Time to Trade in the Investment Tricycle
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management’s complementary newsletter (May 1, 2013). Subscribe on the right side of the page for an entire monthly update.
As the stock market continues to set new, all-time record highs and the Dow Jones Industrial index nears another historic milestone (15,000 level), investors remain cautiously skeptical of the rebound – like a nervous toddler choosing to ride a tricycle instead of a bicycle. Investors have been moving slowly, but stock prices have not – the Dow has risen +13% in 2013 alone. What’s more, over the last four years the S&P 500 index (which represents large companies) has climbed +140%; the S&P 400 (mid-sized companies) +195%; and the S&P 600 (small-sized companies) +200%.
The gains have been staggering, but like the experience of riding a bicycle, the bumps, scrapes, and bruises suffered during the 2008-2009 financial crash have caused investors to abandon their investment bikes for a perceived safer vehicle…a tricycle. What do I mean by that? Well, over the last six years, investors have pulled out more than -$521,000,000,000 from stock funds and piled those proceeds into bonds (Calafia Beach Pundit chart below). For retirees and billionaires this strategy may make sense in certain instances. But for millions of others, interest rate risk, inflation risk, and the risk of outliving your money can be more hazardous to financial well-being, than the artificially perceived safety expected from bonds. The fact of the matter is investing inefficiently in cash, money markets, CDs, and low-yielding fixed income securities can be riskier in the long-run than a globally diversified portfolio invested across a broad set of asset classes (including equities). The latter should be the strategy of choice, unless of course you are someone who yearns to work at Wal-Mart (WMT) as a greeter in your 80s!
Investor Training Wheels
I don’t want to irresponsibly flog everyone, because investing attitudes have begun to change a little in 2013, as investors have added $66 billion to stock funds (data from ICI). Effectively, some investors have gone from riding their tricycle to hopping on a bike with training wheels. With this change in mindset, surely people have commenced selling bonds to buy stocks, right? Wrong! Investors have actually bought more bonds (+$69 billion) than stocks in the first three months of the year, which helps explain why interest rates on the 10-year Treasury are only yielding a paltry 1.67% (near last year’s record summer low) – remember, bond buying causes interest rates to go down. If you really want to do research, you could ask your parents when rates were ever this low, but some readers’ parents may not even had been born yet. The previous record low in interest rates, according to Bloomberg, at 1.95% was achieved in 1941.
Over the last five years the news has been atrocious, and as we have proven, investing based off of current headlines is a horrible investment strategy. As we’ve seen firsthand, there can be very long, multi-year periods when stock performance has absolutely no correlation with the positive or negative nature of news reports. To better make my point, I ask you, what types of headlines have you been reading over the last four years? I can answer the question for you with a few examples. For starters, we’ve endured financial collapses in Iceland, Ireland, Dubai, Greece, and now Cyprus. At home domestically, we’ve experienced a “flash crash” that temporarily evaporated about $1 trillion dollars in value (and 1,000 Dow points) within a few minutes due to high frequency algorithmic traders. How about unemployment data? We’ve witnessed the slowest, jobless U.S. recovery in a generation (since World War II), and European countries have it much worse than we do (e.g., Spain just registered a 27% unemployment rate). What about political gridlock and brinksmanship? We’ve seen debt ceiling stand-offs lead to a historic loss of our country’s AAA debt status; a partisan presidential election; a deafening fiscal cliff debate; and now mindless sequestration. Nevertheless, large cap stocks and small cap stocks have more than doubled and tripled, respectively.
Fear sells advertising, and sounds smarter than “everything is rosy,” but the fact remains, things are not as bad as many bears claim. Corporations are earning record profits, and hold trillions in cash (e.g., Apple Inc.’s recent announcement of more than $50 billion in share repurchase and $11 billion in annual dividend payments are proof). Moreover, central banks around the globe are doing whatever it takes to stimulate growth – most recently the Bank of Japan promised to inject $1.4 trillion into its economy by the end of 2014, in order to kick-start expansion. Lastly, the U.S. employment picture continues to improve, albeit slowly (7.6% unemployment in March), allowing consumers to pay down debt, buy more homes, and spend money to spur economic growth.
Dangers of Being Informed
Hopefully this clarifies how useless and futile newspaper headlines are when it comes to effective investing. As Mark Twain astutely noted, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” It’s perfectly fine to remain in tune with current events, but shuffling around your life’s savings based on this information is a foolish plan.
If the concerns and worries du jour have you nervously riding a tricycle, just realize that you may not reach your investment destination with this mode of transportation. I understand that it is not all hearts and flowers in the financial markets, and there are plenty of legitimate risks to consider. However, excessive exposure in low-rate asset classes may be riskier than many realize. If you’re still riding your investment tricycle, you’re probably better off by grabbing a helmet and pads (i.e., globally diversified portfolio) and jumping on a bike – you are more likely to reach your financial destination.
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), WMT and AAPL, 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.