Archive for August, 2014
I recently caught up with 50-year investment veteran Bill Kort to answer his questions regarding the media’s impact on the financial industry. After working for Kidder Peabody, A.G. Edwards, Wachovia, and Wells Fargo, Bill called it quits and decided to retire. Besides enjoying retirement with his wife, children, and grandchildren, Bill now also devotes considerable time to his blog Kort Sessions (www.KortSessions.com).
In a recent interview published on his Kort Sessions blog (KS), here’s what we discussed:
KS: Today, when you recommend a client take on, or increase equity exposure, what are the most common push-backs that you get? Have these changed in the past few years? If so, could you explain.
Wade Slome: “Given the events that have transpired over the last 15 years, I expect to receive a healthy dosage of pushback. Many investors have naturally been scarred from the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, so convincing certain people that the 100-year flood will not occur every 100 days can be challenging. Regardless of the skepticism I receive, I feel it’s my duty to provide the best possible advice I can to existing clients and prospective clients. I can lead a horse to water, but I believe it’s not my job to force clients into a single investment option. At Sidoxia, we customize investment plans that meet clients’ risk tolerances, time horizons, and overall objectives.
With regard to sentiment changes in recent years, it is true that the tripling in equity market values since early 2009 has changed investor moods. Risk appetites have definitely increased. Nevertheless, cynicism is still rampant. Surveys done by Gallup show that stock ownership is near 15-year lows and despite stocks at or near record highs, ICI fund flow data shows money fleeing U.S. stock funds in 2014. With generational low interest rates, I see many long-term investors being too imprudently conservative. However, on the other hand, my responsibility is to also prevent other clients from taking on too much risk, especially if they have shorter investment time horizons or have limited funds in retirement.”
KS: When you speak with clients today, what are prominent worries do they have about their investments: The general level of the market, valuation, the economic backdrop, U.S. political issues or geopolitical concerns (all of the above)? Could you rank or tell me which concerns seem to be paramount.
Wade Slome: “In this 24-hour news cycle society we live in, an avalanche of real-time data gets crammed down our throats daily through our smartphones and Twitter-Facebook pages. As a result, the overwhelming barrage of news gets disseminated instantaneously, which in turn spreads fear like wildfire by word of mouth. In this type of environment it comes as no surprise to me that the general public is on edge. Every molehill is made into a mountain by media outlets for a simple reason…fear sells! Before the internet 20 years ago, virtually no one could find the location of Cyprus, Syria, Ukraine, or Gaza on a map – now we have Google and Wikipedia to show us or the Twitter feed scrolling at the bottom of our television sets reminds us. As far as concerns go, it’s tough to rank which ones are paramount. One day it’s the elections or Iran, and then the other day it’s the stock market crashing or the Ebola virus. Eventually the emotional pendulum will swing from fear and pessimism to optimism and euphoria, it always does. Like a lot of different professions, one of best strengths to have as an investment manager is the experience in knowing what noise to filter out and the ability to identify the relevant factors that drive outperformance.”
KS: Could you share the short-form responses that you might give to your clients when addressing the aforementioned issues.
Wade Slome: “The best advice I can give investors is to ignore the headlines. This principle is just as true today as it was a century or two ago. Mark Twain famously said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” This is obviously presented a little tongue-in-cheek, but the main point being is headlines should not drive your investment decisions. It’s perfectly fine to be informed about the economy and politics, but people must realize the stock market often moves independently and in contrarian directions to prevailing media stories. Rather than emotionally react to news flow, it is much more important to create an objective, long-term investment plan that takes advantage of market noise, hype, and volatility.”
KS: Finally, this is a little bit of a leading question that I hope you might run with. Do you find any useful purpose being served by the financial, general or political media that might aid an individual’s investment process?
Wade Slome: “In my view of the financial markets, there are a few underlying principles that drive stock prices over the long-term, and they include such basic factors as earnings, valuations, interest rates, and market psychology. What I would objectively try to argue is that the financial, general, or political media have little to no impact on the first three factors and only modest influence on the last one (market psychology). Part of the reason I have been so constructive on the markets on my Investing Caffeine blog over the last five years is because all these factors have generally pointed in the right direction. I will become nervous when earnings decline, valuations get stretched, interest rates spike, and/or psychology turns euphoric. Right now, I don’t think we are seeing any of that occurring.
With that said, I do believe there are exceptions to the rule that the “media is evil.” If you have the time, interest, and patience to stagger through the endless desert of financial media, you can find a few rare flowers. Although I do consume mass amounts of media, 99% of it ends up in the trash or ignored. I do my best to reserve my media consumption to those successful investors who have lived through multiple market cycles and have a winning track record to back it up. It is possible to find sage investment bloggers; Warren Buffett interviews on CNBC; or newspaper interviews of thriving venture capitalists, if you properly dine on a healthy media diet. Unfortunately there is a lot of junk food financial content out in media land. What should generally be avoided at all costs are rants from economists, journalists, analysts, commentators, and talking heads. No matter how eloquent or articulate they may sound, the vast majority of the people you see on television have not invested a professional dime in their careers, so all you are getting from them are worthless, vacillating opinions. I choose to stick to commentary from the tried and true investment veterans.”
Bill, thanks again for the thoughtful interview questions, and continued success with your Kort Sessions blog!
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own GOOG/GOOGL, and a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, FB, WFC, 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.
Investing in the stock market can be quite stressful, especially during periods of volatility…but investing doesn’t have to be nerve-racking. Investing legend T. Rowe price captured the beneficial sentiments of growth investing beautifully when he stated the following:
“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”
What I’ve learned over my investing career is that fretting over such things as downgrades, management changes, macroeconomic data, earnings misses, geopolitical headlines, and other irrelevant transitory factors leads to more heartache than gains. If you listen to a dozen so-called pundits, talking heads, journalists, or bloggers, what you quickly realize is that all you are often left with are a dozen different opinions. Opinions don’t matter…the facts do.
Finding Multi-Baggers: The Power of Compounding
Rather than succumbing to knee-jerk reactions from the worries of the day, great long-term investors realize the benefits of compounding. We know T. Rowe Price appreciated this principle because he agreed with Nobel Prize winning physicist Albert Einstein’s view that “compounding interest” should be considered the “8th wonder of the world” – see also how Christopher Columbus can turn a penny into $121 billion (Compounding: A Penny Saved is Billions Earned).
People generally refer to Warren Buffett as a “Value” investor, but in fact, despite the Ben Graham moniker, Buffett has owned some of the greatest growth stocks of all-time. For example, Coca Cola Co (KO) achieved roughly a 20x return from 1988 – 1998, as shown below:
If you look at other charts of Buffett’s long-term holdings, such as Wells Fargo & Company (WFC), American Express Co (AXP), and Procter & Gamble – Gillette (PG), the incredible compounded gains are just as astounding.
In recent decades, there is no question that stocks have benefited from P/E expansion. P/E ratios, or the average price paid for stocks, has increased from the early 1980s as long-term interest rates have declined from the high-teens to the low single-digits, but the real lifeblood for any stock is earnings growth (see also It’s the Earnings, Stupid). As growth investor extraordinaire Peter Lynch once said:
“People may bet on hourly wiggles of the market but it’s the earnings that waggle the wiggle long term.”
As Lynch also pointed out, it only takes the identification of a few great multi-bagger stocks every decade to compile a tremendous track record, while simultaneously hiding many sins:
“Fortunately the long-range profits earned from really good common stocks should more than balance the losses from a normal percentage of such mistakes.”
The Scarcity of Growth
Ever since the technology bubble burst in 2000, Growth stocks have felt the pain. Since that period, the Russell 1000 Value index – R1KV (Ticker: IWD) has almost doubled in value and outperformed the Russell 1000 Growth index – R1KG (Ticker: IWF) by more than +60% (see chart below):
Although the R1KG index has yet to breach its previous year 2000 highs, ever since the onset of the Great Financial Crisis (end of 2007), the R1KG index has been on the comeback trail. Now, the Russell 1000 Growth index has outperformed its Value sister index by an impressive +25% (see chart below):
Why such a disparity? Well, in a PIMCO “New Normal & New Neutral” world where global growth forecasts are being cut by the IMF and a paltry advance of 1.7% in U.S. GDP is expected, investors are on a feverish hunt for growth. U.S. investors are myopically focused on our 2.34% 10-Year Treasury yield, but if you look around the rest of the globe, many yields are at multi-hundred year lows. Consider 10-year yields in Germany sit at 0.96%; Japan at 0.50%; Ireland at 1.98%; and Hong Kong at 1.94% as a few examples. This scarcity of growth has led to outperformance in Growth stocks and this trend should continue until we see a clear sustainable acceleration in global growth.
If we dig a little deeper, you can see the 25% premium in the R1KG P/E ratio of 20.8x vs. 16.7x for the R1KV is well deserved. Historical 5-year earnings growth for the R1KG has been +52% higher than R1KV (17.8% vs. 11.7%, respectively). Going forward, the superior earnings performance is expected to continue. Long-term growth for the R1KG index is expected to be around 55% higher than the R1KV index (14% vs 9%).
In this 24/7, Facebook, Twitter society we live in, investing has never been more challenging with the avalanche of daily news. The ultra-low interest rates and lethargic global recovery hasn’t made my life at Sidoxia any easier. But one thing that is clear is that the investment tide is not lifting all Growth and Value stocks at the same pace. The benefits of long-term Growth investing are clear, and in an environment plagued by a scarcity of growth, it is becoming more important than ever when reviewing your investment portfolios to ask yourself, “Got Growth?”
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in KO/PG (non-discretionary accounts) and certain exchange traded fund positions, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in TWTR, FB, WFC, AXP, IWF, IWD 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.
Is the Market Rigged? The short answer is “yes”, but unlike gambling in Las Vegas, investing in the stock market rigs the odds in your favor. How can this be? The market is trading at record highs; the Federal Reserve is artificially inflating stocks with Quantitative easing (QE); there is global turmoil flaring up everywhere; and author Michael Lewis says the stock market is rigged with HFT – High Frequency Traders (see Lewis Sells Flash Boys Snake Oil). I freely admit the headlines have been scary, but scary headlines will always exist. More importantly for investors, they should be more focused on factors like record corporate profits (see Halftime Adjustments); near generationally-low interest rates; and reasonable valuation metrics like the price-earnings (P/E) ratios.
Even if you were to ignore these previously mentioned factors, one can use history as a guide for evidence that stocks are rigged in your favor. In fact, if you look at S&P 500 stock returns from 1928 (before the Great Depression) until today, you will see that stock prices are up +72.1% of the time on average.
If the public won at such a high rate in Las Vegas, the town would be broke and closed, with no sign of pyramids, Eiffel Towers, or 46-story water fountains. There’s a reason Las Vegas casinos collected $23 billion in 2013 – the odds are rigged against the public. Even Shaquille O’Neal would be better served by straying away from Vegas and concentrating on stocks. If Shaq could have improved his 52.7% career free-throw percentage to the 72.1% win rate for stocks, perhaps he would have earned a few more championship rings?
Considering a 72% winning percentage, conceptually a “Buy-and-Hold” strategy sounds pretty compelling. In the current market, I definitely feel this type of strategy could beat most market timing and day trading strategies over time. Even better than this strategy, a “Buy Winners-and-Hold Winners” strategy makes more sense. In other words, when investing, the question shouldn’t revolve around “when” to buy, but rather “what” to buy. At Sidoxia Capital Management we are primarily bottom up investors, so the appreciation potential of any security in our view is largely driven by factors such as valuation, earnings growth, and cash flows. With interest rates near record lows and a scarcity of attractive alternatives, the limited options actually make investing decisions much easier.
Scarcity of Alternatives Makes Investing Easier
U.S. investors moan and complain about our paltry 2.42% yield on the 10-Year Treasury Note, but how appetizing, on a risk-reward basis, does a 2.24% Irish 10-year government bond sound? Yes, this is the same country that needed a $100 billion+ bailout during the financial crisis. Better yet, how does a 1.05% yield or 0.51% yield sound on 10-year government treasury bonds from Germany and Japan, respectively? Moreover, what these minuscule yields don’t factor in is the potentially crippling interest rate risk investors will suffer when (not if) interest rates rise.
Fortunately, Sidoxia’s client portfolios are diversified across a broad range of asset classes. The quantitative results from our proprietary 5,000 SHGR (“Sugar”) security database continue to highlight the significant opportunities in the equities markets, relative to the previously discussed “bubblicious” parts of the fixed income markets. Worth noting, investors need to also remove their myopic blinders centered on U.S. large cap stocks. These companies dominate media channel discussions, however there are no shortage of other great opportunities in the broader investment universe, including such areas as small cap stocks, floating-rate bonds, real estate, commodities, emerging markets, alternative investments, etc.
I don’t mind listening to the bearish equity market calls for stock market collapses due to an inevitable Fed stimulus unwind, mean reverting corporate profit margins, or bubble bursting event in China. Nevertheless, when it comes to investing, there is always something to worry about. While there is always some uncertainty, the best investors love uncertainty because those environments create the most opportunities. Stocks can and eventually will go down, but rather than irresponsibly flailing around in and out of risk-on and risk-off trades to time the market (see Market Timing Treadmill), we will continue to steward our clients’ money into areas where we see the best risk-reward prospects.
For those other investors sitting on the sidelines due to market fears, I commend you for coming to the proper conclusion that stock markets are rigged. Now you just need to understand stocks are rigged for you (not against you)…at least 72% of the time.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold a range of exchange traded fund positions, 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.
#2. Don’t waste your time listening to the media.
Like dieting, the framework is simple to understand, but difficult to execute. Theoretically, if you follow Rule #1, you don’t have worry about Rule #2. Unfortunately, many people have no rules or discipline in place, and instead let their emotions drive all investing decisions. When it comes to following the media, Mark Twain stated it best:
“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”
It’s fine to be informed, as long as the deluge of data doesn’t enslave you into bad, knee-jerk decision-making. You’ve seen those friends, family members and co-workers who are glued to their cell phones or TVs while insatiably devouring real-time data from CNBC, CNN, or their favorite internet blog. The grinding teeth and sweaty palms should be a dead giveaway that these habits are not healthy for investment account balances or blood pressure.
Thanks to the endless scary headlines and stream of geopolitical turmoil (fear sells), millions of investors have missed out on one of the most staggering bull market rallies in history. More specifically, the S&P 500 index (large capitalization companies) has almost tripled in value from early 2009 (666 to 1,931) and the S&P 600 index (small capitalization companies) almost quadrupled from 181 to 645.
Becoming a member of the Successful Investors Club (SIC) is no easy feat. As I’ve written in the past, the human brain has evolved dramatically over tens of thousands of years, but the troubling, emotionally-driven amygdala tissue mass at the end of the brain stem (a.k.a., “Lizard Brain“) still remains. The “Lizard Brain” automatically produces a genetic flight response to perceived worrisome stimuli surrounding us. In other words, our “Lizard Brain” often interprets excessively sensationalized current events as a threat to our financial security and well-being.
It’s no wonder amateur investors have trouble dealing with the incessantly changing headlines. Yesterday, investors were panicked over the P.I.I.G.S (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain), the Arab Spring (Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, etc.), and Cyprus. Today, it’s Ukraine, Argentina, Israel, Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. Tomorrow…who knows? It’s bound to be another fiscally irresponsible country, terrorist group, or autocratic leader wreaking havoc upon their people or enemies.
During the pre-internet or pre-smartphone era, the average person couldn’t even find Ukraine, Syria, or the Gaza Strip on a map. Today, we are bombarded 24/7 with frightening stories over these remote regions that have dubious economic impact on the global economy.
Take the Ukraine for example, which if you think about it is a fiscal pimple on the global economy. Ukraine’s troubled $177 billion economy, represents a mere 0.29% of the $76 trillion global GDP. Could an extended or heightened conflict in the region hinder the energy supply to a much larger and significant European region? Certainly, however, Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn’t want the Ukrainian skirmish to blow up out of control. Russia has its own economic problems, and recent U.S. and European sanctions haven’t made Putin’s life any easier. The Russian leader has a vested economic interest to keep its power hungry European customers happy. If not, the U.S.’s new found resurgence in petroleum supplies from fracking will allow our country to happily create jobs and export excess reserves to a newly alienated EU energy buyer.
Rather than be hostage to the roller coaster ride of rising and falling economic data points, it’s better to follow the sage advice of investing greats like Peter Lynch, who averaged a +29% return per year from 1977 – 1990.
Here’s what he had to say about news consumption:
“If you spend more than 13 minutes analyzing economic and market forecasts, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”
“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”
Rather than fret about the direction of the market, at Sidoxia Capital Management we are focused on identifying the best available opportunities, given any prevailing economic environment (positive or negative). We assume the market will go nowhere and invest our client assets (and personal assets) accordingly by focusing on those areas we see providing the most attractive risk-adjusted returns. Investors who try to time the market, fail miserably over the long-run. If timing the market were easy, you would see countless people’s names at the tops of the Forbes billionaire list – regrettably that simply is not the case.
Since “fear” sells in the media world, it’s always important to sift through the deluge of data to gain a balanced perspective. During panic periods, it’s important to find the silver linings. When everyone is euphoric, it’s vital to discover reasons for caution.
While a significant amount of geopolitical turmoil occurred last month, it’s essential to remember the underlying positive fundamentals propelling the stock market to record highs. The skeptics of the recovery and record stock market point to the Federal Reserve’s unprecedented, multi-trillion dollar money printing scheme (Quantitative Easing – QE) and the inferior quality of the jobs created. Regarding the former point, if QE has been so disastrous, I ask where is the run-away inflation (see chart below)? While the July jobs report may show some wage pressure, you can see we’re still a long ways away from the elevated pricing levels experienced during the 1970s-1980s.
Source: Calafia Beach Pundit
A final point worth contemplating as it relates to the unparalleled Fed Policy actions was highlighted by strategist Scott Grannis. If achieving real economic growth through money printing was so easy, how come Zimbabwe and Argentina haven’t become economic powerhouses? The naysayers also fail to acknowledge that the Fed has already reversed the majority of its stimulative $85 billion monthly bond buying program (currently at $25 billion per month). What’s more, the Federal Open Market Committee has already signaled a rate hike to 1.13% in 2015 and 2.50% in 2016 (see chart below).
Source: Financial Times
The rise in interest rates from generationally low levels, especially given the current status of our improving economy, as evidenced by the recent robust +4.0% Q2-GDP report, is inevitable. It’s not a matter of “if”, but rather a matter of “when”.
On the latter topic of job quality, previously mentioned, I can’t defend the part-time, underemployed nature of the employment picture, nor can I defend the weak job participation rate. In fact, this economic recovery has been the slowest since World War II. With that said, about 10 million private sector jobs have been added since the end of the Great Recession and the unemployment rate has dropped from 10% to 6.1%. However you choose to look at the situation, more paychecks mean more discretionary dollars in the wallets and purses of U.S. workers. This reality is important because consumer spending accounts for 70% of our country’s economic activity.
While there is a correlation between jobs, interest rates, and the stock market, less obvious to casual observers is the other major factor that drives stock prices…record corporate profits. That’s precisely what you see in the chart below. Not only are trailing earnings at record levels, but forecasted profits are also at record levels. Contrary to all the hyped QE Fed talk, the record profits have been bolstered by important factors such as record manufacturing, record exports, and soaring oil production …not QE.
Join the Club
Those who have been around the investing block a few times realize how challenging investing is. The deafening information noise instantaneously accessed via the internet has only made the endeavor of investing that much more challenging. But the cause is not completely lost. If you want to join the bull market and the SIC (Successful Investors Club), all you need to do is follow the two top secret rules. Creating a plan and sticking to it, while ignoring the mass media should be easy enough, otherwise find an experienced, independent investment advisor like Sidoxia Capital Management to help you join the club.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold long positions in certain exchange traded funds ans securities, 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.