Archive for September, 2011
There’s been a bully pushing investor’s around and his name is “Mr. Market.” Volatility is Mr. Market’s partner in crime, and over the last 10 trading days Mr. M has used volatility to school equity investors to the tune of 1,600+ point swings, which has contributed to equity investors’ failing grade over the last few months. Who is Mr. Market? Charles Ellis, author of Winning the Loser’s Game (1998) described him best:
“Mr. Market is a mischievous but captivating fellow who persistently teases investors with gimmicks and tricks such as surprising earnings reports, startling dividend announcements, sudden surges of inflation, inspiring presidential announcements, grim reports of commodities prices, announcements of amazing new technologies, ugly bankruptcies, and even threats of war.”
How has Mr. Market been stealing investors’ lunch money? The process really hasn’t been that difficult for him, once you consider how many times investors have been heaved into the garbage can over the last decade, forced to deal with these messy events:
• 2001 technology bubble beating
• 2006 real estate collapse
• 2008 – 2009 financial crisis and recession
• 2010 “flash crash” and soft patch
• 2011 debt ceiling debate and credit rating downgrade
With this backdrop, investors are dropping like flies due to extreme bully fatigue. Over the last four months alone, approximately $75 billion in equities been liquidated, according to data from the Investment Company Institute – this is even more money withdrawn than the outflows occurring during the peak panic months after the Lehman Brothers collapse.
The Atomic Wedgie
Mr. Market understands the severity of these prior economic scars, which have been even more painful than atomic wedgies (reference Exhibit I above), so he opportunistically is taking advantage of fragile nerves. Introducing the following scary scenarios makes collecting lunch money from panicked investors much easier for Mr. Market. What is he using to frighten investors?
- A potential Greek sovereign debt default that will trigger a collapse of the Euro.
- Slowing growth in China due to slowing developed market economic activity.
- Possible double-dip recession in the U.S. coupled with an austerity driven downturn in Europe.
- Lack of political policy response to short and long-term economic problems in Washington and abroad.
- Impending deflation caused by decelerating global growth or likely inflation brought about by central banks’ easy monetary policies (i.e., printing money).
- End of the world.
Bully Victim Protection
Of course, not all of these events are likely to occur. As a matter of fact, there are some positive forming trends, besides just improving valuations, that provide protection to bully victims:
- Not only is the earnings yield (E/P – 12-month trailing EPS/share price) trouncing the yield on the 10-year Treasury note (~8% vs. ~2%, respectively), but the dividend yield on the S&P 500 index is also higher than the 10-year Treasury note yield (source: MarketWatch). Historically, this has been an excellent time to invest in equities with the S&P 500 index up an average of 20% in the ensuing 12 months.
- Jobs data may be poor, but it is improving relative to a few years ago as depicted here:
- Record low interest rates and mortgage rates provide a stimulative backdrop for businesses and consumers. Appetite for risk taking remains low, but as history teaches us, the pendulum of fear will eventually swing back towards greed.
As I say in my James Carville peace from earlier this year, It’s the Earnings Stupid, long term prices of stocks follow the path of earnings. Recent equity price market declines have factored in slowing in corporate profits. How severely the European debt crisis, and austerity have (and will) spread to the U.S. and emerging markets will become apparent in the coming weeks as companies give us a fresh look at the profit outlook. So far, we have gotten a mixed bag of data. Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) acknowledged slowing coal demand in Asia and FedEx Corp. (FDX) shave its fiscal year outlook by less than 2% due to international deceleration. Other bellwethers like Oracle Corp. (ORCL) and Nike Inc. (NKE) reported strong growth and outlooks. In the short-run Mr. Market is doing everything in his power to bully investors from their money, and lack of international policy response to mitigate the European financial crisis and contagion will only sap confidence and drag 2011-2012 earnings lower.
Punching Mr. Market
The warmth of negative real returns in cash, bonds, and CDs may feel pleasant and prudent, but for many investors the lasting effects of inflation erosion will inflict more pain than the alternatives. For retirees with adequate savings, these issues are less important and focus on equities should be deemphasized. For the majority of others, long-term investors need to reject the overwhelming sense of fear.
As I frequently remind others, I have no clue about the short-term direction of the market, and Greece could be the domino that causes the end of the world. But what I do know is that history teaches us the probabilities of higher long-term equity returns are only improving. Mr. Market is currently using some pretty effective scare tactics to bully investors. For those investors with a multi-year time horizon, who are willing to punch Mr. Market in the nose, the benefits are significant. The reward of better long-term returns is preferable to an atomic wedgie or a head-flush in the toilet received from Mr. Market.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, and FDX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in ANR, ORCL, NKE, 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.
In a data driven world, we can never get enough numbers. The market magicians and the media machines have no problem overhyping or overselling the importance of each pending data-point. With a quick economic sleight of hand, the industry pundits have converted the average investor into a frothing Pavlovian dog, begging for another market shaking statistic. One of the supposed earth-rattling data points is the monthly ISM Manufacturing Index figure, but the release of the ISM number alone isn’t enough for the audience. The real fun comes in determining whether the monthly number registers above or below a schizophrenic 50 level – a number above 50 indicates the manufacturing economy is generally expanding (August came in at 50.6).
The trick can often be surprising, but more surprising to me is the importance placed on this relatively small, disappearing segment of our economy. With the manufacturing sector now accounting for just 11-13% of GDP (see also Manufacturing – Losing Out?), shouldn’t we be focusing more on the “Services” sector of the economy, which accounts for roughly 75% of our country’s output, up from 62% in 1971 (source: Earthtrends). I believe economist Mark Perry at Carpe Diem captured this phenomenon best in his post from earlier this year (Decline of Manufacturing – The World is Much Better Off ):
The fact of the matter is that manufacturing has been declining as a percentage of GDP over the decades just as the broader economy has seen massive growth. While manufacturing got chopped in half, as a percentage of GDP, from 1970 to 2011 we have seen GDP balloon from about $1 trillion to $15 trillion. If manufacturing declined by another 50% of GDP, I’d do cartwheels to see another 15x increase in economic expansion. I acknowledge the existence of certain synergies between product development and product manufacturing, but these benefits must be weighed against higher domestic costs that could make sales potentially unviable.
Déjà Vu All Over Again
This isn’t the first time in our country’s history that we’ve experienced explosive economic growth as legacy segments of the economy decline in relative importance. Consider the share of jobs agriculture controlled in the early 1800s – a whopping 90% of jobs were tied to farms (see chart below). Today, that percentage is less than 2% in the wake of the U.S. becoming the 20th Century global superpower. History has taught us that technology can be a bitch on employment, as robots, machinery, processes, and chemistry replace the demand for human labor. As Perry points out, there is no doubt that “tractors, electricity, combines, the cotton gin, automatic milking machinery, computers, GPS, hybrid seeds, irrigation systems, herbicides, pesticides” replaced millions of farming jobs, but guess what…American ingenuity ruled the day. As it turns out, those economic resources freed up by technology and productivity were redeployed into new, expanding, job-fertile areas of the economy like, “manufacturing, health care, education, business, retail, computers, transportation, etc.”
More Apples or More GMs?
The farming lobby still cries for its inefficient, growth-muffling subsidies today, but many unproductive, unionized domestic manufacturing industries are also screaming for government assistance because cheap foreign labor and new technologies are stealing manufacturing jobs by the boatloads. So at the core, the real question is do we want government and investments supporting more companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) or more companies like General Motors Company (GM)?
As you may know, by flipping over an iPhone, any observer can clearly notice the product is “designed by Apple in California – assembled in China.” It is clear that Apple and its customers value brains over manufacturing brawn. At $371 billion and the most valuable publicly traded stock in the universe, Apple is dominating the electronics world, all the while hiring employees by the thousands. These facts beg the question of whether Apple should revamp their manufacturing supply-chain back to the U.S. to save more domestic jobs? Of course the result of a manufacturing strategy shift to a higher cost region would make Apple less competitive, force them to charge consumers higher prices for Apple products, and open the door for competitors to freely steal market share? Would this strategy create more incremental jobs, or fewer jobs? I think I’ll side with the Steve Jobs philosophy of business, which says “more profitable businesses must fill more job openings.”
If this Apple case study isn’t illustrative enough for you, maybe you should take a look at companies like GM. The U.S. automobile industry has historically been notoriously mismanaged, thanks to a horrific manufacturing cost structure, anchored by unsustainable pension and healthcare costs. Should investors be surprised that an uncompetitive, bloated cost structure leaves companies like GM less money to invest in new products and innovation? This irrational cost management contributed to decades of market share losses to foreigners. If I’m the job creation czar in the U.S., I think I’ll choose the Apple path to job creation over GM’s route.
Global Competitiveness = Jobs
With a 9.1% unemployment rate and the recent introduction of the American Jobs Act, there has been plenty of emphasis and focus on job creation. At the end of the day, what will create durable, long-term job creation is innovative, competitively priced products and services that can be sold domestically and abroad. How do we achieve this goal? We need an education system that can teach and train a workforce sufficiently to meet the discerning tastes of a global marketplace. Government, on the other hand, needs to support (not direct) the private sector by investing in strategic areas to help global competitiveness (i.e., education, energy independence, basic research, infrastructure, entrepreneurial capital for business formation, etc.), while facilitating a business environment that incentivizes growth.
Regardless of the policy mixtures, the common denominator needs to be focused on improving global competitiveness. Excessive focus on a declining manufacturing sector and the monthly ISM data will only distract decision makers from the core issues. If the economic magician’s sleight of hand diverts investor attention for too long, we may see more jobs disappear.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (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 GM, 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
There are approximately 2 billion people surfing the internet globally and over 150 million bloggers (source: blogpulse.com) spewing their thoughts out into cyberspace. Throw in economists, strategists, columnists, and the talking heads on television, and you can sleep comfortably knowing there will never be a shortage of opinions for investors to sift through. The real question regarding the infinite number of ideas floating around from the “market commentators” is how useful or harmful is all this information? These diverse points of view, like guns, can be useful or dangerous – depending on an investor’s experience and knowledge level. Deciphering the nuances and variances of investment opinions can be very challenging for an untrained investing eye or ear. While there are plenty of diamonds in the rough to be discovered in the investment advice buffet, there are also a plethora of landmines and booby traps that could explode investment portfolios – especially if these volatile opinions are not handled with care.
No Credentials Required
Unlike dentists, lawyers, accountants, or doctors, becoming a market commentator requires little more than a pulse. All a writer, squawker, or blogger really needs is an internet connection, a keyboard, and something interesting or provocative to talk about. Are any credentials required to blast toxic gibberish to the millions among the masses? Unfortunately there are no qualifications required…scary thought indeed.
In order to successfully navigate the choppy investment opinion waters, investors need to be self-aware enough to answer the following key questions:
• What is your investment time horizon?
• What is your risk tolerance? (see also Sleeping like a Baby)
With these answers in hand, you can now begin to evaluate the credibility and track record of the market commentators and match your personal time horizon and risk profile appropriately. Ideally, investors would seek out prudent long-term counsel, but in this instant gratification society we live in, immediate fear and greed sells advertisements and attracts viewers. Even if media producers and editors of all stripes believed focusing on multi-year time horizons is most beneficial for investors, some serious challenges arise. The brutal reality is that concentrating on the lackluster long-term does not generate a lot of advertisement revenue or traffic. The topics of dollar-cost averaging, asset allocation, diversification, and rebalancing are about as exciting as watching an infomercial marathon (OK, actually this is quite funny) or paint dry. More interesting than the sleepy, uninspiring topics of long-term value creation are stories about terrorist threats, DSK sex scandals, Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, currency crises, hacking misconduct, bailouts, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, 50-day moving averages…OK, you get the idea.
Focus on Long-Term and Do Not Succumb to Short-Termism
Regrettably, there is a massive disconnect between the nano-second time horizons of market commentators and the time horizons of most investors. Moreover, this short-termism dispersed instantaneously via Facebook, Google (GOOG), Twitter, and traditional media channels, has sadly infected the psyches and investment habits of ordinary investors. If you don’t believe me, then check out some of the John Bogle’s work, which shows how dramatically investors underperform the benchmark thanks to emotionally charged reactions (see Fees, Exploitation, and Confusion Hammer Investors).
Although myopic short-termism is not the solution, extending time horizons too long does no good for investors either. As economist John Maynard Keynes astutely noted, “In the long run we are all dead.” But surely bloggers and pundits alike could provide perspectives in multiple year timeframes, rather than in multiple hours. Investors would be served best by turning off the TV, PC, or cell phone, and using the resulting free time to read a good book about the virtues of patient investing from successful long-term investors. Stuffing cash under the mattress, parking it in a 0.5% CD, or panicking into sub-2% Treasuries probably is not going to get the job done for your whole portfolio when inflation, longer life expectancies, and the unsustainable trajectory of entitlements destroy the value of your hard-earned nest egg.
Investment Commentators Look into Politician Mirror
Heading into a heated election year with volatility reaching historic heights in the financial markets, both politicians and investment commentators have garnered a great deal of the media spotlight. With the recent heightened interest in the two fields, some common characteristics between politicians and investment commentators have surfaced. Here are some of the similarities:
- Politicians have a short-term incentives to get re-elected and not get fired, even if there is an inherent conflict with the long-term interest of their constituents; Investment commentators have a short-term incentives to follow the herd and not get fired, even if there is an inherent conflict with the long-term interest of their constituents;
- Many politicians have extreme views that conflict with peers because blandness does not get votes; Many investment commentators have extreme views that conflict with peers because blandness does not get votes;
- Many politicians lack practical experience that could benefit their followers, but the politicians have the gift of charisma to mask their inexperience; Many investment commentators lack practical experience that could benefit their followers, but the commentators have the gift of charisma to mask their inexperience;
Investing has never been so difficult, and also has never been so important, which behooves investors to carefully consider portfolio actions taken based on a very volatile and inconsistent opinions from a group of bloggers, economists, strategists, columnists, and various other media commentators. Investors are bombarded with an avalanche of ever-changing daily data, much of which is irrelevant and should be ignored by long-term investors. As you weigh the precious value of your political votes in the upcoming election season, I urge you to back the candidates that represent your long-term interests. With regard to the financial markets, I also urge you to back the investment commentators that support your long-term interests – the success of your financial future depends on it.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in Facebook, Twitter, 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
Shake, Rattle, & Swirl: Category 3 hurricane Irene pounded the eastern seaboard with winds reaching 110 miles per hour, knocking out power in an estimated 8 million homes and businesses. Some analysts estimate the damage to be somewhere between $7 billion and $10 billion. If that wasn’t enough, earlier in the same week, a 5.8-magnitude earthquake rippled from its Virginia epicenter up to Maine rattling both buildings and people’s nerves.
Volatility Spikes in August: Volatility, as measured by the Volatility Index (VIX – a.k.a. “Fear Gauge”), reared its ugly head again in August, reaching a level exceeding 44 (Source: Hays Advisory). This reading has only been experienced nine times in the last 25 years. Historically, on average, these have been excellent buying points for long-term investors.
Steve Jobs Lets Go of Reins: After being Chief Executive Officer of Apple Inc. (AAPL – formerly Apple Computers) for more than 20 years, Steve Jobs passed the CEO reins over to Tim Cook, who has been with the company for 13 years (including interim CEO). Jobs will remain on board as Chairman of Apple and still provide assistance in a more limited capacity.
Buffett Puts Dry Powder to Work: Billionaire Warren Buffett is putting his money where his mouth is. Although he is one of a few wealthy individuals griping about too LOW income taxes (NYT OpEd), at least he is using some of his extra bucks to support the country’s financial system. More specifically, Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA) is investing $5 billion in troubled banking giant Bank of America Corp.’s (BAC) preferred stock (paying a 6% dividend), with warrants to buy additional stock in the future at a mutually prearranged price.
Google Buys Motorola Mobility: Google Inc. (GOOG) agreed to pay $12.5 billion to buy cellphone maker Motorola Mobility Holdings (MMI) in a move designed to protect the internet giant, and its partners, against patent litigation as it pertains to the Google Android mobile phone operating system. that could shake up the balance of power among among tech rivals. Time will tell whether Motorola’s assets will providing valuable resources for Google’s partners (i.e., HTC, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics) or whether the acquisition will create competitive conflicts.
ECB Buys some Bonds:The European Central Bank (ECB), Europe’s equivalent of the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, began buying up billions of dollars in Spanish and Italian bonds last month. The goal of the bond buying program is to stem any potential contagion effect arising from debt crises occurring in countries like Greece, Portugal, and Ireland.
Quote of the Month
“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.”
– Swedish Proverb
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: For those taking this article seriously, please look up “parody” in the dictionary. Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, GOOG, and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BRKA, MMI, HTC,
LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics, 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