Archive for December, 2011
There was some entertaining dancing going on early in 2011, but for the most part, the year brought a lot of rock ‘n’ roll on its way to what looks like a flattish year on a return basis. Sidoxia Capital Management and Investing Caffeine (IC) followed everything from the Royal Wedding and Charlie Sheen to the debt ceiling debate and the Arab Spring. Amongst all the celebration and chaos, IC pounded away at the keyboard and reported on the financial markets and the virtues of investing. Out of the 80 or so postings at IC this year, here are my top 11 favorites of 2011:
• Spoonfuls of Investment Knowledge: Classic investment quotes and tenets.
• 10 Ways to Destroy Your Portfolio: Investment mistakes to avoid.
• Solving Europe and Your Deadbeat Cousin: Putting the European financial crisis in context.
• A Serious Situation in Jackson Hole: The “Situation” meets Ben Bernanke.
• It’s the Earnings, Stupid: Stock prices and the inextricable ties with earnings.
• Innovative Bird Keeps All the Worms: Innovative not first mover gains the prize.
• Snoozing Your Way to Investment Prosperity: How to invest and sleep well during financial market mayhem.
• The Fallacy of High P/E’s: Sustainably high earnings growth can trump high P/E ratios.
• Gospel from 20th Century Investment King: Investment maxims from legend Sir John Templeton.
• The 10 Investment Commandments: Charles Ellis passes down key laws to investment disciples.
• Share Buybacks and Bathroom Violators: Pet peeves in the bathroom and share repurchase.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from Investing Caffeine and Sidoxia Capital Management!
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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.
Buying fire insurance when your neighbor’s house is on fire or flood insurance as your car floats down your driveway can be a very expensive proposition. Stuffing money under the mattress in money market accounts, savings accounts, CDs, and low-yielding bonds can be a very expensive proposition too, as inflation eats away at the value and the auspice of higher interest rates looms. However, buying things when they are out of favor, like bathing suits in the winter, is an opportunistic way of cashing in on bargains when others are uninterested.
Speaking of uninterested, CNBC recently conducted a survey regarding the attractiveness of stock investing, and according to the participants, there has never been a worst time to invest (as long as the survey has been conducted). Despite consumers planning to spend +22% more on gifts this year, the national mood has not been worse since the financial crisis began in earnest during 2008. Specifically, as it pertains to stocks, 53% of Americans believe it is a bad time to invest in the stock market (SEE VIDEO BELOW).
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Not a very happy picture. The study filtered through 4,600,000,000 expressions posted by 63 million unique Twitter social media users and graphically displayed people’s happiness (or lack thereof).
Endless Number of Concerns
There is no shortage of concerns, whether one worries about the collapse of Europe, declining home values, or an uncertain employment picture. But is now the time to give up and follow the scared herd? The best time to follow the herd is never. As the old saying goes, “the herd is led to the slaughterhouse.” Investing is game like chess where one has to anticipate and be forward looking multiple moves in advance – not reacting to every shift and move of your competitor.
Certainly, investing in stocks may not be appropriate for those investors needing access to liquid funds over the next year or two. Also, retirees needing steady income may not be in a position to handle the volatility of equities. However, for many millions of investors who are planning for the next 5, 10, or 20+ years, what happens over the next few months or next few years in Italy, Greece, or Spain is likely to be meaningless. As far as our economy goes, the U.S. averages about two recessions a decade, and has done quite well over the long-run despite that fact – thank you very much. Investors need to understand that investing is a marathon, and not a sprint.
December may not be the best time to head the beach in your swim trunks, bikini, or thong, but winter is now upon us and incredible deals abound (see deals for women & men). It may also be windy outside with frigid conditions in the water for stock investors too, but with winter beginning this week, the amount of bargains for long-term investors continue to heat up no matter how chilly the sentiment remains.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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.
ECB (European Central Bank) President Mario Draghi made it clear with his most recent monetary banking announcements that he is perfectly willing to shovel the sovereign debt trash around the financial system, but he just doesn’t want the ECB to gobble up heaps of the smelly debt.
On the same day that Draghi lowered the key benchmark interest rate by -0.25% to 1.00%, he also reduced the lending credit rating threshold for acceptable banking collateral to “single-A” and offered banks endless three-year loans with . But wait…there’s more! In typical infomercial fashion, Draghi had an additional stimulative gift offering – he halved the reserve requirement ratios for European banks.
Although Draghi is handing out lots of hugs and kisses to the banks, including infinite amounts of three-year loans, he is also providing very little direct love to European debt-laden governments. In other words, Draghi isn’t ready to pull out the printing press bazooka to sop up mounds of trashy sovereign debt (i.e., Greece, Italy, and Spain). Draghi may be willing to make the ECB the lender of last resort for the banks, but he is not signaling the same lender of last resort commitment for careless governments.
Despite Draghi’s public aversion to bond buying (a.k.a. QE or quantitative easing), he indirectly is funding quantitative easing anyway. Rather than having the ECB accelerate the direct purchase of besieged sovereign debt, he indirectly is giving money to the banks to purchase the same struggling bonds. Sneaky, but clever…I like it.
Eat Your Brussels Sprouts!
Draghi in his new role as ECB President is clearly trying to be a responsible parent to the Euro leaders, but as a result, he could be placing himself in trouble with the law. I haven’t contacted my attorneys yet, however Mario Draghi is blatantly infringing on my patented “Brussels sprouts mandate” that I regularly use at the dinner table with my children. On any given night, by 6:30 p.m. my kids are practically frothing at the mouth for some unhealthy dessert delight. The problem with the situation is unfinished Brussels sprouts sitting on their plates, so with respected authority I command, “If you want dessert tonight, you better eat your Brussels sprouts!” Normally this is not a bad strategy because my plea usually results in an extra consumed sprout or two. Ultimately, given the softy that I am, all parties involved know that dessert will be served regardless of the number of sprouts consumed.
Draghi, in dealing with the irresponsible fiscal actions of the sovereigns, is using the same precise “sprout mandate.” In a recent press conference, here’s how Draghi delivered his tough talk:
“All euro-area governments urgently need to do their utmost” for fiscal sustainability. “Policy makers need to correct excessive deficits and move to balanced budgets in the coming years. This will strengthen overall economic sentiment. To accompany fiscal consolidation, the governing council has called for bold and ambitious structural reforms.”
Just as it makes sense for me not to say, “Hey kids, don’t worry about eating your vegetables, save room for the ice cream sundae buffet,” it probably doesn’t make sense for Draghi to inform European leaders, “Hey kids, don’t worry about those massive debts and deficits, the ECB will give you plenty of money to buy up all that trashy sovereign debt of yours.”
Hypocritical Or Shrewd?
I applaud Signore Draghi for implementing his bold actions as lender of last resort for European Banks, but isn’t it a tad bit hypocritical? The ECB President talks seriously about Basel III capital requirements, yet he is easing rules on collateral and reserves. Why is it OK for the ECB to condone reckless behavior and introduce moral hazards for the banks (i.e., limitless ECB backstop), but not for irresponsible governments too? If I am a European bank with continuous access to ECB loans, why not roll the dice and risk shareholder capital in hopes of a big risky payoff? I’m sure Jon Corzine at MF Global (MFGLQ.PK) would appreciate similar financial backing. What’s more, how credible can Draghi be about his tough fiscal love and anti-quantitative easing stances when he is currently offering never-ending amounts of money to the banks and already buying collapsing sovereign bonds as we speak?
No matter the view you hold, the ECB is openly demonstrating it will not sit idle watching the banking system collapse under its own watch, much like the Federal Reserve and Ben Bernanke did not sit idle in 2008-2009. Perhaps Draghi isn’t being hypocritical, but is rather being shrewd? Although Draghi wants governments to eat their fiscal Brussels sprouts, let’s not kid ourselves. Just as Draghi is willing to pass the trash and appease the banking system, if the eurozone sovereign debt crisis continues worsening, don’t be surprised to see Draghi roll out his ice cream sundae buffet of aggressive bond buying. That will taste much better than Brussels sprouts.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MF Global (MFGLQ.PK), or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.
Article below represents a portion of free December 1, 2011 Sidoxia monthly newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)
There is no shortage of issues to worry about in our troubled global neighborhood, but then again, anybody older than 25 years old knows the world is always an uncertain place. Whether we are talking about wars (Vietnam, Cold War, Iraq); presidential calamities (Kennedy assassination, Nixon resignation/impeachment proceedings); international turmoil (dissolution of Soviet Union, 9/11 attacks, Arab Spring); investment bubbles (technology, real estate); or financial crises (S&L crisis, Long Term Capital, Lehman Brothers bankruptcy), investors always have a large menu of concerns from which they can order.
Despite the doom and gloom dominating the media airwaves, and the lackluster performance of equities experienced over the last decade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index are both up more than 20-fold since the 1970s (those gains also exclude the positive impact of dividends).
Times Have Changed
Just a few decades ago, nobody would have talked or cared about small economies like Iceland, Dubai, and Greece. Today, technology has accelerated the forces of globalization, resulting in information travelling thousands of miles at the click of a mouse, often creating scary financial mountains out of meaningless molehills. As a result of these trends, news of Italian bond auctions, which normally would be glossed over on the evening news, instantaneously clogs our smart phones, computers, radios, and televisions. The implications of all these developments mean investing has become much more difficult, just as its importance has never been more crucial.
How has investing become more critical? For starters, interest rates are near 60-year lows and Treasury bond prices are at record highs, while inflation (food, energy, healthcare, leisure, etc.) is shrinking the value of people’s savings. Next, entitlement and pension reliability are decreasing by the minute – fiscal imbalances and unrealistic promises have contributed to a less certain retirement outlook. Layer on hyper-manic volatility of daily, multi-hundred point swings in the Dow Jones Industrial index and a less experienced investor quickly realizes investing can become an overwhelming game. Case in point is the VIX volatility index (a.k.a., the “Fear Gauge”), which has registered a whopping +57% increase in 2011.
December to Remember?
After an explosive +23% return in the S&P 500 index for 2009 (excluding dividends) and another +13% return in 2010, equity investors have taken a breather thus far in 2011 – the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up modestly (+4%) and the S&P 500 index is down fractionally (-1%). We still have the month of December to log, but in the short-run the European tail has definitely been wagging the rest of the global dog.
Although the United States knows a thing or two about lack of political leadership and coordination, herding the 17 eurozone countries to resolve the European debt financial crisis has proved even more challenging. As you can see below in the performance figures of the major global equity markets, the U.S. remains the best house in a bad neighborhood:
Our fiscal house undeniably needs some work (i.e., unsustainable deficits and bloated debt), but record corporate profits, record levels of cash, voracious consumer spending, improving employment data, and attractive valuations are all contributing to a domestic house that makes opportunities in our backyard look a lot more appealing to investors than prospects elsewhere in the global neighborhood.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and VGK, 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.