a slow peeling of the monetary policy Band-Aid. Unfortunately, the endless flow of irrelevant monetary policy guesswork regarding the timing of future rate hikes will be more painful than the actual hikes themselves. In the end, any future hikes should be justified with a stronger economic foundation, which should represent future strength, rather than future weakness.

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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 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 21, 2016 at 10:21 pm Leave a comment

Yield Starving Foreigners Go Muni Hunting

hunter pointing rifle in blaze orange gear

In the current cold, barren, negative interest rate environment, foreign investors are getting hungry and desperate as they hunt for yield. In the hopes of kick-starting economic activity around the globe, central bankers are taking the drastic measure of establishing negative interest rate policies. This unusual endeavor is pressing international investors to chase yield, no matter how small, wherever they can find it.

One of those areas in which foreigners are hunting for yield is the U.S. municipal bond market (see FT article). On the surface, this sounds ludicrous. Why would an outsider living in Germany or Japan invest in a U.S. municipal bond that yields a paltry rate that’s less than 1.7%, especially considering those investors will not benefit from the tax-free income advantages offered to Americans?

As strange as it sounds, Natalie Cohen, Wells Fargo’s head of municipal research correctly pointed out this pursuit for municipal bond yield across continents boils down to simple math. “Even if [foreign investors] are not subject to the US tax code, a plus two is better than a minus one,” Cohen notes.

Although foreign investment in the $3.7 trillion municipal bond market is relatively small, the rapidly rising appetite for munis is clearly evident, as shown in the chart below.

Source: The Financial Times

Source: The Financial Times

With our country’s crumbling roads and bridges, these ever-increasing piles of foreign cash pouring into our municipal bonds are helping fund a broad array of U.S. infrastructure projects. Given the election season is upon us, this issue may gain heightened attention. Both likely-presidential candidates are highlighting the need for infrastructure investment as part of their platforms, and the NIRP (negative interest rate policies) agenda of international central banks may make these municipal infrastructure dreams a reality.

We Americans are no stranger to the idea of borrowing money from foreigners. In fact, the Chinese own about $1.3 trillion of our Treasury bonds. This is all fine and dandy as long as the international appetite for lending us money remains healthy. If our city, state, and federal governments become too addicted to the Chinese, Europeans, and Japanese loans, financial risks can/will grow to unmanageable levels. Guess what happens once our borrowings swell to a level that forces foreigners to question our ability of repaying their debt? Interest rates will accelerate upwards, our interest payments will balloon, and our deficits will widen. The consequences of these unfavorable outcomes will be devastating budget cuts and/or tax increases.

For the time being, we will gladly accept the charitable donations of foreign investors to help lower funding costs for our sorely needed infrastructure projects. Fortunately, for now fiscal sanity is prevailing. The post financial crisis political environment has scared municipalities from borrowing too much, as explained here by the FT:

“For local and state politicians grappling with pension reforms, new healthcare programs and — in Alaska, Texas and Oklahoma — a drag on finances from lower energy prices, the looming presidential election is also diminishing the appeal of [municipal debt] issuance.”

 

In a near-zero/negative rate environment, there certainly will be incentives for irresponsible governments and corporations to extend themselves too far with cheap debt. However, in the short-run, as starving foreigners hunt for yield in the U.S. municipal bond market, Americans have the opportunity of exploiting this foreign generosity for the benefit our country’s long-term infrastructure.

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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 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 14, 2016 at 3:30 pm Leave a comment

Flat Pancakes & Dividends

pancakes-1320121

Over the last 18 months, stock prices have been flat as a pancake. Absent a few brief China and recessionary scares, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index has spent most of 2015 and 2016 trading between the relatively tight levels of 17,000 – 18,000. Record corporate profits and faster growth than other developed and developing markets have created a tug-of-war with countervailing factors. A strong dollar, reversal in monetary policy, geopolitical turmoil, and volatile commodity markets have produced a neutralizing struggle among corporate executives with deep financial pockets and short arms. In this environment, share buybacks, stable profit margins, and growing dividends have taken precedence over accelerated capital investments and expensive new-hires.

With flat stock prices and interest rates at unprecedented low levels, it’s during times like these that stock investors really appreciate the appetizing flavor of stable, growing dividends. To this day, I still find it almost impossible to fathom how investors are burning money by irrationally speculating in $7 trillion in negative interest rate bonds (see Retire at Age 90).

Historically there are very few periods in which stock dividend yields have exceeded bond yields (2.1% S&P yield vs. 1.8% 10-Year Treasury yield). As I showed in my Dividend Floodgates article, for roughly 50 years (1960 – 2010), the yield on the 10-Year Treasury Notes have exceeded the dividend yield on stocks (S&P 500) – that longstanding trend does not hold today.

In the face of the competitive stock market, several trends are contributing to the upward trajectory in dividend payments (see chart below).

#1.) Corporate profits (ex-Energy) are growing and at/near record levels. Earnings are critical in providing fertile ground for dividend growth.

#2.) Demographics, plain and simple. As 76 million Baby Boomers transition into retirement, their income needs escalate. These shareholders whine and complain to corporate executives to share the spoils and increase dividends.

#3.) Low interest rates and disinflation are shrinking the available pool of income generating assets. As I pointed out above, when trillions of dollars are getting thrown into negative yielding investments, many investors are flocking to alternative income-generating assets…like dividend paying stocks.

Source: FactSet

Source: FactSet

The Power of Dividends (Case Studies)

Most people don’t realize it, but over the last 100 years, dividends have accounted for approximately 40% of stocks’ total return as measured by the S&P 500. In other words, using history as a guide, if you initially invested in a stock XYZ at $100 that appreciated in value to $160 (+60%) 10 years later, that stock on average would have supplied an incremental $40 in dividends (40%) over that period, creating a total return of 100%.

Rather than using a hypothetical example, here are a few stock specific illustrations that highlight the amazing power of compounding dividend growth rates. Here are two “Dividend Aristocrats” (stocks that have increased dividends for at least 25 consecutive years):

  • PepsiCo Inc (PEP): PepsiCo has increased its dividend for an astonishing 44 consecutive years. Today, the dividend yield is 2.9% based on the current share price. But had you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $1.60 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +188% dividend yield ($3.01 dividend / $1.60 purchase price), which doesn’t even account for the +6,460% increase in the share price ($104.96 per share today from $1.60 in 1972). Over that 44 year period, the split-adjusted dividend has increased from about $0.02 per share to an annualized $3.01 dividend per share today, which equates to a mind-blowing +16,153% increase. On top of the $103 price appreciation, assuming a conservative 5% dividend reinvestment rate, my estimates show investors would have received more than $60 in reinvested dividends, making the total return that much more gargantuan.

 

  • Emerson Electric Co (EMR): Emerson Electric too has had an even more incredible streak of dividend increases, which has now extended for 59 consecutive years. Emerson currently yields a respectable 3.6% rate, but if you purchased the stock in June 1972 for $3.73 per share (split-adjusted), you would currently be earning a +51% dividend yield ($1.92 dividend / $3.73 purchase price), which doesn’t even consider the +1,423% increase in the share price ($53.31 per share today from $3.73 in 1972).

There is never a shortage of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt), which has kept stock prices flat as a pancake over the last couple of years, but market leading franchise companies with stable/increasing dividends do not disappear during challenging times. Record profits (ex-energy), demographics, and a scarcity of income-generating investment alternatives are all contributing factors to the increased appetite for dividends. If you want to sweeten those flat pancakes, do yourself a favor and pour some quality dividend syrup over your investment portfolio.

investment-questions-border

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) and PEP, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in EMR 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 7, 2016 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

Energizer Market… Keeps Going and Going

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 2, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

Boom, boom, boom…it keeps going…and going…and going…

You’ve seen the commercials: A device operating on inferior batteries dies just as a drum-beating, battery operated Energizer bunny comes speeding and spiraling across the television screen. Onlookers waiting for the battery operated toy to run out of juice, instead gaze in amazement as they watch the energized bunny keep going and going. The same phenomenon is occurring in the stock market, as many observers eagerly await for stock prices to die. The obituary of the stock market has been written many times over the last eight years (see Series of Unfortunate Events). Mark Twain summed up this sentiment well, when after a premature obituary was written about him, he quipped, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

With fears abound, stocks added to their annual gains by finishing their third consecutive positive month with the S&P 500 indexes and Dow Jones Industrial Average advancing +0.5% and +0.3%, respectively. Skeptics and worry-warts have been concerned about stocks plummeting ever since the Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. We experienced a 100 year flood then, and as a consequence, scarred investors now expect the 100 year flood to repeat every 100 days (see also 100 Year Flood). Given the damage created in the wake of the “Great Recession,” many individuals have become afraid of their own shadow. The shadows currently scaring investors include the following:

  • Negative Interest Rates: The unknown consequences of negative interest rate policies by central banks (see chart below).
  • U.S. Monetary Policy: The potential continuation of the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates.
  • Sluggish Economic Growth: With a GDP growth figure up only +0.5% during the first quarter many people are worried about the vulnerability of slipping into recession.
  • Brexit Fears: Risk of Britain exiting the European Union (a.k.a. “Brexit”) will blanket the airwaves as the referendum approaches next month

For these reasons, and others, the U.S. central bank is likely to remain accommodative in its stance (i.e., Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen is expected to be slow in hitting the economic brakes via interest rate hikes).

c bank rates

Source: Financial Times. Central banks continue with attempts to stimulate with zero/negative rates.

Climbing the Wall of Worry

Despite all these concerns, stock prices continue climbing the proverbial “wall of worry” while approaching record levels. As famed investor Sir John Templeton stated on multiple occasions, “Bull markets are born on pessimism, and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.” It’s obvious to me there currently is no euphoria in the overall market, if you consider investors have withdrawn $2 trillion in stock investments since 2007. The phenomenon of stocks moving higher in the face of bad news is nothing new. A recent study conducted by the Financial Times newspaper shows the current buoyant bull market entering the second longest advancing period since World War II (see chart below).

bull markt cal days

Source: Financial Times

There will never be a shortage of concerns or bad things occurring in a world of 7.4 billion people, but the Energizer bunny U.S. economy has proven resilient. Our economy is entering its seventh consecutive year of expansion, and as I recently pointed out the job market keeps plodding along in the right direction – unemployment claims are at a 43-year low (see Spring Has Sprung). Over the last few years, these job gains have come despite corporate profits being challenged by the headwinds of a stronger U.S. dollar (hurts our country’s exports) and tumbling energy profits. Fortunately, the negative factors of the dollar and oil prices have stabilized lately, and these dynamics are in the process of shifting into tailwinds for company earnings. The -5.7% year-to-date decline in the Dollar Index coupled with the recent rebound in oil prices are proof that the economic laws of supply-demand eventually respond to large currency and commodity swings. With the number of rigs drilling for oil down by approximately -80% over the last two years, it comes as no surprise to me that a drop in oil supply has steadied prices.

The volatility in oil prices has been amazing. Energy companies have been reeling as oil prices dropped -76% from a 2014-high of $108 per barrel to a 2016-low of $26 per barrel. Since then, the picture has improved significantly. Crude oil prices are now hovering around $46 per barrel, up +76%.

Energy Bankruptcy & Recessionary Fears Abate

If you take a look at the borrowing costs of high-yield companies in the chart below (Calafia Beach Pundit), you can see that prior spikes in the red line (all high-yield borrowing costs) were correlated with recessions – represented by the gray periods occurring in 2001 and 2008-09. During 2016, you can see from the soaring blue line, investors were factoring in a recession for high-yield energy companies (until the oil price recovery), but the non-energy companies (red-green lines) were not anticipating a recession for the other sectors of the economy. Bottom-line, this chart is telling you the knee-jerk panic of recessionary fears during the January-February period of this year has quickly abated, which helps explain the sharp rebound in stock prices.

hy crdt yields

After a jittery start to 2016 when economic expectations were for a dying halt, investors have watched stocks recharge their batteries in March and April. There are bound to be more fits and starts in the future, as there always are, but for the time being this Energizer bunny stock market and economy keeps going…and going…and going…

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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 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 2, 2016 at 1:11 pm Leave a comment

Michael Jordan and Market Statistics

Basketball Match

Basketball is in the air as the NBA playoffs are once again upon us. While growing up in high school, Michael Jordan was my basketball idol, and he dominated the sport globally at the highest level. I was a huge fanatic. Besides continually admiring my MJ poster-covered walls, I even customized my own limited edition Air Jordan basketball shoes by applying high school colors to them with model paint – I would not recommend this fashion experiment to others.

Eventually the laws of age, physics, and gravity took over, as Jordan slowly deteriorated physically into retirement. On an infinitesimally smaller level, I also experienced a similar effect during my 30s when playing in an old man’s recreational basketball league. Day-by-day, month-by-month, and year-by-year, I too got older and slower (tough to believe that’s possible) as I watched all the 20-somethings run circles around me – not to mention my playing time was slashed dramatically. Needless to say, I too was forced into retirement like Michael Jordan, but nobody retired my number, and I still have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Air Wade” Before Retirement: No Photoshop in 1988, just an optical illusion created by an 8-foot rim.

“Air Wade” Before Retirement: No Photoshop in 1988, just an optical illusion created by an 8-foot rim.

Financial markets are subject to similar laws of science (economics) too. The stock market and the economy get old and tired just like athletes, as evidenced by the cyclical nature of bear markets and recessions. Statistics are a beautiful thing when it comes to sports. Over the long run, numbers don’t lie about the performance of an athlete, just like statistics over the long run don’t lie about the financial markets. When points per game, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, minutes played, and other measurements are all consistently moving south, then it’s safe to say fundamentals are weakening.

I’ve stated it many times in the past, and I’ll state it again, these are the most important factors to consider when contemplating the level and direction of the stock market (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool).

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Valuations
  • Sentiment

While the absolute levels of these indicators are important, the trend or direction of each factor is also very relevant. Let’s review these factors a little more closely.

  • Profits: Profits and cash flows, generally speaking, are the lifeblood behind any investment and currently corporate profits are near record levels. When it comes to the S&P 500, the index is currently expected to generate a 2016 profit of $117.47. Considering a recent price closing of 2,092 on the index, this translates into a price-earnings ratio (P/E) of approximately 17.8x or a 5.6% earnings yield. This earnings yield can be compared to the 1.9% yield earned on the 10-Year Treasury Note, which is even lower than the 2.1% dividend yield on the S&P 500 (a rare historical occurrence). If history repeats itself, the 5.6% earnings yield on stocks should double to more than 10% over the next decade, however the yield on 10-year Treasuries stays flat at 1.9% over the next 10 years. The strong dollar and the implosion of the energy sector has put a lid on corporate profits over the last year, but emerging signs are beginning to show these trends reversing. Stabilizing profits near record levels should be a positive contributor to stocks, all else equal.
  • Interest Rates: Pundits have been pointing to central banks as the sole reason for low/negative interest rates globally (see chart below). NEWS FLASH: Central banks have been increasing and decreasing interest rates for decades, but that hasn’t stopped the nearly unabated 36-year decline in interest rates and inflation (see chart below). As I described in previous articles (see Why 0% Rates?), technology, globalization, and the rise of emerging markets is having a much larger impact on interest rates/inflation than monetary policies. If central banks are so powerful, then why after eight years of loose global monetary policies hasn’t inflation accelerated yet? Regardless, all else equal, these historically low interest rates are horrible for savers, but wonderful for equity investors and borrowers.

    Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

    Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

  • Valuations: The price you pay for an investment is one of the, if not the, most important factors to consider. I touched upon valuations earlier when discussing profits, and based on history, there is plenty of evidence to support the position that valuations are near historic averages. Shiller CAPE bears have been erroneously screaming bloody murder over the last seven years as prices have tripled (see Shiller CAPE smells like BS). A more balanced consideration of valuation takes into account the record low interest rates/inflation (see The Rule of 20).
  • Sentiment: There are an endless number of indicators measuring investor optimism vs. pessimism. Generally, most experienced investors understand these statistics operate as valuable contrarian indicators. In other words, as Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear, and sell greed.” While I like to track anecdotal indicators of sentiment like magazine covers, I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. If you consider the post-crisis panic of dollars flowing into low yielding bonds – greater than $1 trillion more than stocks (see Chicken vs. Beef ) you will understand the fear and skepticism remaining in investors minds. The time to flee stocks is when everyone falls in love with them.

Readers of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball understand the importance statistics can play in winning sports. Michael Jordan may not have been a statistician like Billy Beane, because he spent his professional career setting statistical records, not analyzing them. Unfortunately, my basketball career never led me to the NBA or Hall of Fame, but I still hope to continue winning in the financial markets by objectively following the all-important factors of profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment.

investment-questions-border

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 had no direct position in any 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.

April 23, 2016 at 5:39 pm 2 comments

Want to Retire at Age 90?

sleep sit 90

Do you love working 40-50+ hour weeks? Do you want to be a Wal-Mart (WMT) greeter after you get laid off from your longstanding corporate job?  Do you love relying on underfunded government entitlements that you hope won’t be insolvent 10, 20, or 30 years from now? Are you banking on winning the lottery to fund your retirement? Do you enjoy eating cat food?

If you answered “Yes” to one or all of these questions, then do I have a sure-fire investment program for you that will make your dreams of retiring at age 90 a reality! Just follow these three simple rules:

  • Buy Low Yielding, Long-Term Bonds: There are approximately $7 trillion in negative yielding government bonds outstanding (see chart below), which as you may understand means investors are paying to give someone else money – insanity. Bank of America recently completed a study showing about two-thirds of the $26 trillion government bond market was yielding less than 1%. Not only are investors opening themselves up to interest rate risk and credit risk, if they sell before maturity, but they are also susceptible to the evil forces of inflation, which will destroy the paltry yield. If you don’t like this strategy of investing near 0% securities, getting a match and gasoline to burn your money has about the same effect.

negative bonds apr 16

Source: Financial Times

  • Speculate on the Timing of Future Fed Rate Hikes/Cuts: When the economy is improving, talking heads and so-called pundits try to guess the precise timing of the next rate hike. When the economy is deteriorating, aimless speculation swirls around the timing of interest rate cuts. Unfortunately, the smartest economists, strategists, and media mavens have no consistent predicting abilities. For example, in 1998 Nobel Prize winning economists Robert Merton and Myron Scholes toppled Long Term Capital Management. Similarly, in 1996 Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan noted the presence of “irrational exuberance” in the stock market when the NASDAQ was trading at 1,350. The tech bubble eventually burst, but not before the NASDAQ tripled to over 5,000. More recently, during 2005-2007, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke whiffed on the housing bubble – he repeatedly denied the existence of a housing problem until it was too late. These examples, and many others show that if the smartest financial minds in the room (or planet) miserably fail at predicting the direction of financial markets, then you too should not attempt this speculative feat.
  • Trade on Rumors, Headlines & Opinions: Wall Street analysts, proprietary software with squiggly lines, and your hot shot day-trader neighbor (see Thank You Volatility) all promise the Holy Grail of outsized financial returns, but regrettably there is no easy path to consistent, long-term outperformance. The recipe for success requires patience, discipline, and the emotional wherewithal to filter out the endless streams of financial noise. Continually chasing or reacting to opinions, headlines, or guaranteed software trading programs will only earn you taxes, transaction costs, bid-ask spread costs, impact costs, high frequency trading manipulation and underperformance.

Saving for your future is no easy task, but there are plenty of easy ways to destroy your savings. If you want to retire at age 90, just follow my three simple rules.

Investment Questions Border

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 had no direct position in WMT or any 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.

April 16, 2016 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Avoiding Cigarette Butts

cigarette-butt-1579806

Too many investors hang their hat on investments that seem “cheap”. Unfortunately, too often something that looks like a bargain turns out to be a cigarette butt from which investors are hoping to take a last puff. As the old adage states, “you get what you pay for,” and that certainly applies to the world of investments. There are endless examples of cheap stocks getting cheaper, or in other words, stocks with low price/earnings ratios going lower. Stocks that appear cheap today, in many cases turn out to be expensive tomorrow because of deteriorating or collapsing profitability.

For instance, take Haliburton Company (HAL), an energy services company. Wall Street analysts are forecasting the Houston, Texas based oil services company to achieve 2016 EPS (earnings per share) of $0.32, down -79%. The share price currently stands at $37, so this translates into an eye-popping valuation of 128x P/E ratio, based on 2016 earnings estimates. What has effectively occurred in the HAL example is earnings have declined faster than the share price, which has caused the P/E to go higher. If you were to look at the energy sector overall, the same phenomenon is occurring with the P/E ratio standing at a whopping 97x (at the end of Q1).

These inflated P/E ratios are obviously not sustainable, so two scenarios are likely to occur:

  • The price of the P/E (numerator) will decline faster than earnings (denominator)
    •                                             AND/OR
  • The earnings of the P/E (denominator) will rise faster than the price (numerator)

Under either scenario, the current nose-bleed P/E ratio should moderate. Energy companies are doing their best to preserve profitability by cutting expenses as fast as possible, but when the product you are selling plummets about -70% in 18 months (from $100 per barrel to $30), producing profits can be challenging.

The Importance of Price (or Lack Thereof)

Similarly to the variables an investor would consider in purchasing an apartment building, “price” is supreme. With that said, “price” is not the only important variable. As famed investor Warren Buffett shrewdly notes, the quality of a company can be even more important than the price paid, especially if you are a long-term investor.

“It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.”

 

The advantage of identifying and owning a “wonderful company” is the long-term stream of growing earnings. The trajectory of future earnings growth, more than current price, is the key driver of long-term stock performance.

Growth investor extraordinaire Peter Lynch summed it up well when he stated,

People Concentrate too much on the P, but the E really makes the difference.”

 

Albert Einstein identified the power of “compounding” as the 8th Wonder of the World, which when applied to earnings growth of a stock can create phenomenal outperformance – if held long enough. Warren Buffett emphasized the point here:

“If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.”

 

Throw Away Cigarette Butts

I have acknowledged the importance of aforementioned price, but your investment portfolio will perform much better, if you throw away the cigarette butts and focus on identifying market leading franchise that can sustain earnings growth. The lower the growth potential, the more important price becomes in the investment question. (see also Magic Quadrant)

Here are the key factors in identifying wining stocks:

  • Market Share Leaders: If you pay peanuts, you usually get monkeys. Paying a premium for the #1 or #2 player in an industry is usually the way to go. Certainly, there is plenty of money to be made by smaller innovative companies that disrupt an industry, so for these exceptions, focus should be placed on share gains – not absolute market share numbers.
  • Proven Management Team: It’s nice to own a great horse (i.e., company), but you need a good jockey as well. There have been plenty of great companies that have been run into the ground by inept managers. Evaluating management’s financial track record along with a history of their strategic decisions will give you an idea what you’re working with. Performance doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so results should be judged relative to the industry and their competitors. There are plenty of incredible managers in the energy sector, even if the falling tide is sinking all ships.
  • Large and/or Growing Markets: Spotting great companies in niche markets may be a fun hobby, but with limited potential for growth, playing in small market sandboxes can be hazardous for your investment health. On the other hand, priority #1, #2, and #3 should be finding market leaders in growth markets or locating disruptive share gainers in large markets. Finding fertile ground on long runways of growth is how investors benefit from the power of compound earnings.
  • Capital Allocation Prowess: Learning the capital allocation skillset can be demanding for executives who climb the corporate ladder from areas like marketing, operations, or engineering. Regrettably, these experiences don’t prepare them for the ultimate responsibility of distributing millions/billions of dollars. In the current low/negative interest rate environment, allocating capital to the highest return areas is more imperative than ever. Cash sitting on the balance sheet earning 0% and losing value to inflation is pure financial destruction. Conservatism is prudent, however, excessive piles of cash and overpaying for acquisitions are big red flags. Managers with a track record of organically investing in their businesses by creating moats for long-term competitive advantage are the leaders we invest in.

Many so-called “value” investors solely use price as a crutch. Anyone can print out a list of cheap stocks based on Price-to-Earnings, Enterprise Value/EBITDA, or Price/Cash Flow, but much of the heavy lifting occurs in determining the future trajectory of earnings and cash flows. Taking that last puff from that cheap, value stock cigarette butt may seem temporarily satisfying, but investing into too many value traps may lead you gasping for air and force you to change your stock analysis habits.

investment-questions-border

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 had no direct position in HAL or any 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.

 

April 9, 2016 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

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