Archive for June, 2015
Just days ago, billionaire investor and corporate activist Carl Icahn called the stock market “extremely overheated,” especially as it relates to high yield bonds. He communicated these comments over Twitter after saying markets are “sailing in dangerous unchartered waters.” Given recent Greek developments regarding its inability to strike a debt repayment deal with eurozone leaders, Mr. Icahn might get exactly the volatility he expected when he made those comments. There’s no question a Greek default could definitely cause a short-term contagion effect, but there will be much larger fish to fry than domestic equity markets (I will have much more to say on the Greek topic in my monthly newsletter).
While it’s difficult to argue with Carl Icahn’s long-term investment track record, currently there is little objective data (unemployment, yield curve, corporate profits, GDP, etc.) signaling an imminent recession or economic collapse. Whether you are an optimist or pessimist, there is no doubt we have come a long ways since the lows of 2009 – see Global Stock Market chart below:
The rapid price appreciation has been undeniable, but Mr. Icahn and other equity bears may be missing the forest for the trees. There has been a disproportional increase in the value of bond assets versus equity assets. More specifically, as can be seen from the chart below, the value of global financial assets increased an estimated +21.5% to $294 trillion from 2007 to 2014. Of the $52 trillion increase in global financial assets, 92% of the increase ($48 trillion) was derived from expanding debt obligations – not stocks. I’ve said it many times before, but if you are worried about the pricking of an equity bubble, make sure to buy some heavy-duty industrial ear plugs for eventual pricking of the bond bubble.
Former Treasury Secretary and Harvard President Larry Summers recently commented in an interview that a potential “Grexit” could have unforeseen consequences just like the situations leading to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, Long Term Capital Management, and the subprime market. At the time, those particular circumstances were underestimated and characterized as being “contained”. Today, we are hearing the opposite regarding Greece.
In a post financial crisis world, every financial molehill is made into a crisis mountain as it spreads through social media and appears on every TV show, blog, newspaper, and magazine article. In a post financial crisis world characterized with ultra-low central bank interest rate policies, a combination of excessive conservatism from individual investors and opportunistic corporate actions (e.g., share buybacks and M&A), has led to a lopsided increase in debt issuance. Case in point is the bloated debt balances held by the Greek government. There will inevitably be pain associated with a Greek default and potential exit from the euro, but due to its size (<2% of European GDP), Greece should be treated more like a pimple than a body rash.
If you want to reach your financial goals, you need to prudently manage your risk through a broad asset allocation and realize that experiencing turbulence is part of the investing game. The impending Greece default will not be the first financial crisis, nor the last one. Extreme growth in debt should be more of a concern than a tiny, financially irresponsible country missing a debt payment. But rather than panicking, it is wiser to maintain a long-term investment strategy coupled with a globally diversified portfolio across asset classes, which will allow you to not miss the forest for the trees.
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 to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on ICContact page.
Since it’s Father’s Day weekend, it seems appropriate to write about about the “Father of Growth Investing”…Phil Fisher.
It was English physicist, astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton who in 1675 stated, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Investors too can stand on the shoulders of market giants by studying the timeless financial knowledge from current and past market legends. The press, all too often, focuses on the hot managers of our time while forgetting or kicking to the curb those managers whom are temporarily out of favor. Famous and enduring value managers typically have gained the press spotlight, rightfully so in the case of current greats like Warren Buffett or past talents like Benjamin Graham, because they managed to prosper through numerous economic cycles. However, when it comes to growth legends like Phil Fisher, author of the must-read classic Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, many people I bump into have never heard of him. Hopefully that will change over time.
Born on September 8, 1907, Mr. Fisher lived until the ripe age of 96 when he passed on March 4, 2004. Fisher was no dummy – he enrolled in college at age 15 and started graduate school at Stanford a few years later, before he dropped out and started his own investment firm in 1931. His son, Ken, currently heads his own investment firm, Fisher Investments, writes for Forbes magazine, and has authored multiple investment books. Unlike his dad, Ken has more of a natural bent towards value stocks.
Phil Fisher’s iconic book, Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits, was published in 1958. Mr. Fisher believed in many things and perhaps would have been thrown under the bus today for his long-term convictions in “buy-and-hold.” Or as Mr. Fisher put it, “If the job has been correctly done when a common stock is purchased, the time to sell it is – almost never.” Not every investment idea made the cut, however he is known to have bought Motorola (MOT) stock in 1955 and held it until his death in 2004 for a massive gain. Generally, he gave initial stock purchases a three-year leash before considering a change to his investment position. If the conviction to purchase a stock for such duration is not present, then the investment opportunity should be ignored.
Fisher’s concentration on growth stocks also shaped his view on dividends. Dividends were not important to Fisher – he was more focused on how the company is investing retained earnings to achieve its earnings growth. Like Fisher, Peter Lynch is another growth hero of mine that also felt there is too much focus on the Price/Earnings (PE) ratio rather than the long-term earnings potential.
Another classic trademark of Fisher’s investing style was his commitment to fundamental research. He was focused on accumulating data covering a broad range of areas including, customers, suppliers, and competitors. Fisher also emphasized factors like market share, return on invested capital, margins, and the research & development budget. What Mr. Fisher called his varied approach to gathering diverse sets of information was “scuttlebutt.”
Buying & Selling Points
Although Fisher believed firmly in buy and hold, he was not scared to sell when the firm no longer met the original buying criteria or his original assessment for purchased was deemed incorrect.
When buying, Fisher preferred to buy stocks in downturns or temporary problems – contrary to your typical momentum growth manager today (read article on momentum). Fisher has this to say on the topic: “This matter of training oneself to not go with the crowd but to be able to zig when the crowd zags, in my opinion, is one of the most important fundamentals of the investment success.”
Learning from Mistakes
Like all great investors I have studied, Phil Fisher also believed in learning from your mistakes:
“I have always believed that the chief difference between a fool and a wise man is that the wise man learns from his mistakes, while the fool never does.”
He expanded on the topic by saying the following:
“Making mistakes is inherent cost of investing just like bad loans are for the finest lending institutions. Don’t blindly accept dominant opinion and don’t be contrary for the sake of being contrary.”
I could only dream of having a fraction of Mr. Fisher’s career success – he retired in 1999 at the age of 91 (not bad timing). As my investment management and financial planning firm matures (Sidoxia Capital Management, LLC), I will continue to study the legendary giants of investing (past and present) to sharpen my investing skills.
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 MSI, BRKA/B, 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 ICContact page.
The stock market is just a big rigged casino, fueled by a reckless money printing Fed that is artificially inflating a global asset bubble, right? That seems to be the mentality of many investors as evidenced by the lack of meaningful domestic stock fund buying/inflows (see also Digesting Stock Gains). Underlying investor skepticism is a foundation of mistrust and detachment caused by the unprecedented 2008-09 financial crisis, when regulators fell asleep at the switch.
Making matters worse, the proliferation of the Internet, smart phones, and social media, has forced investors to digest a never-ending avalanche of breaking news headlines and fear mongering. Here is a partial list of the items currently frightening investors:
- Interest Rates: Will the Federal Reserve raise interest rates in June or September?
- Volatility: The Dow is up 200 points one day and then down 200 the next day. Keep me away.
- Greece: One day Greece is going to exit the eurozone and the next day it’s going to reach a deal with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and European leaders.
- Terrorism / Middle East: ISIS is like a cancer taking over the Middle East, and it’s only a matter of time before they invade our home soil. And if ISIS doesn’t get us, then the Iranian boogeyman will attack us with their inevitable nuclear weapons.
- Inflation: The economy is slowing improving and as we approach full employment in the U.S., wage pressure is about to kick inflation into high gear. After falling significantly, oil prices are inching higher, which is also moving inflation in the wrong direction.
- Strong Dollar: Now that Europe is copying the U.S. by implementing quantitative easing, domestic exports are getting squeezed and revenue growth is slowing.
- Bubble? Stocks have had a monster run over the last six years, so we must be due for a crash…correct?
Seemingly, on a daily basis, some economist, strategist, analyst, or talking head pundit on TV articulately explains how the financial markets can fall off the face of the earth. Unfortunately, there is a problem with this type of analysis, if your evaluation is solely based upon listening to media outlets. Bottom line is you can always find a reason to sell your investments if you listen to the so-called experts. I made this precise point a few years ago when I highlighted the near tripling in stock prices despite the barrage of bad news (see also A Series of Unfortunate Events).
While I am certainly not asking anyone to blindly assume more risk, especially after such a large run-up in stock prices, I find it just as important to point out the following:
“Taking too much risk is as risky as not taking enough risk.”
In other words, driving 35 mph on the freeway may be more life threatening than driving 75 mph. In the world of investing, driving too slowly by putting all your savings in cash or low-yielding securities, as many Americans do, may feel safe. However this default strategy, which may feel comfortable for many, may actually make attaining your financial goals impossible.
At Sidoxia, we create customized Investment Policy Statements (IPS) for all our clients in an effort to optimize risk levels in a Goldilocks fashion…not too hot, and not too cold. Retirement is supposed to be relaxing and stress free. Do yourself a favor and create a disciplined and systematic investment plan. Being apathetic due to an infinite stream of worrisome sounding headlines may work in the short-run, but in the long-run it’s best to turn off the noise…unless of course you don’t give a &$#*@%^ and want to work as a greeter at Wal-Mart in your mid-80s.
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) and WMT, 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 ICContact page.
After an obituary of Mark Twain had been mistakenly published in the United States, Twain sent a cable from London stating, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Similar reports about the death of the stock market have been prematurely published as well. If you were to listen to the talking heads on TV or other self-proclaimed media pundits, the prevailing opinion is that rising interest rates will murder the stock market. In reality, the benchmark 10-Year Treasury Note has risen a whopping 0.23% so far this year. Could this be a start of a more prolonged increase in interest rates? It is certainly possible. Most investors have a very short memory because we have seen this movie before. It was just two short years ago that we witnessed a near doubling of 10-Year Treasury yields exploding from 1.76% to 3.03% in 2013. Did the stock market crater? In fact, quite the contrary. The S&P 500 index catapulted higher by a whopping +30%.
Even if we go back a litter further in recent history, interest rates were quite a bit higher. For example in early 2010, 10-Year Treasury yields breached 4.0%. Where was the Dow Jones Industrial index then? A mere 11,000 vs 17,850 today. Or in other words, when interest rates were significantly higher than today’s 2.40% yield, the stock market managed to climb +62% higher. Not too shabby, eh? As I have talked about in the past (see Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool), there are other factors besides interest rates that are contributing to positive stock returns – primarily profits, valuations, and sentiment are the other key factors in determining stock prices. Suffice it to say, over the last five years, stocks have survived quite well in the face of multiple interest rate spikes; the 2013 “Taper Tantrum”; and the subsequent completion of quantitative easing – QE (see chart below).
Yield Curve on the Side of Bulls
Despite the trepidation over a series of potential Fed rate hikes, stocks continue to grind higher. If the fears are based on the expectation of a slowing economy on the horizon, then we would generally see two things happening. First, rising short-term interest rates would cause the yield curve to flatten, and then secondly, the yield curve would invert (typically a leading indicator for a recession). Currently, there are no signs of flattening or inverting. Actually, the recent better than expected jobs report for May (280,000 jobs added vs. estimate of 226,000) created a steeper yield curve – long-term interest rates increased more than short-term interest rates. Just as I wrote in 2009 about the recovery (see Steepening Yield Curve Recovery), right now the bond market is flashing recovery…not slowdown.
In the face of the mini-interest rate spike, bank stocks are also signaling economic recovery – evidenced by the 2.75% surge in the KBW Bank Index (KBX) last week. If there were signs of dark clouds on the horizon, a flattening yield curve would squeeze bank net interest margins and profits, which ultimately would send bank investors to the exit. That phenomenon will eventually happen later in the economic cycle, but right now investors are voting in the opposite direction with their dollars.
The media, economists, strategists, and other nervous onlookers will continue fretting over the Federal Reserve’s eventual rate increases. As long as dovish Janet Yellen is at the helm of the Fed, future rate increases will be measured, and rather than murdering the stock market, the policies will merely reflect a removal of the economy from artificial life support.
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 to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on ICContact page.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complementary newsletter (June 1, 2015). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Despite calls for “Sell in May, and go away,” the stock market as measured by both the Dow Jones Industrial and S&P 500 indexes grinded out a +1% gain during the month of May. For the year, the picture looks much the same…the Dow is up around +1% and the S&P 500 +2%. After gorging on gains of +30% in 2013 and +11% in 2014, it comes as no surprise to me that the S&P 500 is taking time to digest the gains. After eating any large pleasurable meal, there’s always a chance for some indigestion – just like last month. More specifically, the month of May ended as it did the previous six months…with a loss on the last trading day (-115 points). Providing some extra heartburn over the last 30 days were four separate 100+ point decline days. Realized fears of a Greek exit from the eurozone would no doubt have short-term traders reaching for some Tums antacid. Nevertheless, veteran investors understand this is par for the course, especially considering the outsized profits devoured in recent years.
The profits have been sweet, but not everyone has been at the table gobbling up the gains. And with success, always comes the skeptics, many of whom have been calling for a decline for years. This begs the question, “Are we in a stock bubble?” I think not.
Most asset bubbles are characterized by extreme investor/speculator euphoria. There are certainly small pockets of excitement percolating up in the stock market, but nothing like we experienced in the most recent burstings of the 2000 technology and 2006-07 housing bubbles. Yes, housing has steadily improved post the housing crash, but does this look like a housing bubble? (see New Home Sales chart)
Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog
Another characteristic of a typical asset bubble is rabid buying. However, when it comes to the investor fund flows into the U.S. stock market, we are seeing the exact opposite…money is getting sucked out of stocks like a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Over the last eight or so years, there has been almost -$700 billion that has hemorrhaged out of domestic equity funds – actions tend to speak louder than words (see chart below):
Source: Investment Company Institute (ICI)
The shift to Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) offered by the likes of iShares and Vanguard doesn’t explain the exodus of cash because ETFs such as S&P 500 SPDR ETF (SPY) are suffering dramatically too. SPY has drained about -$17 billion alone over the last year and a half.
With money flooding out of these stock funds, how can stock prices move higher? Well, one short answer is that hundreds of billions of dollars in share buybacks and trillions in mergers and acquisitions activity (M&A) is contributing to the tide lifting all stock boats. Low interest rates and stimulative monetary policies by central banks around the globe are no doubt contributing to this positive trend. While the U.S. Federal Reserve has already begun reversing its loose monetary policies and has threatened to increase short-term interest rates, by any objective standard, interest rates should remain at very supportive levels relative to historical benchmarks.
Besides housing and fund flows data, there are other unbiased sentiment indicators that indicate investors have not become universally Pollyannaish. Take for example the weekly AAII Sentiment Survey, which shows 73% of investors are currently Bearish and/or Neutral – significantly higher than historical averages.
The Consumer Confidence dataset also shows that not everyone is wearing rose-colored glasses. Looking back over the last five decades, you can see the current readings are hovering around the historical averages – nowhere near the bubblicious 2000 peak (~50% below).
Even if you’re convinced there is no imminent stock market bubble bursting, many of the same skeptics (and others) feel we’re on the verge of a recession – I’ve been writing about many of them since 2009. You could choke on an endless number of economic indicators, but on the common sense side of the economic equation, typically rising unemployment is a good barometer for any potentially looming recession. Here’s the unemployment rate we’re looking at now (with shaded periods indicating prior recessions):
As you can see, the recent 5.4% unemployment rate is still moving on a downward, positive trajectory. By most peoples’ estimation, because this has been the slowest recovery since World War II, there is still plenty of labor slack in the market to keep hiring going.
An even better leading indicator for future recessions has been the slope of the yield curve. A yield curve plots interest rate yields of similar bonds across a range of periods (e.g., three-month bill, six-month bill, one-year bill, two-year note, five-year note, 10-year note and 30-year bond). Traditionally, as short-term interest rates move higher, this phenomenon tends to flatten the yield curve, and eventually inverts the yield curve (i.e., short-term interest rates are higher than long-term interest rates). Over the last few decades, when the yield curve became inverted, it was an excellent leading indicator of a pending recession (click here and select “Animate” to see amazing interactive yield curve graph). Fortunately for the bulls, there is no sign of an inverted yield curve – 30-year rates remain significantly higher than short-term rates (see chart below).
Stock market skeptics continue to rationalize the record high stock prices by pointing to the artificially induced Federal Reserve money printing buying binge. It is true that the buffet of gains is not sustainable at the same pace as has been experienced over the last six years. As we continue to move closer to full employment in this economic cycle, the rapid accumulated wealth will need to be digested at a more responsible rate. An unexpected Greek exit from the EU or spike in interest rates could cause a short-term stomach ache, but until many of the previously mentioned indicators reach dangerous levels, please pass the gravy.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in SPY and other 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 to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.