The Traitorous 8 and Birth of Silicon Valley

Traitorous 8 Group

Over my 25 year investment career, I’ve made quite a few technology investments and visited dozens of Silicon Valley companies. I heard bits and pieces about the story of the Traitorous 8, but I never fully comprehended the technology revolution they started. Out of intellectual curiosity, I decided to delve a little deeper into the topic.

At the heart of this topic is a small device about the size of a fingernail. This object has several different names and can be quite confusing. The official name is an integrated circuit or IC, but usually it’s referred to as a chip, microchip, or semiconductor. These chips have become ubiquitous, scattered invisibly throughout our daily lives in our cars, computers, TVs, cell phones, appliances, and remote controls (an average household is home to about 1,000 of these semiconductors). Despite most people taking the microchip for granted, this diminutive piece of silicon created from our beach’s sand have contributed the largest burst of wealth creation in human history.

Before gaining a true understanding into the birth of Silicon Valley, we have to better understand the historical context in which the global technology capital was created – this takes us back to the early twentieth century when the vacuum tube was invented in 1904. Before Al Gore invented the Internet, we needed computers, and before we had personal computers, we needed integrated circuits, and before we had integrated circuits we had vacuum tubes (see chart below). Vacuum tubes were the electronic circuitry components required to make telephones, radios and televisions work in the early 1900s.

Tech History & the Vacuum Tube

Tech History

The vacuum tube was invented in 1904 by an English physicist named John Ambrose Fleming. Like semiconductors, the main function of a Vacuum tube is to control the flow of electric current. More specifically, a vacuum tube controls the current transferred between cathode and anode to make a circuit. Vacuum tubes were used for amazing applications, but in modern society this technology has been largely replaced by semiconductors, primarily because of cost, scalability and reliability factors.

The first all-electronic digital computer title is usually awarded to the ENIAC computer, which stood for Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator. ENIAC was built at the University of Pennsylvania between 1943 and 1945 by two professors, John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. World War II, the Soviet Union Cold War, and the space race kicked off by the Sputnik launch all pushed the vacuum tube technology to its limits. To give you an idea of how costly and inefficient vacuum tubes were relative to today’s microchips consider some of the ENIAC statistics. ENIAC filled a 20 x 40 foot room; weighed 30 tons; used more than 18,000 vacuum tubes; and only operated 50% of the time because operators were continuously replacing burned out vacuum tubes.  In fact, the ENIAC vacuum tubes generated so much heat, the temperature in the computer room often reached 120 degrees.

Shockley – The Godfather of the Transistor

William Shockley

Something had to change to improve vacuum tube technology, and it did…thanks in large part to a physicist named William Shockley, the so-called “Godfather of the Transistor.” Shockley received his Bachelor of Science degree from Caltech in 1932 and earned his Ph.D. degree from MIT in 1936. After graduation, Shockley left the famous Bell Labs research center, which was a research division of AT&T at the time (now owned by Nokia). As part of Shockley’s work at Bell Labs in the late 1940s, he contributed to the invention of the transistor with experimentalist Walter Brattain and quantum theorist John Bardeen. Fundamentally, the transistor is a switch, which over time has shrunk down to the size of a virus. The transistor is what ultimately replaced the vacuum tubes because it is smaller, more efficient, more reliable, more durable, and cheaper than vacuum tubes. Transistors switch and amplify the flow of electronic signals to create digital ones and zeros that instruct electronic applications. Without the benefits of shrinking transistors, today’s computer servers would be three stories high.

How small have transistors become? Take the iPhone 6 for example – it uses the A8 chip, which is made up of a whopping two billion transistors. To accomplish this feat, engineers are now creating transistors at the atomic level. Large semiconductor manufacturers like Intel Corp (INTC) are now developing transistors at the 10 nanometer level. To put this scale into perspective, consider a sheet of paper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick. So in order to create a 10 nanometer sheet of paper, one would have to slice a single sheet 10,000 times thinner to reach 10 nanometers…mind-boggling.

Building atomic sized transistor technology is very cool, but also very expensive. Only a handful of semiconductor manufacturers have enough capital to build these new state-of-the art facilities. Case in point is Intel’s D1X fabrication facility in Hillsboro, Oregon, which is estimated to have cost $6 billion. Like seeing the pyramids – it’s difficult to understand the enormity of the structure without visiting it, which I was fortunate to do in 2014. It’s very ironic that in order to build these microscopic transistors and integrated circuits, multi-billion dollar manufacturing facilities the size of 38 football fields (~2.2 million square feet) are required. Another example of a next-generation manufacturing facility is Taiwan Semiconductor’s – Fab 15 (TSM), which was estimated to cost $9.3 billion.

These mega-transistor manufacturing facilities would not have been possible without Shockley’s contributions. Having helped invent the transistor largely replace the dominant computing technology of the last half century (i.e., vacuum tube), Shockley mustered up the courage to leave Bell Labs and start his own company, but he needed some cash to make it happen. He contacted Arnold Beckman, CEO of Beckman Coulter and his old professor at Caltech. Over a boat ride in Newport Beach, California, Shockley asked Beckman for $1 million to start his own lab. Silicon Valley potentially could have started in Southern California, but Shockley explained his aging mother lived in Palo Alto and convinced Beckman to start Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View, California during 1956.

After Shockley Semiconductor began operations, everything appeared to be going according to plan. Shortly after opening shop and recruiting the best and brightest engineers across the country, Shockley and his former Bell Labs colleagues Walter Brattain and John Bardeen were notified they all had won the Nobel Prize in physics (see photo below).

Nobel Shockley Celebration

After the Nobel Prize celebrations, everything went downhill quickly. Shockley was known as a brilliant engineer but a horrific manager. He put his employees through a battery of tests including psychological tests, intelligence tests, and even lie detector tests. Shockley also posted employee salaries publicly and recorded phone calls. He was a paranoid individual who believed his workers were stealing trade secrets and sabotaging projects, so therefore he wouldn’t share findings with his research staff. Adding insult to injury, Shockley was a racist, who believed blacks were genetically inferior with subpar IQs, so they shouldn’t have kids.

Here is a video link summarizing William Shockley’s leadership:

CLICK HERE

The Traitorous 8 Surface

In 1957, the year after Shockley Semiconductor Labs started up, the division reached 30 employees. Eight of the employees, Sheldon Roberts, Eugene Kleiner, Victor Grinich, Jay Last, Julius Blank, Jean Hoerni, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore finally said, enough-is-enough and decided mutiny was their best option.

Traitorous 8 Individuals

The disgruntled group ended up contacting a 30-year-old, snot-nosed, Harvard MBA graduate named Arthur Rock, the individual who eventually coined the phrase “venture capitalist.” In 1957, Rock was a New York banker working at Hayden Stone & Co. Rock believed the group of eight engineers (six of which had Ph.Ds) deserved attention, given their experience working with a Nobel Prize winner. The Traitorous 8 simply wanted to find an employer that would hire them as a group, but Rock advised them to start their own company – a novel idea during the 1950s.

After making a list and calling about 40 blue chip companies from the Wall Street Journal for funding, Rock almost gave up until they received a lead to contact Sherman Fairchild. Fairchild was a wealthy entrepreneur and playboy who hung out at the El Morocco in New York with Howard Hughes. Rock convinced Fairchild, the CEO of Fairchild Camera & Instrument, to invest $1.5 million into a Traitorous 8 startup.

The rest is history. The Traitorous 8 set up shop as Fairchild Semiconductor (FCS) in Mountain View, about twelve blocks from Shockley’s operations. Over the next 10 years, Fairchild Semiconductor grew from twelve employees to twelve thousand employees, and raked in some $130 million in annual revenues. Of the original Traitorous 8, two have become historical figures – Robert “Bob” Noyce and Gordon Moore. All good things come to an end, and Noyce and Moore increasingly got frustrated with Fairchild’s mismanagement of the semiconductor division.

After Fairchild passed over Noyce for a CEO promotion in 1968, Noyce told Moore, “I’m going to leave, are you interested?” Moore agreed, so he and Noyce contacted Arthur Rock again for his assistance. Rock quickly helped them raise $2.5 million, and Intel Corporation (short for “Integrated Electronics”) was born. Three years later in 1971, Intel launched its IPO at $23.50 per share ($.02 split-adjusted). An investment of $10,000 back then would be worth about $12,000,000 today –about a +120,000% return.

Here’s a video summarizing the creation of Intel:

 

Thomas Edison of Silicon Valley

Nowadays, Noyce is hailed by many as the “Thomas Edison of Silicon Valley.” Noyce received his Ph.D.  from MIT and is most known for his invention of the integrated circuit. During the late 1950s, other engineers also worked on the IC, including Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments, but Noyce received the first patent in 1961. Unlike Kilby, who created his IC from germanium, Noyce created his IC from silicon, the semiconductor of choice still today. After a decade of litigation, Noyce and Kilby settled their differences and decided to cross-license their patents. Unfortunately, the Nobel Foundation doesn’t issue Nobel Prizes posthumously, so when the Nobel Prize was issued for the invention of the integrated circuit in the year 2000 (10 years after Noyce’s death), only Kilby was recognized. To Kilby’s credit, he acknowledged the contributions of Noyce and others in his Nobel speech with a story of a rabbit and beaver looking up at the Hoover Dam, “No, I didn’t build it myself. But it’s based on an idea of mine!”

Moore’s Law Established

Arguably, Moore was just as influential as Noyce, but due to his quiet leadership style, Moore is often overlooked. Moore was a year younger than Noyce and earned his chemistry degree from Berkeley and Ph.D.  from Caltech. Unlike Noyce, who grew up in the Midwest (Iowa), Moore was raised near Palo Alto, which made recruiting Moore by William Shockley quite easy. Moore’s largest contribution is considered to “Moore’s Law,” which generally states the number of transistors (i.e., a chip’s computing power) will double every 1-2 years. During the 1980s, Noyce described the implications of Moore’s Law by comparing Moore’s Law to the airline industry. If the airline industry progressed at the trajectory of the semiconductor industry over the last 20 years, then the 767 airplane would cost $500 and travel around the world in 20 minutes on five gallons of gas. Regrettably, not many industries advance at the pace of semiconductors.

Moore came up with “Moore’s Law” when her wrote a seminal article for Electronics magazine in 1965 and in the article he properly predicted that the number of transistors that could be squeezed onto a microchip (around 60 at the time) would increase 1,000-fold to 60,000 transistors by 1975. It would take decades for his projections to come true, but Moore very presciently predicted the explosion of home computers, cell phones (which he called “portable communications equipment”), electronic wrist-watches, digital cars, and a host of other electronic devices and applications. A half century later, Moore’s Law holds true, but the pace of transistor growth admittedly is slowing. The physics behind semiconductor manufacturing is running into serious limitations of quantum mechanics, cost, and heat. Microchips are becoming so dense and fast that the internal components in many cases are melting the chips in research labs.

Here is a video link summarizing Moore’s Law:

CLICK HERE

While Moore’s Law is approaching diminishing returns, the costs of microchips keep declining, power keeps increasing, and efficiency keeps improving. Despite the slowing in Moore’s Law, as you can see below, the adoption of transistors via microchips is not plateauing. According to Intel, we are now consuming an estimated sextillion transistors!

Source: Intel Corporation

Source: Intel Corporation

Politics, economics, terrorism, and social issues may dominate the daily headlines, but behind the scenes there are daily miracles occurring due to technology advancements. Driving much of that innovation is the microchip, and without the Traitorous 8, the world would look a lot different and there would be no Silicon Valley as we know it today. Had Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore miserably resigned themselves to remain at Shockley Semiconductor, perhaps mankind would not have achieved the giant strides in global standards of living (see chart below). Thankfully, their contributions live on today and ensure a bright future for our kids, grandchildren, and the world at large.

Source: FRED

Source: FRED

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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 certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and in INTC (non-discretionary), TXN (non-discretionary),  T (non-discretionary), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in TSM, NOK, FCS, 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.

March 13, 2016 at 12:52 am Leave a comment

Dolphin or Shark…Time for Concern?

Shark Fin

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

Through the choppy stock market waters of February, investors nervously tried to stay afloat as they noticed a fin cutting through the water. The only problem is determining whether the fin approaching is coming from a harmless dolphin or a ferocious shark? The volatility in 2016 has been disconcerting for many, but a life preserver was provided during the month with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up a modest 50 points (+0.30%).

Remaining calm can be challenging when facing a countless number of ever-changing concerns. Stock investors have caught lots of fish since early 2009 (prices have about tripled), but here are some of the scary headlines (fins) floating out in the financial markets:

  • Recession? Overall corporate profits have slowed in the face of plummeting energy prices and the headwind of a strong dollar. However, corporate profit margins remain near record levels and if you exclude the decline in the troubled oil patch, core profits keep chugging along. If an imminent recession were actually on the horizon, you wouldn’t expect to see a 4.9% unemployment rate (8-year low); record auto sales; an improving housing market; and stimulative national gasoline prices at $1.75/gallon (recent recessions have been caused by high energy prices).
  • Negative Interest Rates:  Would you like to get paid to borrow money? With $6 trillion dollars of negative interest rate bonds in the market (see chart below), that’s exactly what is happening. Just imagine walking into your local Best Buy, and asking the salesman, “Can I borrow $2,000 to buy that big screen TV there…and oh by the way, can you pay me interest every month after you give me the money?” Scary to think many people are panicked over the stock market when they should be more alarmed over negative interest rates. Would you rather earn 6.4% on the average stock (S&P 500 earnings yield) and a 2.2% dividend yield vs negative interest rate bonds? As I always caution investors, even though interest rates are at/near a generational low, diversified portfolios still need exposure to bonds, even if you’re at/near retirement because of the stability they provide. Bonds act like expensive pillows – they are necessary to sleep at night. Although some observers point to negative rates as a sign of a global collapse, low inflation, aggressive foreign central bank monetary policies, and a lingering risk aversion hangover from the 2008-09 financial crisis probably have more to do with the current strange status of interest rates.
Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

  • Political Turbulence: Uncertainty abounds in another election year, just as is the case every other four years. As we head into Super Tuesday, the day in the presidential primary season when the largest number of states hold primary elections, the Republicans are set to battle for approximately half of the delegates necessary to secure the party nomination. The Democrats will be competing for about one-third of the delegates. While many individuals are placing paramount importance on the outcomes of the presidential elections, history teaches us otherwise. The ultimate person elected as president will certainly have a significant impact on the direction of the country, but there are other contributing factors as important (or more important) to economic growth, including the Federal Reserve, and the two houses of Congress. On numerous occasions, I have pointed out the irrelevance of presidential politics (see also Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). As the chart shows below, the past confirms there is no consistency to stock market performance based on political party affiliations. Stocks have performed strongly (and poorly) under both party affiliations.

  • Brexit? After lengthy negotiations with EU leaders in Brussels, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron set June 23rd as the referendum date for voters to determine whether Britain stays in the European Union. Opinions remain divided (see chart below), but we have seen this movie before with Greece’s threat to leave the EU. As we experienced with the Greece exit (“Grexit”) drama, calmer heads are likely to prevail again. Nevertheless, until the end of June, regrettably we will be forced to listen to continued Brexit fears (see also Brexit article in the Economist for a more thorough review).

  • Collapsing Oil Prices: The violent decline in oil prices over the last few years has been swift from about $100/barrel to $34/barrel today. However, the economic slowdown in China, coupled with a stronger U.S. dollar, has led to a broad downfall in commodity prices over the last five years as well. As much as declining demand has hurt commodities and been stimulative for buyers, over-building and excess supply has pressured prices equally. Fortunately, there are signs commodity prices could be in the process of bottoming (see CRB Index).

Financial market volatility in early 2016 has frayed some nerves, and the appearance of swirling fins has many investors wondering whether now’s the time to swim for shore or remain calm and catch the next growth wave. Despite the concerns over a potential recession, negative interest rates, bitter politics, Brexit fears, and depressed oil prices, our economy keeps slowly-but-surely powering forward. While U.S. corporations have been negatively impacted by a strong currency, compressed banking profits (i.e., lower interest rates), and a weak energy sector, S&P 500 companies are rewarding investors by returning a record $1 trillion in dividends and share buybacks (up from $500 million in 2005). When swimming in the current financial markets, you will be better served by swimming with the harmless dolphins rather than panicking over imaginary sharks.

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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 certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in BBY 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.

March 5, 2016 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

Avoiding Automobile and Portfolio Crashes

Personal opinions of oneself don’t always mirror reality. Self perceptions relating to both driving and investing can be inflated. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 95% of crashes are caused by human error, but 75% of drivers say they are better drivers than most.

Contributing factors to crashes include: 1) Distractions; 2) Alcohol; 3) Unsafe behavior (i.e., speeding); 4) Time of day (fatality rate is 3x higher at night); 5) Lack of safety belt; 6) Weather; and 7) Time of week (weekends are worst crash days).

A spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is quick to point out that driving behind the wheel is the riskiest activity most people engage in on a daily basis – more than 40,000 driving related fatalities occur each year. Careful common sense helps while driving, but driving sober at 4 a.m. (very few drivers on the road) on a weekday with your seatbelt on won’t hurt either.

Avoiding a Portfolio Crash

Another dangerous activity frequently undertaken by Americans is investing, despite people’s inflated beliefs of their money management capabilities. Investing, however, does not have to be harmful if proper precautions are taken.

Here is some of the hazardous behaviors that should be avoided by those maneuvering an investment portfolio:

1)      Trading Too Much: Excessive trading leads to undue commissions, transaction costs, bid-ask spread, impact costs. Many of these costs are opaque or invisible and won’t necessarily be evident right away. But like a leaky boat, direct and indirect trading costs have the potential of sinking your portfolio.

2)      Worrying about the Economy Too Much:  The country experiences about two recessions a decade, nonetheless our economy continues to grow. If macroeconomics still worry you, then look abroad for even healthier growth – considerable international exposure should aid the long-term success of your portfolio and assist you in sleeping better at night.

3)      Emotionally Reacting – Not Objectively Planning: News is bad, so sell. News is good, so buy. This type of conduct is a recipe for portfolio disaster. Better to do as Warren Buffett says, “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.” The long-term fundamental prospects for any investment are much more important than the daily headlines that get the emotional juices flowing.

4)      Hostage to Short-term Time Horizon: Rather than worry about the next 10 days, you should be focused on the next 10 years. The further out you can set your time horizon, the better off you will be. Patience is a virtue.

5)      Incongruent Portfolio with Risk: Many retirees got caught flat-footed in the midst of the global financial crisis of 2008-09 with investment portfolios heavy in equities and real estate. Diversified portfolios including fixed-income, commodities, international exposure, cash, and alternative investments should be optimized to meet your specific objectives, constraints, risk tolerance, and time horizon.

6)      Timing the Market: Attempting to time the market can be hazardous to your investment health (see Market Timing article). If you really want to make money, then avoid the masses – the grass is greener and the eating better away from the herd.

Driving and investing can both be dangerous activities that command responsible behavior. Do yourself a favor and protect yourself and your portfolio from crashing by taking the appropriate precautions and avoiding the common hazardous mistakes.

Read Full Forbes Article on Driving Dangers

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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 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.

February 27, 2016 at 12:41 pm Leave a comment

Thank You Volatility

iStock_000003992536XSmallstockchart

“Look at market fluctuations as your friend rather than your enemy; profit from folly rather than participate in it.” -Warren Buffett

We’ve had some choppy markets and that’s fine by me. Great investors love uncertainty because volatility equates to opportunity. Selling or shorting into volatile euphoria and buying into panic is a time-tested, wealth creating strategy. On the other hand, when everything is consistently moving in one direction, either upwards or downwards, investing can be an easy and straight forward momentum game.  Buy something and watch it go up…short something and watch it go down.

In tough, choppy, trendless markets, identifying trends by active traders becomes more challenging. During tricky markets like we’re in now is when the wheat gets separated from the chaff. Day traders and speculators act on a zig one day and are forced to zag the next. Because of the volatile, whippy market dynamics, this type of active trading by individuals rapidly destroys portfolios, not only because of the transaction costs and taxes, but also due to impact costs and spread losses (i.e., bid-ask).

Often, the greater losses come from the behavioral aspects of active trading. Performance chasing and/or the pursuit of overzealous loss mitigation frequently are driven by the destructively entrenched emotions of fear and greed. In the past, I can’t tell you how many times I have rushed into a highflying stock, only to see it pull back down -15-20%, in short order. On the flip side, how often have stocks bounced significantly, after I’ve made a panicked sale? Too many, unfortunately. Most investors don’t take to heart the fact that whenever you initiate a trade, you need to be right twice to optimize your profits. In other words, the security you initially sell needs to go lower (i.e., you should have kept the original investment), AND the security you subsequently buy needs to go higher (i.e., you shouldn’t have purchased the new investment in the first place).

Even in the cases in which the balance of the buy/sale trades becomes a wash, the trading costs and taxes will eat the active trader alive. Unfortunately, the other outcome of losing on both sides of the trade (the purchase goes lower and sale goes higher) is all too common. For example, the purchase you falls by -3%, and the investment you sold climbs +10%. Doing nothing would have been the best outcome!

All this investment tail-chasing inevitably results in a lot of portfolio bloodletting. There is plenty of academic research that shows practically all day traders lose money. Terrance Odean from Cal-Berkeley used 14 years of day trader data to conclude that more than 98% of day traders lose money. Even for those traders able to make a profit in the short run, usually the success doesn’t last very long:

  • 40% of day traders quit within a month
  • 87% of traders quit within 3 years
  • 93% of traders quit within 5 years

Other sources besides Odean show the percentage of day trading losers as greater than 95%, and if you don’t trust the academic data, then simply ask your accountant what percentage of his/her active trading clients make a profit, after considering all taxes and trading costs.

While I may not necessarily fully rejoice in the pain and carnage of day traders, I am always thankful for these choppy markets. Without volatility, anybody can make money in upward trending markets (e.g., day traders did better in the mo-mo 1990s), but in those markets long-term opportunities become sparse. Without the transitory headlines of tightening Federal Reserve policy, negative interest rates, a strong dollar, and political dysfunction, I would not have a professional investing job. And for that blessing, I want to sincerely say, “Thank you volatility.”

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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 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.

February 20, 2016 at 5:00 pm Leave a comment

Shoot Now, Ask Later

940614_83408820[1]

Since the start of 2016, investor sentiment has led to a shoot now, ask questions later mentality. In the court of economic justice, all stocks have been convicted guilty of recession despite the evidence and defense that proves the economy innocent. Even the Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen did not prove to be a great public defender of the economy with her comments that negative interest rates are on the table.

With large cap stocks down -13% and small cap stocks losing -25% from 2015, there are a mixture of indicators suggesting a looming recession could be coming. For example, banking stocks, the beating heart of the U.S. economy, saw prices collapse almost -30% from the 2015 highs this week. As CNBC pointed out, “American Airlines (AAL), United Continental (UAL), General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) all sell for five times 2016 earnings” – about a 70% discount to the average S&P 500 stock. As a group, these economically sensitive cyclical stocks grew earnings per share greater than 50%, while their stock prices are down by more than -30% from their 52-week highs. In general, the cyclicals are serving jail time, even though growth has been gangbusters and the current valuations massively discounted.

On the flip side, defensive stocks with little-to-no revenue growth like “Campbell Soup (CPB) trade at 20 times earnings, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) is at 21 times earnings, Procter & Gamble (PG) is at 22 times earnings and Clorox (CLX) is at 25 times earnings. All of these stocks are near 52-week highs.”

Confused? Well, if we are indeed going into recession, than this valuation dichotomy between cyclicals and staples makes sense. Stocks can be a leading indicator (i.e., predictor) of future recessions, but as the famed Nobel Prize winner in economics Paul Samuelson noted, “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.”

On the other hand, if this current correction is a false recession scare, then now would be a tremendous buying opportunity. In fact, over the last five years, there have been plenty of tremendous buying opportunities for those courageous long-term investors willing to put capital to work during these panic periods (see also Groundhog Day All Over Again):

  • 2011: Debt Downgrade/Debt Ceiling Debate/European PIIGS Crisis (-22% correction)
  • 2012:Arab Spring/Greek “Gr-Exit” Fears (-11% correction)
  • 2013: Fed Taper Tantrum (-8% correction)
  • 2014: Ebola Outbreak (-10% correction)
  • 2015: China Slowdown Fears (-13% correction in August)
  • 2016 (1st Six Weeks): Strong Dollar, Collapsing Oil, interest Rate Hikes/Negative Rates, Weakening China (-15% correction)
  • 2016 (Next 46 Weeks): ??????????

Today’s threats rearing their ugly heads have definite recession credibility, but if you think about the strong dollar, collapsing oil prices, Fed monetary policies, weakening Chinese economy, and negative global interest rates, all of these threats existed well before stock prices nose-dived during the last six weeks. If the economic court is judging the current data for potential recession evidence, making a case and proving the economy guilty is challenging. It’s tough to find a recession when we witness a low unemployment rate (4.9%); record corporate profits (ex-energy); record car sales (17.5 million); an improving housing market; a positively sloped yield curve; healthy banking and consumer balance sheets; sub-$2/gallon gasoline; and a flattening U.S. dollar, among other factors.

Could stock prices be clairvoyantly predicting Armageddon? Sure, anything is possible…but this scenario is unlikely now. Even if the U.S. economy is headed towards a recession, the -20% plunge in stock prices is already factoring in most, if not all, of a mild-to-moderate recession. If the economic data does actually get worse, there is still room for stock prices to go down. Under a recession scenario, the tremendous buying opportunities will only get better. While weak hands may be shooting (selling) first and asking questions later, now is the time for you to use patience and discipline. These characteristics will serve as bullet proof vest for your investment portfolio and lead to economic justice over the long-term.

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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 certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and non-discretionary positions in PG, and KMB, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in AAL, CLX, CPB, F, GM, UAL,  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.

February 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Invest with a Telescope…Not a Microscope

Telescope-Microscope

It was another bloody week in the stock market (S&P 500 index dropped -3.1%), and any half-glass full data was interpreted as half-empty. The week was epitomized by a Citigroup report entitled “World Economy Trapped in a Death Spiral.” A sluggish monthly jobs report on Friday, which registered a less than anticipated addition of 151,000 jobs, painted a weakening employment picture. Professional social media site LinkedIn Corp. (LNKD) added fuel to the fire with a soft profit forecast, which resulted in the stock getting almost chopped in half (-44%)…in a single day (ouch).

It’s funny how quickly the headlines can change – just one week ago, the Dow Jones Industrial index catapulted higher by almost +400 points in a single day and we were reading about soaring stocks.

Coherently digesting the avalanche of diverging and schizophrenic headlines is like attempting to analyze a windstorm through a microscope. A microscope is perfect for looking at a single static item up close, but a telescope is much better suited for analyzing a broader set of data. With a telescope, you are better equipped to look farther out on the horizon, to anticipate what trends are coming next. The same principle applies to investing. Short-term traders and speculators are great at using a short-term microscope to evaluate one shiny, attention-grabbing sample every day. The investment conclusion, however, changes the following day, when a different attention-grabbing headline is analyzed to a different conclusion. As Mark Twain noted, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

Short-termism is an insidious disease that will slowly erode short-run performance and if not controlled will destroy long-run results as well. This is not a heretic concept. Some very successful investors have preached this idea in many ways. Here are a few of them:

‘‘We will continue to ignore political and economic forecasts which are an expensive distraction for many investors and businessmen.” –Warren Buffett (Annual Newsletter 1994)

‘‘If you spend more than 14 minutes a year worrying about the market, you’ve wasted 12 minutes’’ –Peter Lynch

Excessive short-termism results in permanent destruction of wealth, or at least permanent transfer of wealth” -Jack Gray Grantham

 

On the flip side, those resilient investors who have succeeded through investment cycles understand the importance of taking a long-term view.

Whatever method you use to pick stocks or stock mutual funds, your ultimate success or failure will depend on your ability to ignore the worries of the world long enough to allow your investments to succeed.” –Peter Lynch

The farther you can lengthen your time horizon in the investment process, the better off you will be.” – David Nelson (Legg Mason)

Long term owners are more relaxed, more informed, more patient, less emotional.” –John Templeton

If you are really a long-term investor, you will view a bear market as an opportunity to make money.” –John Templeton

Long term is not a popular time-horizon for today’s hedge fund short-term mentality. Every wiggle is interpreted as a new secular trend.” –Don Hays

In the long run, one of the greatest risk to your net worth is not owning stocks. Bonds do not grow. They can only return their face value at maturity…Inflation is a silent, insidious tax that erodes your net worth…Fortunately, there is an easy way to keep pace with and even beat inflation, and this is stocks.” – John Spears

In the short-term, the stock market is a voting machine; in the long-term a weighing machine.” -Benjamin Graham

 

There has been a lot of pain experienced so far in 2016, and there may be more to come. However, trying to time the market and call a bottom is a fruitless effort. Great companies and investments do not disappear in a bear market. At times like these, it is important to stick to a systematic, disciplined approach that integrates valuation and risk controls based on where we are in an economic cycle. Despite all the recent volatility, as I’ve repeated many times, the key factors driving the direction of the stock market are the following: 1) Corporate profits; 2) Interest rates; 3) Valuations; and 4) Sentiment (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool). Doom and gloom “Death Spiral” headlines may currently rule the day, but the four key stock-driving factors on balance remain skewed towards the positive…if you have the ability to put away your microscope and take out your telescope.

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 (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in LNKD 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.

February 6, 2016 at 11:05 pm Leave a comment

Groundhog Day All Over Again

Groundhog

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

It’s that time of the year when the masses gather in eager anticipation of Groundhog Day to predict whether the furry rodent will see its shadow in 2016, thereby extending winter for an additional six weeks.

In the classic movie Groundhog Day, actor Bill Murray plays character Phil Connors, an arrogant, self-centered TV weatherman who, during an assignment covering the annual Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, finds himself stuck in a time loop, repeating the same day over and over. With a feeling of nothing to lose, Phil repeatedly decides to indulge in reckless hedonism and criminal behavior. After being resigned to perpetually reliving the same day forever, Phil begins to re-examine his life and falls in love with his co-worker Rita Hanson (see scene here). Ultimately, Phil’s pure focus on the important priorities of life allows himself to break the painful monotonous time loop and win Rita’s love.

Stock market investors are lining up in a similar fashion to predict whether the financial winter experienced in January will persist through the rest of the year. The groundhog, equipped with a thick fur coat, certainly would have been more optimally prepared for the icy January financial market conditions. More specifically, the S&P 500 index declined -5.1% for the month and the Dow Jones fell -5.5%.

Unfortunately for many investors, they too have been trapped in a never-ending news cycle, which painfully buries the public with a monotonous loop of daily pessimistic headlines. As a result of the eternally distorted media cycle, many investors have lost sight of important priorities like Phil Connors. Since the beginning of 2011, the investors who have endured the relentless wave of media gloom have been handsomely rewarded. From 2011-2016, the S&P 500 stock index has ascended approximately 54%, even after accounting for the significant January 2016 decline.

Unless you were burrowed in a hole like a groundhog, you will probably recognize a number of these ominous headlines spanning across the 2011 – 2015 headlines:

  • 2011: Debt Downgrade/Debt Ceiling Debate/European PIIGS Crisis (-22% correction)
  • 2012: Arab Spring/Greek “Gr-Exit” Fears (-11% correction)
  • 2013: Fed Taper Tantrum (-8% correction)
  • 2014: Ebola Outbreak (-10% correction)
  • 2015: China Slowdown Fears (-13% correction)

Similar to the Groundhog Day movie, the headlines of 2016 match the tone and mood we’ve seen in recent years. Here’s an abbreviated list of the recurring worries-du-jour in January:

China Slowdown: Is this something new? As you can see from the chart below, China has been slowing since 2010. Due to the law of large numbers, and as the second largest economy on the globe, it is natural to see such an enormous economic engine eventually slow. Rather than panic over China’s slowing, observers should be applauding. China’s Q4 GDP growth recently came in at +6.8%, almost 10x the level recorded by the U.S. in Q4 (+0.7%). Even if you mistrust the official Chinese government’s reported data, our economy would kill for the still impressive independently reported growth statistics (see chart below). While the concerted effort of the political regime to migrate the country from an export-driven economy to a consumption-based one has caused some growing pains, nevertheless in recent months we have seen China report record automobile purchases, retail sales, oil consumption, and industrial production.

China GDP 2-1-16

Rise of the U.S. Dollar: This is a legitimate concern that has had tangible negative impacts on the U.S. economy. As you can see from the chart below (blue line), in less than one year, the value of the U.S. dollar spiked by approximately +25%. If you are a multinational company exporting a product to Europe for $100, and consumers wake up a year later having to pay $125 for the same product, it should come as no surprise to anyone that this phenomenon is squeezing profits. The good news is that U.S. corporations have already absorbed the worst of this currency pain dating back to early 2015, so if the stabilizing foreign exchange trends remain near current levels, as they have over the last year, there should be no additional economic drag.

U.S. Dollar 2-1-16

Oil Prices Down: Somehow the U.S. media is trying to convince the public that lower oil prices are bad for the economy. Yes, it is true, the financial restructurings and lost jobs associated with oil price declines will hurt the economy and the banks overall. However, the benefits of lower oil prices on the broader economy (i.e., more money in consumers’ pockets) is unambiguously positive and will overwhelm any indirect damage. Every penny decrease in gasoline prices (now roughly $1.83 per gallon nationally) equates to about a $1 billion tax cut for consumers (see chart below). Many people are worried about oil prices being a signal of weakness, but if you look at the last few recessions, they were all preceded by an oil price spike, not a price collapse.

Source: AAA

Source: AAA

Federal Reserve Monetary Policy: The first interest rate hike in nine years took place in 2015, but that did not prevent investors from fretting about the timing of the next interest rate hike. As I’ve written many times (see Fed Fatigue Setting In), the Fed has barely budged its target rate to 0.375%, so this is much to do about nothing. Wake me up when we get to 2.00%, at which point we will still be far below the long-term average but at a more meaningful level (see chart below).

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Source: The Wall Street Journal

Presidential Elections: Congress’s approval rating is abysmal, but like it or not, primary season is just starting and we are stuck in a presidential election cycle until the second Tuesday of November. Guess what? If you want to know the impact of the elections on the financial markets, then I will give you the short answer…it just does not matter who gets elected. History shows us that the markets go up and down under both Republican and Democratic parties. If you are comparing the track record on the political parties’ track record on debt creation, it is a mixed bag as well (see chart below). Arguably, in half the cases, the nomination of the Federal Reserve chairs will have as large (or larger) an impact than the elected president. If you were to factor in the inevitable splits in Congress to the equation, the result is gridlock.  I have contended for some time that gridlock is a positive outcome because it structurally forces a lid on disciplined government spending (see Who Said Gridlock is Bad?). If this isn’t a good enough explanation, see Barry Ritholtz’s take on the subject of politics and the stock market…I couldn’t sum it up any better (click here)

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Fortunately for groundhogs, and long-term investors, dealing with challenging and volatile climates is nothing new. Both burrowing marmots and emotional investors need to adapt to ever-changing environments…sunny or overcast. In addition to a cold 2016 start, January was also a chilly month in 2014 and 2015, with the S&P 500 down -3.6% and -3.1%, respectively. Despite this seasonal sour sentiment, there is a silver lining. In both instances (2014 & 2015), the market rebounded significantly in subsequent months after the slow start at the beginning of the year. For the remainder of the year, the S&P advanced +15.5% in 2014, and +2.5% in 2015.

In Groundhog Day the movie, Bill Murray relived the same day over and over again, and repeated the same missteps until he learned from his mistakes. Long-term investors will be served best by applying this same philosophy to their investments. Like a groundhog, investors have a tendency to become scared of their own shadows. It’s easy to succumb to the infinite time loop of worrisome headlines, but rather than burrowing away in hibernation, creating a diversified, low-cost, tax-efficient portfolio customized for your specific time horizon, risk tolerance, and liquidity needs is a better way of celebrating this year’s Groundhog Day.

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 (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.

February 1, 2016 at 12:12 pm Leave a comment

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