Posts filed under ‘Education’

EBITDA: Sniffing Out the Truth

Sharp eyed soft nosed cow, with shallow dof

Financial analysts are constantly seeking the Holy Grail when it comes to financial metrics, and to some financial number crunchers, EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization – pronounced “eebit-dah”) fits the bill. On the flip side, Warren Buffett’s right hand man Charlie Munger advises investors to replace EBITDA with the words “bullsh*t earnings” every time you encounter this earnings metric. We’ll explore the good, bad, and ugly attributes of this somewhat controversial financial metric.

The Genesis of EBITDA

The origin of the EBITDA measure can be traced back many years, and rose in popularity during the technology boom of the 1990s. “New Economy” companies were producing very little income, so investment bankers became creative in how they defined profits. Under the guise of comparability, a company with debt (Company X) that was paying high interest expenses could not be compared on an operational profit basis with a closely related company that operated with NO debt (Company Z). In other words, two identical companies could be selling the same number of widgets at the same prices and have the same cost structure and operating income, but the company with debt on their balance sheet would have a different (lower) net income. The investment banker and company X’s answer to this apparent conundrum was to simply compare the operating earnings or EBIT (Earnings Before Interest and Taxes) of each company (X and Z), rather than the disparate net incomes.

The Advantages of EBITDA

Although there is no silver bullet metric in financial statement analysis, nevertheless there are numerous benefits to using EBITDA. Here are a few:

  • Operational Comparability:  As implied above, EBITDA allows comparability across a wide swath of companies. Accounting standards provide leniency in the application of financial statements, therefore using EBITDA allows apples-to-apples comparisons and relieves accounting discrepancies on items such as depreciation, tax rates, and financing choice.
  • Cash Flow Proxy:Since the income statement traditionally is the financial statement of choice, EBITDA can be easily derived from this statement and provides a simple proxy for cash generation in the absence of other data.
  • Debt Coverage Ratios:In many lender contracts, certain debt provisions require specific levels of income cushion above the required interest expense payments. Evaluating EBITDA coverage ratios across companies assists analysts in determining which businesses are more likely to default on their debt obligations.

The Disadvantages of EBITDA

While EBITDA offers some benefits in comparing a broader set of companies across industries, the metric also carries some drawbacks.

  • Overstates Income:  To Charlie Munger’s point about the B.S. factor, EBITDA distorts reality by measuring income before a bunch of expenses. From an equity holder’s standpoint, in most instances, investors are most concerned about the level of income and cash flow available AFTERaccounting for all expenses, including interest expense, depreciation expense, and income tax expense.
  • Neglects Working Capital Requirements: EBITDA may actually be a decent proxy for cash flows for many companies, however this profit measure does not account for the working capital needs of a business. For example, companies reporting high EBITDA figures may actually have dramatically lower cash flows once working capital requirements (i.e., inventories, receivables, payables) are tabulated.
  • Poor for ValuationInvestment bankers push for more generous EBITDA valuation multiples because it serves the bankers’ and clients’ best interests. However, the fact of the matter is that companies with debt or aggressive depreciation schedules do deserve lower valuations compared to debt-free counterparts (assuming all else equal).

Wading through the treacherous waters of accounting metrics can be a dangerous game. Despite some of EBITDA’s comparability benefits, and as much as bankers and analysts would like to use this very forgiving income metric, beware of EBITDA’s shortcomings. Although most analysts are looking for the one-size-fits-all number, the reality of the situation is a variety of methods need to be used to gain a more accurate financial picture of a company. If EBITDA is the only calculation driving your analysis, I urge you to follow Charlie Munger’s advice and plug your nose.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

 

September 17, 2016 at 11:44 pm 4 comments

The Sky is Falling?

sky-red-freeimages

Investors reacted like the sky was falling on Friday. Commentators mostly blamed the -400 point decline in the Dow on heightened probabilities for a September rate hike by Janet Yellen and her fellow Federal Reserve colleagues. Geopolitical concerns over a crazy dictator in North Korea with nuclear weapons were identified as contributing factors to frazzled nerves.

The real question should be, “Are these stories complete noise, or should I pay close attention?” For the vast majority of times, the response to questions like these should be “yes”, the media headlines are mere distractions and you should simply ignore them. During the last rate hike cycle from mid-2004 to mid-2006, guess how many times the Fed raised rates? Seventeen times! And over those 17 rate hikes, stocks managed to respectably rise over 11%.

So far this cycle, Yellen and the Fed have raised interest rates one time, and the one and only hike was the first increase in a decade. Given all this data, does it really make sense to run in a panic to a bunker or cave? Whether the Fed increases rates by 0.25% during September or Decemberis completely irrelevant.

If we look at the current situation from a slightly different angle, you can quickly realize that making critical investment decisions based on short-term Federal Reserve actions would be foolish. Would you buy or sell a house based solely on this month’s Fed policy? For most, the answer is an emphatic “no”. The same response should hold true for stocks as well. The real reason anyone should consider buying any type of asset, including stocks, is because you believe you are paying a fair or discounted price for a stream of adequate future cash flows (distributions) and/or price appreciation in the asset value over the long-term.

The problem today for many investors is “short-termism.” This is what Jack Gray of Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo and Company had to say on the subject, “Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth.” I couldn’t agree more.

Many people like to speculate or trade stocks like they are gambling in Las Vegas. One day, when the market is up, they buy. And the other day, when the market is down, they sell. However, those same people don’t wildly speculate with short-term decision-making when they buy larger ticket items like a lawn-mower, couch, refrigerator, car, or a house. They rationally buy with the intention of owning for years.

Yes, it’s true appliances, vehicles, and homes have utility characteristics different from other assets, but stocks have unique utility characteristics too. You can’t place leftovers, drive inside, or sit on a stock, but the long-term earnings and dividend growth of a diversified stock portfolio provides plenty of distinctive income and/or retirement utility benefits to a long-term investor.

You don’t have to believe me – just listen to investing greats like Warren Buffett:

“If you aren’t willing to own a stock for ten years, don’t even think about owning it for ten minutes. Put together a portfolio of companies whose aggregate earnings march upward over the years, and so also will the portfolio’s market value.”

 

The common sense test can also shed some light on the subject. If short-term trading, based on the temperature of headlines, was indeed a lucrative strategy, then the wealthiest traders in the world would be littered all over the Forbes 100 list. There are many reasons that is not the case.

Even though the Volatility Index (aka, “Fear Gauge” – VIX) spiked +40% in a single day, that does not necessarily mean stock investors are out of the woods yet. We saw similar volatility occur last August and during January and June of this year. At the same time, there is no need to purchase a helmet and run to a bunker…the sky is not falling.

Other related article: Invest with a Telescope…Not a Microscope 

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

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.

September 10, 2016 at 12:00 pm 1 comment

Growth Stocks – Cheaper by the Day

Launch

Are you a value investor? If you said “yes,” how would you feel about buying an $18 stock with a P/E (Price/Earnings) ratio of greater than 100x and a Price/Sales ratio of 14x for a company that three years earlier was started in a garage? This may not sound like a value stock, but had you bought this stock at the initial public offering (IPO), it would have been a screaming bargain – priced at less than 1x P/E ratio, based on this year’s earnings estimates.

You may be surprised to know, this company with a meager $18 IPO share price is now worth $9,192 per share today (if you adjust for three stock splits)! Yes, that’s correct, a +50,900% return. If you are wondering to which stock I’m referring, I am talking about Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN). Incredibly, ever since Amazon went public in 1997, the CEO Jeff Bezos has managed to command the start-up e-commerce company from $31 million in revenues to $121 billion (with a “b”) on an annual basis in 2016 (a +389,000% increase).

Discovering the next IPO that turns into a $363 billion behemoth is easier said than done, and unfortunately these types of companies are a rare breed. Even if you are lucky enough to identify these diamonds-in-the-rough, early in their growth cycle, very few investors have the fortitude and discipline to continually own the stocks through the perpetual volatility (i.e., peaks and valleys).

The good news is, although you may be unable to find every unicorn out there, you can still apply the same principles and characteristics to any growth stock you invest in. In order to prudently achieve outsized returns, one must identify innovative market leaders that have gained some type of sustainable competitive advantage, which will serve as the profit and cash flow growth engine for the stock over the long-term.

If a company does not have a unique advantage over industry competitors, they will likely be unable to compound earnings growth – the key to becoming a big winner. Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winner is credited with identifying compounding as the “eighth wonder of the world,” and without compounding there will be no gigantic results.

Amazon may be a rare breed, but there are plenty of other examples of so-called “expensive” stocks that get dismissed or fall through the cracks as they explode in value to the stratosphere. Consider Starbucks Corp. (SBUX), which at the time of its IPO in 1992 was priced at a very rich P/E of 52x. Sound expensive? Actually, this was a greatest offer in a generation. Adjusted for stock splits, the IPO shares were valued at $0.27 – in the most recent trading session Starbucks shares closed at $55.90, a +20,600% increase. Similar to Amazon, had you purchased Starbucks shares at the IPO price, you would have been paying less than a measly, eye-popping 1x P/E ratio based on 2016 earnings.

Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL), formerly Google Inc., is another case of growth stock appearing pricey on the outside, but really a value of a lifetime on the inside. The hype surrounding the Google IPO was so palpable in 2004, the stock priced at a relatively nose-bleed level of 60x P/E level, approximately. The unconventional auction bidding method to buy the initial shares made investors even more skeptical. Suffice it to say, the greater than +1,600% gain has once again shown that investors can reap handsome rewards, if they do thorough enough due diligence and ignore the illusory big ticket IPO prices.

What most investors fail to realize is that P/E ratios are temporary. By purchasing a growth stock, the numerator of the P/E ratio (price) becomes static or fixed. As earnings of a growth company expand, the stock becomes cheaper by the day. More specifically, the numerator of the P/E (price) is flat, while the denominator (earnings) grows, thereby making the P/E ratio smaller (cheaper). And as you can see from the few previous examples I have provided, if you are able to identify winners, and hold them long enough, you will eventually realize the initial hefty price tag at purchase will be considered almost free after all the earnings compounding.

Legendary growth investor Peter Lynch summed it up concisely when he noted, “People concentrate too much on the P, but the E really makes the difference.” Lynch goes on to highlight the importance of patience in growth investing because stocks often go down or move sideways for long periods of time before dramatic increases occur:

“My best stocks performed in the 3rd year, 4th year, 5th year, not in the 3rd week or 4th week.”

 

I’ve illustrated a few successful examples of meteoric growth stocks, but more importantly the misconception many investors place on the current P/E ratio. There still is no substitute for hard-nosed, detailed fundamental research for finding big growth winners, because true growth stocks bought and held for a long enough period, will become cheaper by the day. If you don’t have the time, discipline, or patience to execute this winning strategy, find and hire an experienced investment manager who understands these concepts.

investment-questions-border

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

www.Sidoxia.com

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), AMZN, and GOOGL, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in SBUX, 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.

August 6, 2016 at 11:51 am 1 comment

Politics & Your Money

Congress - Capitol Building

Will you be able to retire, and what impact will the elections have on your financial future? Answering these questions can be a scary endeavor. And unless you have been living in a cave, you may have noticed we are in the middle of a heated U.S. presidential election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Regardless of which side of the political fence you stand on, the prospects of your retirement are much more likely to be impacted by your personal actions than by the actions of Washington politicians.

Even if you despise politics and were living in a cave (with WiFi access), there’s a high probability you would be overloaded with detailed and dogmatic online editorials from overconfident Facebook friends. Besides offering self-assured predictions, these impassioned political pleas generally itemize the top 10 reasons your favorite candidate is a moron, and another 10 reasons why their candidate is the greatest.

Your friends’ opinions may have pure intentions, but unfortunately, rarely, if ever, do their thoughts alter your views.  A reference from a recent Legal Watercooler article summed it up best:

“Political Facebook rants changed my mind…said nobody, ever.”

 

Nearly as ineffectual as political Facebook opinions on your politics is the ineffectual influence of presidential elections on your finances. For example, over the last four decades, stock prices have gone up and down during both Republican and Democrat presidential terms. The picture looks much the same, if you analyze the fiscal performance of conservatives and liberals since 1970 – debt burdens as a percentage of economic output have risen and fallen under both political parties. No matter who wins the presidency, many investors forget the ability of that individual to affect change is highly dependent upon the political balance of power in Congress. If Congress holds a split majority in the House and Senate, or the opposition party commands the entire Congress, then the winning presidential candidate will be largely neutered.

Rather than panic over a political loss or celebrate a candidate’s victory, here are some tangible actions to improve your finances:

  • Organize. Typically individuals have investment and saving accounts scattered with no cohesive accounting or strategy. Get your financial house in order by gathering and organizing all your accounts.
  • Budget. Spend less than you take in. Or in other words…save. You can achieve this goal in one of two ways – cut your spending, or increase your income.
  • Create a Plan. When do you plan to retire? How much money do you need for retirement? What asset allocation and risk profile should you adopt to meet your financial goals?

If you have difficulty with any of these actions, then meet with an experienced financial professional to assist you.

Politics can trigger very emotional responses. However, realizing your actions have a much more direct impact on your finances than political Facebook rants and temporary elections will benefit you in achieving your long-term financial goals.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

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 and FB, 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.

July 23, 2016 at 10:41 pm 4 comments

Technical Analysis – Astrology or Lob Wedge?

Investing comes in many shapes and sizes. And like religion (see Investing Religion article), most investment strategies are built on the essential belief that following certain rules and conventions will eventually lead to profit enlightenment. When it comes to technical analysis (TA), a discipline used with the principal aim of predicting future prices from past patterns, some consider it a necessity for making money in the market. Others, regard the practice of TA as a pseudoscience, much like astrology.

I feel  there is a proper place for TA on selective basis, which I will describe later, but for the most part I agree with some of the legendary investors  who have chimed in on the subject:

Warren Buffett: “I realized technical analysis didn’t work when I turned the charts upside down and didn’t get a different answer.”

Peter Lynch: “Charts are great for predicting the past.”

Technical Analysis Linguistics

Fundamental analysis, the antithesis of technical analysis, strives to predict future price direction by analyzing facts and data surrounding a company, industry, and/or economy. It too comes with its own syntax and versions, for example: value, growth, top-down, bottom-up, quantitative, etc.

I do not claim to be a TA expert, however in my many years of investing I have come across a smorgasbord of terms and flavors surrounding the discipline. Describing and explaining the density of material surrounding TA would encompass too large of a scope for this article, but here are some prevalent terms one should come to grips with if you want to become a technical analysis guru:

Technical Analysis Approaches

  • Elliot Wave
  • Relative strength / Momentum (see Momentum Investing article)
  • MACD (Moving Average Convergence / Divergence)
  • Fibonacci retracement
  • Dow Theory
  • Stochastics
  • Bollinger bands

Price Patterns

  • Head and shoulders
  • Double bottom
  • Cup and handle
  • Channels
  • Breakouts
  • Pivot points
  • Candlesticks
  • Resistance/Support
  • Dead cat bounce (my personal favorite)

Each of these patterns are supposes to provide insight into the future direction of price. At best, I would say the academic research surrounding the subject is “inconclusive,” and at worst I’d say it’s considered a complete “sham.”

The Lob Wedge

As I’ve stated earlier, I fall in the skeptical camp when it comes to TA, since fundamental analysis is the main engine I use for generating and tracking my investment ideas. For illustrative purposes, you may consider fundamental analysis as my group of drivers and irons. I do, however,  utilize selective facets of TA much like I use a lob wedge in golf for a limited number of specific situations (e.g., shots over high trees, downhill lies, and fast greens). When it comes to trading, I do believe there is some value in tracking the relationship of extreme trading volume (high or low), especially when it is coupled with extreme price movement (high or low). The economic laws of supply and demand hold true for stock trades just as they do for guns and butter, and sharp moves in these components can provide insights into the psychological mindset of investors with respect to a security (or broader market). Beyond trading volume, there are a few other indicators that I utilize as part of my trading strategies, but these tactics play a relatively minor role, since most of my core positions are held on a multi-year time horizon.

Overall, there is a stream of wasteful noise, volatility, and misinformation that permeates the financial markets on a daily basis. A major problem with technical analysis is the many false triggered signals, which in many cases lead to excessive trading, transaction costs, and ultimately subpar investment returns.  Although I remain a skeptic on the subject of technical analysis and I may not read my horoscope today, I will continue to keep a lob wedge in my golf bag with the hopes of finding new, creative ways of using it to my advantage.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own exchange traded funds and various securities, including BRK.B, but at time of publishing had no direct position in BRK.A or any company mentioned 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.

July 9, 2016 at 9:45 am 1 comment

EU Marriage Ends in Messy Brexit Divorce

divorce

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 1, 2016). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

What Just Happened?

Breakups are never easy, especially when they come as a surprise. That’s exactly what happened with last week’s “Brexit” (British exit) referendum results. History was made when 51.9% of the United Kingdom (U.K.) voters from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cast their vote to divorce (“Leave”) their country from the European Union (EU). In the end, the 48.1% of U.K. voters could not generate enough support to “Remain” in the EU (see chart below). Despite torrential downpours in southern Britain, voter turnout was extraordinarily high, as 72% of the 46.5 million registered voters came out in full force to have their voices heard.

Divorce is never cheap, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron paid the ultimate price with his defeat in the Brexit referendum…the loss of his job. Immediately following the release of the referendum results, Cameron, the British Prime Minister since 2010 and leader of the Conservative Party, immediately announced his resignation, effective no later than October 2016 after the selection of his successor.

brexit votes

Source: Bloomberg

One of the reasons behind the shock of the Brexit Leave decision is the longstanding relationship the U.K. has had with the EU. European Union membership first began in 1957 with Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Netherlands being the founding countries of this new political-economic union.

A few decades later, the U.K. officially joined the EU in 1973 with Ireland and the Denmark, shortly before Margaret Thatcher came into power. If you fast forward to today, some 43 years after U.K. originally joined the EU, the Brexit decision represents the largest turning point in European political history. Not since the 1989 falling of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent demise of the Cold War in the Soviet Union has such a large, earth-moving political shift occurred.

Today, there are 28 member countries in the EU with Croatia being the newest member in 2013. Despite the Brexit outcome, there still is a backlog of countries wanting to join the EU club, including Turkey, Serbia, Albania, and Montenegro (and this excludes Scotland, which has voiced an interest in leaving the U.K. for the EU).

What Were Investors’ Reactions?

Financial markets around the world were caught off guard, given many pre-referendum polls were showing the Remain camp with a slight edge, along with British betting parlors that were handicapping an overwhelming victory for the Remain camp. Here’s a summary of stock market reactions around the globe from June 23rd to June 30th:

U.S. (S&P 500): -0.7%

U.K. (FTSE 100): +2.6%

Japan (Nikkei): -4.1%

Germany (DAX): -5.6%

Hong Kong (Hang Seng): +0.4%

China (Shanghai): +1.3%

India (BSE): -0.0%

Surprisingly, modest monthly gains achieved in the S&P 500 prior to the Brexit vote (up +0.8%) were quickly pared after the results came in but remained positive for the entire month (up +0.1%). For the year, U.S. stocks are up a limited +2.7%, which isn’t too bad considering investors’ current mood.

Stocks were not the only financial market disrupted after the Brexit announcement, foreign exchange currency rates were unstable as well. The British pound dived to a 30-year low shortly after the vote to a level of approximately $1.33/£, and was down more than -10% on the day of the announcement (see chart below). UK banks like Barclays PLC (BCS) and Lloyds Banking Group PLC (LYG) also saw their share prices significantly pressured as EU regulatory risks of losing access to European customers and negative global interest rates further squeeze the banks’ profit margins.

To put the currency picture into perspective, the value of the British pound ($2.64/£) peaked in March 1972 at a rate about double the U.S. dollar today. On the positive side of the ledger, a weaker British pound could help boost exports and vacation time to Stonehenge or London, but there is also a risk for a spike of inflation (or stagflation) on the country’s roughly $740 billion in imports (e.g., food, energy, and raw materials).

currency v ppp

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Why Did it Happen?

While economically prosperous regions like London and Scotland voted heavily for Remain, the message for change of the Leave camp resonated well with working class towns and rural areas of England (seen here). Besides a geographic split, there was also a demographic divide between voters. As you can see from the YouGov poll below, the majority of younger citizens overwhelmingly voted for Remain, and vice versa for older citizens as it relates to the Leave vote.

18-24: 75% Remain

25-49: 56% Remain

50-64: 44% Remain

65+: 39% Remain

While geography and demographics certainly played a key role in the outcome of the EU Leave referendum result, at the core of the movement also was a populist discontent with immigration and the negative economic consequences created by globalization. There are many reasons behind the sluggish economic global recovery, even if the U.S. is doing best out of the developed countries, but rightly or wrongly, immigration policies and protectionism played a prominent part in the Brexit.

At the heart of the populist sentiment of lost control to Brussels (EU) and immigration is the question of whether the benefits of globalization have outweighed the costs. The spread of globalization and expanded EU immigration has disenfranchised many lower skill level workers displaced by eastern European immigrants, Syrian refugees and innovative solutions like automated machinery, software, and electronic equipment. Economic history clearly shows the answer to the effectiveness of globalization is a resounding “yes”, but the post-financial crisis recovery has been disappointingly sluggish, so a component of the populist movement has felt an urgency to find a scapegoat. The benefits of globalization can be seen in the chart below, as evidenced by the increases in per capita GDP of the UK relative to Germany and France, after joining the EU in 1973. Many observers are quick to identify the visible consequences of globalization (i.e., lower-paying job losses), but fail to identify the invisible benefits (i.e., productivity, lower prices, investment in higher-paying job gains).

UK GDP Ratio

Source: The Wall Street Journal

What happens next?

While some EU leaders want to accelerate the Brexit transition, in actuality, this will require a long, drawn-out negotiation process between the still-unnamed new UK Prime Minister and EU officials. The complete EU-Brexit deal will take upwards of two-years to complete, once Article 50 of the EU Lisbon Treaty has been triggered – likely in October.

In light of the unchartered nature of the Brexit Leave vote, nobody truly knows if this decision will ultimately compromise the existential reality of the EU. Time will tell whether Brexit will merely be a small bump on the long EU road, or the beginning of a scary European domino effect that causes the 28 EU country bloc to topple. If the U.K. is successful in negotiating EU trade agreements with separate European countries, the Brexit even has a longer-term potential of benefiting economic activity.  Regardless of the EU outcome, the long-term proliferation of capitalism and democracy is likely to prevail because citizens vote with their wallets and capital goes where it is treated best.

What does Brexit Mean for Global Markets?

The short answer is not much economically, however there have been plenty of less substantial events that have roiled financial markets for relatively short periods of time. There are two basic questions to ask when looking at the economic impact of Brexit:

1) What is the Brexit impact on the U.S. economy?

If you objectively analyze the statistics, U.S. companies sold approximately $56 billion of goods to the U.K. last year   (our #7 trading partner). Even if you believe in the unlikely scenario of a severe U.K. economic meltdown, the U.K. trade figure is a rounding error in the whole global economic scheme of things. More specifically, $56 billion in trade with the U.K. equates to about .003 of the United States’ $18+ trillion GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

2) What is the Brexit impact on the global economy?

The U.K.’s GDP amounts to about $3 trillion dollars. Of that total, U.K. exports to the EU account for a reasonably insignificant $300 billion. As you can see from the chart below, $300 billion in UK exports to the EU are virtually meaningless and coincidentally equate to about .003 of the world’s $78 trillion estimated GDP.

global gdp

Source: The National Archives

What to Do Next?

Like many divorces, the U.K. Brexit may be messy and drawn out, until all the details are finalized over the next couple years. It’s important that you establish a strong foundation with your investments and do not divorce the sound, fundamental principles needed to grow and preserve your portfolio. As is usually the case, panicking or making an emotional decision relating to your investments during the heat of some geopolitical crisis rarely translates into an optimal decision over the long-run. As I repeatedly have advised over the years, these periods of volatility are nothing new (see also Series of Unfortunate Events).

If you catch your anxiety or blood pressure rising, do yourself a favor and turn off your TV, radio, or electronic device. A more productive use of time is to calmly review your asset allocation and follow a financial plan, with or without the assistance of a financial professional, so that you are able to achieve your long-term financial goals. This strategy will help you establish a more durable, long-lasting, and successful marriage with your investments.

investment-questions-border

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.

July 2, 2016 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

Market Inefficiencies Give Black-Eyes to Classic Economists

Markets are efficient. Individuals behave rationally. All information is reflected in prices. Huh…are you kidding me? These are the beliefs held by traditional free market economists (“rationalists”) like Eugene Fama (Economist at the University of Chicago and a.k.a. the “Father of the Efficient Market Hypothesis”). Striking blows to the rationalists are being thrown by “behavioralists” like Richard Thaler (Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago), who believes emotions often lead to suboptimal decisions and also thinks efficient market economics is a bunch of hogwash.

Individual investors, pensions, endowments, institutional investors, governments, were left sifting through the rubble in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 financial crisis because common beliefs were thrown out the window. Experts and non-experts are still attempting to figure out how this mass destruction occurred and how it can be prevented in the future. Economists, as always, are happy to throw in their two cents. Right now traditional free market economists like Fama have received a black eye and are on the defensive – forced to explain to the behavioral finance economists (Thaler et. al.) how efficient markets could lead to such a disastrous outcome.

Religion and Economics

Like religious debates, economic rhetoric can get heated too. Religion can be divided up in into various categories (e.g., Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other), or more simply, religion can be divided into those who believe in a god (theism) and those who do not (atheism). There are multiple economic categorizations or schools as well (e.g., Keynsians, monetarists, libertarians, behavioral finance economists, etc.).  Debates and disagreements across the rainbow of religions and economic schools have been going on for centuries, and the arrival and departure of the 2008-09 financial crisis further ignited the battle between the “behavioralists” (behavioral finance economists) and the “rationalists” (traditional free market economists).

Behavioral Finance on the Offensive

In the efficient market world of the “rationalists,” market prices reflect all available information and cannot be wrong at any moment in time. Effectively, individuals are considered human calculators that optimize everything from interest rates and costs to benefits and inflation expectations in every decision. What classic economists fail to account for are the emotional and behavioral flaws made by individuals.

Claiming financial market decisions are not impacted by emotions becomes more challenging to defend, if you consider the countless irrational anomalies occurring throughout history. Consider the following:

  • Tulip Mania: Bubbles are nothing new – they have persisted for hundreds of years. Let’s reflect on the tulip bulb mania of the 1600s. For starters, I’m not sure how classic economists can explain the irrational exchanging of homes or a thousand pounds of cheese for a tulip bulb? Or how peak prices of $60,000+ in inflation-adjusted dollars were paid for a bulb at the time (C-Cynical)? These are tough questions to answer for the rationalists.
  • Flash Crash: Seeing multiple stocks and Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) temporarily plummet -99% in minutes is not exactly the sign of an efficient market. Stalwarts like Procter & Gamble also collapsed -37%, only to rebound minutes later near pre-collapse levels. All this volatility doesn’t exactly ooze with efficiency (see Making Millions in Minutes).
  • Negative Interest Rates: Plenty of so-called pundits are arguing that equity markets are expensive, but what about the $8 trillion in negative interest rate bonds? Prices for many of these bonds are astronomical. Paying someone to take my money doesn’t make a lot of sense, but trillions in speculative investments are still being made today.
  • Technology and Real Estate Bubbles: Both of these asset classes were considered “can’t lose” investments in the late 1990s and mid-2000s, respectively. Many tech stocks were trading at unfathomable values (more than 100 x’s annual profits) and homebuyers were inflating real estate prices because little-to-no money was required for the purchases.
  • ’87 Crash: October 19, 1987 became infamously known as “Black Monday” since the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged over -22% in one day (-508 points), the largest one-day percentage decline ever.

The ever-growing list of nonsensical anomalies only makes the rationalists’ jobs that much tougher in refuting the illogical behavior. Risk aversion has been alive and well in the post financial crisis environment as wild swings have resulted from a wide range of concerns, including: the U.S. debt downgrade; Arab Spring; potential Greek exit from the EU; Sequestration; Fed Taper Tantrum; Obamacare implementation; Russian invasion of Ukraine; Gaza conflict; Fukashima disaster; Ebola outbreak; Ferguson tensions; Paris/San Bernardino/Brussels terrorist attacks; China recessionary fears; oil price volatility; Mideast turmoil – ISIS expansion; Federal Reserve rate increases; and many other worries. Often, the human lizard brain is what leads to sub-optimal decision making. Maybe the rationalists can use the same efficient market framework to help explain to my wife why I ate a whole box of Twinkies in one sitting?

Rationalist Rebuttal

The growing list of market inefficiencies has given the rationalists a black eye, but they are not going down without a fight. Here are some quotes from Fama and fellow Chicago rationalist pals:

On the Crash-Related Attacks from Behavioralists: Behavioralists say traditional economics has failed in explaining the irrational decisions and actions leading up to the 2008-09 crash. Fama states, “I don’t see this as a failure of economics, but we need a whipping boy, and economists have always, kind of, been whipping boys, so they’re used to it. It’s fine.”

Rationalist Explanation of Behavioral Finance: Fama doesn’t deny the existence of irrational behavior, but rather believes rational and irrational behaviors can coexist. “Efficient markets can exist side by side with irrational behavior, as long as you have enough rational people to keep prices in line,” notes Fama. John Cochrane treats behavioral finance as a pseudo-science by replying, “The observation that people feel emotions means nothing. And if you’re going to just say markets went up because there was a wave of emotion, you’ve got nothing. That doesn’t tell us what circumstances are likely to make markets go up or down. That would not be a scientific theory.”

Description of Panics: “Panic” is not a term included in the dictionary of traditional economists. Fama retorts, “You can give it the charged word ‘panic,’ if you’d like, but in my view it’s just a change in tastes.” Calling these anomalous historic collapses a “change in tastes” is like calling American Idol judge Simon Cowell, “diplomatic.” More likely, what’s really happening is these severe panics are driving investors’ changes in preferences.

Throwing in White Towel Regarding Crash: Not all classic economists are completely digging in their heels like Fama and Cochrane. Gary Becker, a rationalist disciple, acknowledged the blind-siding of the 2008-2009 financial crisis when he  admitted, “Economists as a whole didn’t see it coming. So that’s a black mark on economics, and it’s not a very good mark for markets.”

Settling Dispute with Lab Rats

The boxing match continues, and the way the behavioralists would like to settle the score is through laboratory tests. In the documentary Mind Over Money, numerous laboratory experiments are run using human subjects to tease out emotional behaviors. Here are a few examples used by behavioralists to bolster their arguments:

  • The $20 Bill Auction: Zach Burns, a professor at the University of Chicago, conducted an auction among his students for a $20 bill. Under the rules of the game, as expected, the highest bidder wins the $20 bill, but as an added wrinkle, Burns added the stipulation that the second highest bidder receives nothing but must still pay the amount of the losing bid. Traditional economists would conclude nobody would bid higher than $20. See the not-so rational auction results here at minute 1:45.

  • $100 Today or $102 Tomorrow? This was the question posed to a group of shoppers in Chicago, but under two different scenarios. Under the first scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 in a year from now (day 366) or $102 in a year and one additional day (day 367)? Under the second scenario, the individuals were asked whether they would prefer receiving $100 today or $102 tomorrow? The rational response to both scenarios would be to select $102 under both scenarios. See how the participants responded to the questions here at minute 4:30.

Rationalist John Cochrane is not fully convinced. “These experiments are very interesting, and I find them interesting, too. The next question is, to what extent does what we find in the lab translate into how people…understanding how people behave in the real world…and then make that transition to, ‘Does this explain market-wide phenomenon?,’” he asks.

As I alluded to earlier, religion, politics, and economics will never fall under one universal consensus view. The classic rationalist economists, like Eugene Fama, have in aggregate been on the defensive and taken a left-hook in the eye for failing to predict and cohesively explain recurring market inefficiencies, including the financial crash of 2008-09. On the other hand, Richard Thaler and his behavioral finance buds will continue on the offensive, consistently swinging at the classic economists over this key economic mind versus money dispute.

See Complete Mind Over Money Program

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www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in PG and 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.

May 28, 2016 at 10:16 am 3 comments

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