Archive for October, 2013
Fear is a motivating (or demotivating) emotion that can force individuals into suboptimal actions. The two main crashes of the 2000s (technology & housing bubbles) coupled with the mini-crises (e.g., flash crash, European crisis, debt ceiling, sequestration, fiscal cliff, etc.) have scared millions of investors and trillions of dollars to sit on the sidelines. Financial paralysis may be great in the short-run for bruised psyches and egos, but for the passive onlookers, the damage to retirement accounts can be crippling.
Selective memory is a great coping mechanism for those investors sitting on the sidelines as well. Purposely forgetting your wallet at a group dinner may be beneficial in the near-term, but repeated incidents will result in lost friends over the long-run. Similarly, most gamblers frequenting casinos tend to pound their chests when bragging about their wins, however they tend to conveniently forget about all the losses. These same reality avoidance principles apply to investing.
A recent piece written by CEO Bill Koehler at Tower Wealth Managers, entitled The Fear Bubble highlights a survey conducted by Franklin Templeton. In the study, investors were asked how the stock market performed in 2009-2012. As you can see from the chart below, perception is the polar opposite of reality (actual gains far exceeded perceived losses):
With so many investors sitting on the sidelines in cash or concentrated in low-yielding bonds and gold, I suppose the results shouldn’t be too surprising. Once again, selective memory serves as a wonderful tool to bury the regrets of missing out on a financial market recovery of a lifetime.
Humans also have a predisposition to seek out people who share similar views, even though accumulating different viewpoints ultimately leads to better decisions. Morgan Housel at The Motley Fool just wrote an article, Putting a Gap Between You and Stupid, explaining how individuals should seek out others who can help protect them from harmful biases. A scientific study referenced in the article showed how the functioning of biased brains literally shuts down:
“During the 2004 presidential election, psychologist Drew Westen of Emory University and his colleagues studied the brains of 15 “committed” Democrats and 15 “committed” Republicans with an MRI scanner. Each group was shown a collection of contradictory statements made by George W. Bush and John Kerry. Not surprisingly, the partisans were quick to call out contradictions made by the opposing party, and made up all kinds of justifications to rationalize quotes made by their own side’s candidate. But here’s what’s scary: The participants weren’t just being stubborn. Westen found that areas of their brains that control reasoning and logic virtually shut down when confronted with a conflicting view of their preferred candidate.”
Rather than letting emotions rule the day, the proper approach is to stick to unbiased numbers like valuations, yields, fees, and volatility. If you continually make mistakes; you aren’t disciplined enough; or you don’t like investing; then find a trusted advisor who uses an objective financial approach. Opportunistically taking advantage of volatility, instead of knee-jerk reactions is the preferred approach. For those people sitting on the sidelines and using selective memory, you may feel better now, but you will eventually have to get in the game, if you don’t want to lose the retirement account game.
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.
At the pace of all this head-scratching going on, our population is likely to turn completely bald. One thing is for certain, nothing has scratched this Teflon stock market. If you want to have fun with a friend, family member or co-worker, just ask them how they feel about politics and then ask them how stocks have done this year? You’re bound to get some entertaining responses. Despite a Congress that has a lower favorability rating than cockroaches, lice, root canals, and colonoscopies , the S&P 500 index is up a whopping +22% and the NASDAQ index + 30% this year, both records. The USA Today ran with the Teflon theme and had this to say:
“This year alone the stock market has survived the recent brush with a U.S. debt default. It has also survived a government shutdown. Tax hikes. Government spending cuts. The threat of war. Terror at the Boston Marathon. A spike in interest rates. Plunging Apple shares. Stock exchange glitches. Fears of a less-friendly Federal Reserve. And a narrow escape from going over the “fiscal cliff.” Nothing bad seems to stick.”
The reason nothing is sticking to this Teflon market is because the market is more sensitive to reality rather than perception. Here are some come current discrepancies between these two states:
Perception: The economy is on the verge of a recession. Reality: The economy has grown GDP for 15 of the last 16 quarters. The private sector has added about 7.5 million jobs and the unemployment rate has been cut by about three percentage points.
Perception: Corporations are struggling. Reality: Corporations are actually posting record profits; increasing dividends significantly; buying back stock; and registering record profit margins.
Perception: The Federal Reserve controls the economy. Reality: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has little to no influence on decisions made by companies like Google Inc (GOOG), Facebook Inc (FB), McDonald’s Corp (MCD), Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA), and Target Corporation (TGT) (see also The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread). Interest rates are actually higher than when QE1 (quantitative easing) was first implemented, yet growth persists.
These types of mental mistakes occur outside the realm of financial markets as well. For example, most people fail to correctly answer the question, “Which animal is responsible for the greatest number of human deaths in the U.S.?”
A.) Alligator; B.) Bear; C.) Deer; D.) Shark; and E.) Snake
The ANSWER: C) Deer.
Deer colliding into cars trigger seven times more deaths than alligators, bears, sharks, and snakes combined, according to Jason Zweig at the Wall Street Journal (see also Alligators & Airplane Crashes). Other mental disconnects include the belief that planes are more dangerous than cars. In fact, people are 65 times more likely to get killed in your own car versus a plane. Also, misconceptions exist that guns are more dangerous than smoking, or that tornadoes are more dangerous than asthma – both beliefs wrong.
Party Not Over Yet
Long-time followers and readers of Investing Caffeine know that I’ve been an active participant in this bull market that started in 2009, evidenced by my critical views of Armageddonists like Peter Schiff, John Mauldin, Nouriel Roubini, Meredith Whitney, and other doom & gloomers.
I fully recognize there’s no honor in being Pollyannaish or a perma-bull just for the sake of it. However, it’s also very clear that excessive fear exercised by many investors proved very painful as S&P 500 level 666 has exploded to 1,744. The extreme panic that reached a pinnacle in 2009 has now morphed into an insidious skepticism (see Sentiment Pendulum ). Investor emotions continually swing from fear to greed, and with the political shenanigans going on in Washington DC, the skeptical pendulum has a long way before reaching euphoric levels. Or stated differently, the pre-party is over (see my article from earlier this year, Those Who Missed the Pre-Party), but the DJ is still playing and the cops aren’t here to break up the party yet.
I agree that we’ve had a Teflon market for a handful of years. There have been a few minimal scratches and a few hand burns along the way, but for the most part, those investors who have stayed invested and ignored the endless manufactured crisis headlines have been rewarded handsomely. Investing in stocks will always cause some heartburn, but if you don’t want your long-term retirement to get grilled, seared, pan-fried, or flambéed, then you want to make sure you still have some stocks in your Teflon pan.
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), AAPL and GOOG, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in FB, TGT, TSLA, MCD, 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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.
I wouldn’t say the nail is in the emerging market coffin quite yet. During the financial crisis, the EMSCI Emerging Market Index (EEM) was left for dead (down -50% in 2008) before resurrection in 2009 and 2010 (up +74% and +16%, respectively). For the last two years however, the EMSCI index has underperformed the S&P 500 Index massively by more than -30%. Included in this international index are holdings from China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Korea, and South Africa, among others.
The question now becomes, can the emerging markets resurrect themselves from the dead again? Recent signs are flashing “yes”. Over the last three months, the emerging markets have outperformed the S&P 500 by more than +8%, but these stocks still have a lot of ground to make up before reaching the peak levels of 2007. Last year’s slowing growth in China and a European recession, coupled with talks of the Federal Reserve’s “tapering” of monetary stimulus, didn’t provide the EMSCI index any help over the last few years.
With all the distracting drama currently taking place in Washington D.C., it’s a relief to see some other indications of improvement. For starters, China’s most recent PMI manufacturing index results showed continued improvement, reaching a level of 51.1 – up from August and signaling a reversal from contraction earlier this year (levels above 50 point to expansion). Chinese government leaders are continuing their migration from an externally export-driven economy to an internally consumer-driven economy. Despite the shift, China is still targeting a respectable +7.5% GDP economic growth target, albeit a slower level than achieved in the past.
Adding to emerging market optimism is Europe’s apparent economic turnaround (or stabilization). As you can see from the chart below, the European Institute for Supply Management (ISM) service sector index has lately shown marked improvement. If the European and Chinese markets can sustain these recovering trends, these factors bode well for emerging market financial returns.
While it is clear these developments are helping the rebound in emerging market indices, it is also clear the supply-demand relationship in commodities will coincide with the next big up or down move in developing markets. Ed Yardeni, strategist and editor of Dr. Ed’s Blog, recently wrote a piece showing the tight correlation between emerging market stock prices and commodity prices (CRB Index). His conclusions come as no surprise to me given these resource-rich markets and their dependence on Chinese demand along with commodity needs from other developed countries. Expanding populations and rising standards of living in emerging market countries have and will likely continue to position these countries well for long-term commodity price appreciation. The development of new, higher-value service and manufacturing sectors should also lead to sustainably improved growth in these emerging markets relative to developed economies.
Adding fuel to the improving emerging market case is the advancement in the Baltic Dry Index (see chart below). The recent upward trajectory of the index is an indication that the price for moving major raw materials like coal, iron ore, and grains by sea is rising. This statistical movement is encouraging, but as you can see it is also very volatile.
While the emerging markets are quite unpredictable and have been out-of-favor over the last few years, a truly diversified portfolio needs a healthy dosage of this international exposure. You better check a pulse before you put a nail in the coffin – the emerging markets are not dead yet.
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) including emerging market ETFs, but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in EEM, 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 the information to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.