Archive for October, 2016
Fall is here and the leaves are beginning to change, which means it’s baseball playoffs time and the World Series is quickly approaching. Investing in some respects is similar to baseball because they both require discipline and patience. One investing legend who embodies those characteristics is Warren Buffett, and he has repeatedly spoken about Ted Williams and waiting for the “fat pitch.”
John Huber, over at BHI, did a great job summarizing Ted Williams’ hitting philosophy here:
“Ted Williams was famous for “waiting for the fat pitch”. He would only look to swing at pitches in the part of the strike zone where he knew he had a higher probability of getting a hit. There were parts of his strike zone where he batted .230 and there were other parts of the strike zone where he batted .400. He knew that if he waited for a pitch over the heart of the plate and didn’t swing at pitches in the .230 part of the strike zone—even though they were strikes—he would improve his odds of getting a hit and increase his overall batting average.”
This lesson of patience and discipline is critical for your investment portfolio. Too many people speculate by chasing a hot tip or good stock story, or on the flip side, panic by selling based upon transitory negative news headlines. Today, we see risk aversion happening on steroids. Consider there is over $8 trillion sitting in savings accounts earning effectively nothing – the equivalent of stuffing money under the mattress (see also Invest or Die). In other words, investors are paying extremely high prices (chasing) for safer (less volatile) securities – bonds and cash, while equities are yielding a much higher rate as measured by the earnings yield of the S&P 500 (S&P operating profits / index value). Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit calls this dynamic the equity risk premium (chart below).
As you can see from the chart, ever since the financial crisis occurred, stocks have been compensating investors at significantly higher levels (almost 4% currently) than the yields on 10-Year Treasury Notes, a phenomenon not experienced for the previous three decades.
When will this equity premium revert back towards the mean? There are number of factors that could correct this disparity.
1). The economy enters recession and profits decline to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.
2). Interest rates rise (bond prices decline) to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.
3). Investors bid stocks significantly higher to a point at which bonds offer a more compelling risk-reward ratio than stocks.
Most people are worried about scenario #1, but there is plenty objective data that splashes cold water on that view. Consider the unemployment rate has been chopped in half since 2009 with about 15 million jobs added; corporate profits are at/near record highs; auto sales are at/near record highs; home sales continue on an improving trajectory; and the yield curve remains positive, among other factors. If you absorb that information, it clearly doesn’t resemble a recessionary environment, but that doesn’t prevent people from worrying.
Regarding scenario #2, rising rates are an eventuality, but an absence of meaningful inflation, coupled with sluggish global growth are likely to keep a lid on interest rates for some time. Any casual observer would realize that interest rates have been on a downward trend for more than 35 years (see also Fall is Here: Change is Near). Even with a potential second rate increase in a decade initiated by the Fed this upcoming December, the long-term downward trend in rates will likely remain intact.
While the media likes to focus on the half-glass full scenarios (#1 & #2), very little time has been expended on the possibility of scenario #3, which contemplates a rise in stock prices to erase the discount in stock prices relative to bond prices (i.e., elevated equity risk premium).
While many people are ignoring the probability of scenario #3 occurring, like a disciplined hitter in baseball, successful investing requires patience while you wait for your fat investment pitch.
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 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
There are many ways to make money in the financial markets, but if this was such an easy endeavor, then everybody would be trading while drinking umbrella drinks on their private islands. I mean with all the bright blinking lights, talking baby day traders, and software bells and whistles, how difficult could it actually be?
Unfortunately, financial markets have a way of driving grown men (and women) to tears, usually when confidence is at or near a peak. The best investors leave their emotions at the door and follow a systematic disciplined process. Investing can be a meat grinder, but the good news is one does not need to have a 90% success rate to make it lucrative. Take it from Peter Lynch, who averaged a +29% return per year while managing the Magellan Fund at Fidelity Investments from 1977-1990. “If you’re terrific in this business you’re right six times out of 10,” says Lynch.
Sweating Way to Success
If investing is so tough, then what is the recipe for investment success? As the saying goes, money management requires 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Or as strategist and long-time investor Don Hays notes, “You are only right on your stock purchases and sales when you are sweating.” Buying what’s working and selling what’s not, doesn’t require a lot of thinking or sweating (see Riding the Wave), just basic pattern recognition. Universally loved stocks may enjoy the inertia of upward momentum, but when the music stops for the Wall Street darlings, investors rarely can hit the escape button fast enough. Cutting corners and taking short-cuts may work in the short-run, but usually ends badly.
Real profits are made through unique insights that have not been fully discovered by market participants, or in other words, distancing oneself from the herd. Typically this means investing in reasonably priced companies with significant growth prospects, or cheap out-of-favor investments. Like dieting, this is easy to understand, but difficult to execute. Pulling the trigger on unanimously hated investments or purchasing seemingly expensive growth stocks requires a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Eating doughnuts won’t generate the conviction necessary to justify the valuation and excess expected return for analyzed securities.
Times Have Changed
Investing in stocks is difficult enough with equity fund flows hemorrhaging out of investor accounts like the asset class is going out of style. Stocks’ popularity haven’t been helped by the heightened volatility, as evidenced by the multi-year trend in the schizophrenic volatility index (VIX) – escalated by the international geopolitics and presidential elections. Globalization, which has been accelerated by technology, has only increased correlations between domestic market and international markets. In decades past, concerns over economic activity in Iceland, Dubai, and Greece may not even make the back pages of The Wall Street Journal. Today, news travels at the speed of a “Tweet” and eventually results in a sprawling front page headline.
The equity investing game may be more difficult today, but investing for retirement has never been more important. Stuffing money under the mattress in Treasuries, money market accounts, CDs, or other conservative investments may feel good in the short run, but will likely not cover inflation associated with rising fuel, food, healthcare, and leisure costs. Regardless of your investment strategy, if your goal is to earn excess returns, you may want to check the moistness of your armpits – successful long-term investing requires a lot of sweat.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in ETFC, VXX, 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.
Are you having trouble falling asleep because of a ghostly nightmare? Donald Trump, along with a wide range of pundits and investors have been afraid of globalization and the free trade boogeyman. Donald Trump may or may not win the presidential election, but regardless, his inflammatory rhetoric regarding trade is way off base.
Free trade has been demonized as a job destroyer, however history paints a different picture. I have written on the subject before (see also Invisible Benefits of Free Trade), but with Americans digesting the current debates and the election only a month away, let me make a couple of key points.
Standard of Living Benefits: For centuries, the advantages of free trade and globalization have lifted the standards of living for billions of people. There is a reason the World Trade Organization (WTO) has united more than 160 countries without one country exiting since the global trade group began in 1948. Trade did not suddenly stop working when the Donald began lashing out against NAFTA, TPP and Oreo cookies. Trump rails against trade despite Trump ties being made in China.
Job losses are easy to identify (like the Oreo jobs moved to Mexico from Chicago), but most trade benefits are often invisible to the untrained eye. As Dan Ikenson of the Cato Institute explains, if low-wage labor was not used offshore to manufacture products sold to Americans, many amazing and spectacular products and services would become unaffordable for the U.S. mass markets. Thanks to cheaper foreign imports, not only can a wider population buy iPhones and use services like Uber and Airbnb, but consumers will have extra discretionary income resources that can be redeployed into savings. Alternatively, the extra savings could be spent on other goods and services to help spur U.S. economic growth in various sectors of our nation.
It doesn’t make for a nice, quick political soundbite, but Ikenson highlights,
“The benefits of trade come from imports, which deliver more competition, greater variety, lower prices, better quality, and new incentives for innovation.”
Strong Companies Hire and Grow: Plain and simply, profitable businesses hire employees, and money-losing companies fire employees. Business success boils down to competitiveness. If your product is not better and/or cheaper than competitors, then you will lose money and be forced into stagnation, or worse, be forced to fire employees or shut down your business. Free trade affords businesses the opportunity to improve the cost or quality of a product. Take Apple Inc. (AAPL) for example, the company’s ability to build a global supply chain has allowed the company to offer products and services to more than 1 billion users. If Apple was forced to manufacture exclusively in the U.S., the company’s sales and profits would be lower, and so too would the number of U.S. Apple employees.
Fortunately, no matter who gets elected president, if the rhetoric against free trade reaches a feverish pitch, investors can rest assured that the president’s powers to implement widespread tariffs and rip up longstanding trade deals is limited. He/she will still be forced to follow the authority of Congress, which still controls the nuts and bolts of our economy’s trade policies. In other words, there is nothing to fear…even not the free trade boogeyman.
Other Trade Related Articles on Investing Caffeine:
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 AAPL, MDLZ, but at the time of publishing 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.
This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (October 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.
Although the fall season is here and the leaf colors are changing, there are a number of other transforming dynamics occurring this economic season as well. The S&P 500 index may not have changed much this past month (down -0.1%), but the technology-laden NASDAQ index catapulted higher (+1.9% for the month and +6.0% for 2016).
With three quarters of the year now behind us, beyond experiencing a shift in seasonal weather, a number of other changes are also coming. For starters, there’s no ignoring the elephant in the room, and that is the presidential election, which is only weeks away from determining our country’s new Commander in Chief. Besides religion, there are very few topics more emotionally charged than politics – whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Independent, Libertarian, or some combination thereof. Even though the first presidential debate is behind us, a majority of voters are already set on their candidate choice. In other words, open-minded debate on this topic can be challenging.
Hearing critical comments regarding your favorite candidate are often interpreted in the same manner as receiving critical comments about a personal family member – people often become defensive. The good news, despite the massive political divide currently occurring in the country and near-record low politician approval ratings in Congress , politics mean almost nothing when it comes to your money and retirement (see also Politics & Your Money). Regardless of what politicians might accomplish (not much), individuals actually have much more control over their personal financial future than politicians.
While inaction may rule the day currently, more action generally occurs during a crisis – we witnessed this firsthand during the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. As Winston Churchill famously stated,
“You can always count on Americans to do the right thing – after they’ve tried everything else.”
Political discourse and gridlock are frustrating to almost everyone from a practical standpoint (i.e., “Why can’t these idiots get something done in Washington?!”), however from an economic standpoint, gridlock is good (see also Who Said Gridlock is Bad?) because it can keep a responsible lid on frivolous spending. Educated individuals can debate about the proper priorities of government spending, but most voters agree, maintaining a sensible level of spending and debt should be a bipartisan issue.
From roughly 2009 – 2014, you can see how political gridlock has led to a massive narrowing in our government’s deficit levels (chart below) – back to more historical levels.This occurred just as rising frustration with Washington has been on the rise.
The Fed: Rate Revolution or Evolution?
Besides the changing season of politics, the other major area of change is Federal Reserve monetary policy. Even though the Fed has only increased interest rates once over the last 10 years, and interest rates are at near-generational lows, investors remain fearful. There is bound to be some short-term volatility if interest rates rise to 0.50% – 0.75% in December, as currently expected. However, if the Fed continues at its current snail’s pace, it won’t be until 2032 before they complete their rate hike cycles.
We can put the next rate increase into perspective by studying history. More specifically, the Fed raised interest rates 17 times from 2004 – 2006 (see chart below). Fortunately over this same time period, the world didn’t end as the Fed increased interest rates from 1.00% to 5.25% (stocks prices actually rose around +11%). The same can be said today – the world won’t likely end, if interest rates rise from 0.50% to 0.75% in a few months.
The next question becomes, why are interest rates so low? There are many reasons and theories, but a few of the key drivers behind low rates include, slower global economic growth, low inflation, high demand for low-risk assets, technology, and demographics. I could devote a whole article to each of these factors, and indeed in many cases I have, but suffice it to say that there are many reasons beyond the oversimplified explanation that artificial central bank intervention has led to a 35 year decline in interest rates (see chart below).
Change is a constant, and with fall arriving, some changes are more predictable than others. The timing of the U.S. presidential election outcome is very predictable but the same cannot be said for the timing of future interest rate increases. Irrespective of the coming changes and the related timing, history reminds us that concerns over politics and interest rates often are overblown. Many individuals remain overly-pessimistic due to excessive, daily attention to gloomy and irrelevant news headlines. Thankfully, stock prices are paying attention to more important factors (see Don’t Be a Fool) and long-term investors are being rewarded with record high stock prices in recent weeks. That’s the type of change I love.
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 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.