Market Expands and So Does Sidoxia’s Team
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (March 3, 2014). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
After a brief pause at the beginning of the year, the stock market built on the tremendous gains of 2013 (S&P 500 up +30%) by reaching record highs again in February by expanding another +4.3% for the month. My investment management and financial planning firm, Sidoxia Capital Mangement, LLC, has been expanding as well. Just this last month, we added a key investment and financial planning professional (Keith C. Bong, CFA, CPA Press Release) with more than 25 years of experience in the fields.
The Record Setting Advance Continues
Now entering the sixth year of this record setting bull market, many investors and pundits have been surprised by the strength and duration of the advance. At the nadir of the financial crisis, the stock market reached a multi-year low of 666 on March 9, 2009. For comparison purposes, the S&P 500 recently closed at 1,845, almost tripling in value since the crisis lows. Pessimists and skeptics, who locked in losses during the crisis plunge, have watched the explosive gains while sitting on their hands. While I freely admit, the low-hanging fruit has been picked, many of the doubters are still calling for a collapse as “troubling news continues to pour in from all over the planet.” However, what the naysayers neglect to acknowledge is the fact that S&P 500 reported profits, the lifeblood of bull markets, have also tripled in value. Despite what the bears say, not everything is a speculative house of cards.
Late to the Party Because of Uncertainty
Although the stock party has lasted five years thus far, individuals have only begun buying for about one year (see ICI fund flows data in Here Comes the Dumb Money) – about +$28 billion of new money in 2013 and another +$12 billion so far this year (ICI data through February 19th). After approximately six years and -$600 billion in stock sales (2007-2012), it’s no wonder investors have been slow to reverse course. Adding to the angst, investors have been bombarded with an endless stream of political and economic concerns on a daily basis, leading to the late arrival of most individuals to the stock investing party. While it’s true that more people have joined the party in recent months, floods of investors are still waiting outside in the cold. Here are a few reasons for the tardiness:
- Geopolitical Concerns: Most recently it was Syria, Iran, and Argentina that got short-term traders chewing their fingernails…now it’s the Ukraine. Just yesterday, I had to spend about 10 minutes locating the Ukranian province of Crimea on a map. For those who have not been keeping track, after days of civil unrest that left some 75 protesters dead, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital city of Kiev and agreed with opposition leaders to reduce his powers and hold early presidential elections later this year. For context, in 1954, the former Soviet Union leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred Crimea from the Russian Soviet republic to Ukraine on the basis of economic ties that were closer with Kiev than with Moscow. Prior to that transfer, Russia seized Crimea from the declining Ottoman Empire in the 18th century. Fast forward to today, and fresh off a successful Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been happy about the citizen uprising in neighboring Ukraine, so he has decided to flex his muscles and move Russian troops into Crimea. The situation is very fluid and the U.S., along with other global leaders, are crying foul. Time will tell if this situation escalates into a military conflict like the 2008 Georgia-Russia crisis, or if cooler heads prevail.
- Fed Policy Concerns: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen gave her inaugural address last month before Congress, where she signaled continuity in policy with former Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. Indications remain strong that the reduction of bond buying stimulus (i.e., “tapering”) will continue in the months ahead, despite mixed economic results. The “Polar Vortex” occurring on the East Coast, coupled with a record draught on the West Coast contributed to the recent reduction of Q4-2013 GDP growth figures, which were revised lower to +2.4% growth (from +3.2%).
- Domestic Politics: In a sharply politically divided country like the U.S., is there ever a complete hugs & kisses consensus? In short, “no”. How can there be 100% agreement when sharply divisive issues like Obamacare, immigration, tax reform, entitlements, budgets, and foreign affairs are always in flux? Layer on a Congressional midterm election this November and you have a recipe for uncertainty.
Because of all this uncertainty, there are still literally trillions of dollars in cash sitting on the sidelines, waiting to come join the fun. But uncertainty is a relative term because there is always doubt surrounding geopolitics, economics, and Washington D.C. Sentiment moves like a pendulum from fear to greed. Eventually panic/fear sways back the other direction as business/consumer confidence overshadow the deep scarred emotions of 2008-09. As the stock markets have grinded to record highs, fear and skepticism have slowly begun to erode.
Speaking of uncertainty, I too encountered many doubters and skeptics when I started my firm, Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC in early 2008. Great timing, I thought at the time, as our economy entered the worst recession and financial crisis in a generation and the walls of our nation’s financial system were caving in.
With virtually no company assets or revenues at the time, this was the backdrop as I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. Seemingly secure investment banking pillars like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, which each had been around for more than a century, crumbled within the blink of an eye. As bailouts were occurring left and right, in conjunction with recurring multi-hundred point collapses in the Dow Jones Industrial index, cynics would repeatedly ask me, “Wade it’s great that you have a lot of experience, but how are you going to gain clients?” It was a fair and reasonable question at the time, but perseverance and hard work have allowed Sidoxia to beat the odds. Publishing several books, conducting numerous media appearances, and gaining thousands of social media followers (InvestingCaffeine.com) hasn’t hurt in building Sidoxia’s brand either.
After achieving record growth in the first five years of the firm, Sidoxia more than doubled its assets under management again in 2013. More important than all of the previously mentioned achievements has been our ability to service our clients with a disciplined, customized process that has demonstrated strong long-term results and helped solidify our valued relationships.
A Few Party Animals Getting Reckless at the Stock Party
Success for Sidoxia or any investor has not come easy over the last six years. As I wrote in a Series of Unfortunate Events, we’ve had to navigate our clients’ investment assets through the following events and more:
- Flash Crash
- Debt Ceiling Debates-Brinksmanship
- U.S. Debt Downgrade
- European Recession
- Arab Spring – Tunisia, Libya, Egypt
- Greek Crisis and Potential Exit from EU
- Uncertain U.S. Presidential Elections
- Cyprus Financial Crisis
- Income Tax Hikes
- Federal Reserve Tapering
- Syrian Civil War / Military Threat
- Government Shutdown
- Obamacare & Its Glitches
- Iranian Nuclear Threat
- Argentinian Currency Collapse
- Polar Vortex
- Ukrainian Instability
It is no small feat that stock markets have made new records in the face of these daunting concerns. But simply ignoring scary headlines won’t earn you an investing trophy. Successful investing also requires controlling temptation and greed. At a celebratory bash, there are always irresponsible party animals, just like there are always reckless speculators gambling in the financial markets. It certainly is possible to party responsibly without getting crazy during festivities and still have fun. Even though the majority of investors currently are behaving well, as substantiated by the reasonable P/E ratio being paid (15x’s estimated 2014 profits) there are a few foolish players. Pockets of speculative fervor can be found in several areas of the financial markets. Here are a few:
- Bitcoin Breakdown: The world’s largest Bitcoin exchanged filed for bankruptcy after it lost 750,000 Bitcoin units, worth about $477,000,000, based on current exchange rates. The popularity of this speculative virtual currency seems eerily similar to the great Dutch Tulip-Mania of the 1630s.
- Biotech Bliss: Ignorance is a bliss, and apparently so is buying biotech stocks. There’s no need to speculate on gold or Bitcoins when you can invest in the Biotechnology Index (BTK), which has already advanced +21% this year on top of a 51% gain in 2013. Over the last 5+ years, the index has more than quadrupled.
- Facebook Folly: WhatsApp with Facebook Inc’s (FB) $19 billion acquisition of the cellphone texting company? CEO Mark Zuckerberg is claiming he got a bargain by paying almost 1,000x’s the estimated annual revenue of WhatsApp ($20 million). When only a fraction of the 450 million users are paying for the service, I’m OK going out on a limb and calling this deal kooky.
- High Ticket Tesla: Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA) has become a cult stock. The company has a price tag of $30 billion despite burning $7 million in cash last year. The announcement of a $4-5 billion battery “Gigafactory” added to the company’s recent hype. To put things into perspective, General Motors (GM) has revenues 75x’s larger than Tesla and GM generated over $5 billion in 2013 free cash flow. Nevertheless, GM is only valued at 1.9x’s the market value of Tesla…head scratch.
- Social Media Silliness: Maybe not quite as wacky as the $19 billion price tag paid for WhatsApp, but the $30 billion value placed on Twitter Inc (TWTR) for a company that burned $30 million of cash in their most recent financial report is silly too. Yelp Inc (YELP) is another multi-billion valued company that is losing money. I love all these services, but great services don’t always make great stocks. Investors from the dot-com era vividly remember what happened to those overvalued stocks once the bubble burst.
Fear and greed are omnipresent, and some of these speculative areas may continue to appreciate in value. However, controlling or ignoring the powerful emotions of fear and greed will help you in achieving your financial goals. As the markets (and Sidoxia’s team) expand, our disciplined investment process should allow us to objectively identify attractive investment opportunities without succumbing to the pitfalls of panic-selling or performance-chasing.
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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 FB, TWTR, YELP, TSLA, BTK, 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.