The Art & Science of Successful Investing

As I described in my book, How I Managed $20,000,000,000.00 by Age 32, I believe successful investing is achieved by integrating aspects of both art and science. The science aspect of investing is fairly straightforward – most of the accounting and valuation math involved could be solved by a 7th grader. The more challenging aspect to successful investing is controlling the vacillating emotions of fear and greed when searching for attractive investments.

When people ask me about my investment philosophy, I do not like to be pigeon-holed into one style box because normally my portfolios hold investments that outsiders would deem both value and growth oriented. Since I am an absolute return investor, I am more concerned about how I can maximize upside returns while minimizing downside risk for my investors.

Because valuation is such an important factor in my process (price always matters), the most accurate description of my style would likely be “high octane GARP” (Growth At a Reasonable Price). While many GARP investors limit themselves to current or historical valuation metrics, my process has allowed me to take a more long-term, forward looking analysis of valuations, which has directed me to participate in some large winners, like Amazon (AMZN), Apple (AAPL), and Google/Alphabet (GOOGL), to name a few. To many observers, positions like these have traditionally been falsely considered “expensive” growth stocks.

Case in point is Google/Alphabet, which went public at $85 per share in 2004. At the time, the broad Wall Street consensus was the IPO (Initial Public Offering) price was way overheated. As it turned out, the stock has reached $1,000 per share and the Price-Earnings ratio (P/E) was a steal at less than 3x had you bought Google at the IPO price. ($85 2004 price/$33.98 2017 EPS estimate). Google is a perfect example of a dominant market leader that has been able to grow earnings dramatically for many years. In short order after going public, Google’s earnings ended up more than quintupling in less than three years and the stock price quintupled as well, proving that ill-advised focus on stale, traditional valuation metrics can lead you to wrong conclusions. Certainly, finding stocks that can increase in value by more than 11x fold is easier said than done, however, applying longer-term valuation metrics to dominant growth leading franchises will allow you to occasionally find monster winners like Google.

The greatest long-term winners don’t start off as the largest weightings, but due to the compounding of returns, position sizes can explode over time. As Peter Lynch states,

“You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three good stocks a decade.”

 

Google/Alphabet proves what can appear expensive in the short-run is, in many cases, wildly cheap based on future earnings growth. Earnings tomorrow may be significantly larger than earnings today. Lynch emphasizes the importance of earnings over current prices,

“People concentrate too much on the ‘P’ (Price), but the ‘E’ (Earnings) really makes the difference.”
 “Just because a stock is cheaper than before is no reason to buy it, and just because it’s more expensive is no reason to sell.”

 

The Google/Alphabet chart below shows the incredible price appreciation that can be realized from compounding earnings growth.

The Google example also underscores the importance of patience. Although the stock has been a massive home-run since its IPO, the stock barely budged from late 2006 through 2011. Accurately picking the perfect timing to make an investment is nearly impossible. I concur with Bill Miller when he stated,

“We expect the stocks we buy today to contribute to our performance several years hence. While it’s nice if they contribute to this year’s performance, this year’s performance should be driven by decisions we made in previous years. If we keep doing this, we hope that we will provide adequate returns in the future.”

 

Regarding timing, Miller adds,

“Nobody buys at lows and sells at highs except liars.”

 

The Sidoxia Philosophy

Over time, as I have fine-tuned my investment philosophy, I have not been bashful in borrowing winning ideas from growth gurus like Peter Lynch, Phil Fisher, William O’Neil,  and Ron Baron, to name a few. By the same token, I am not shy about stealing ideas from value veterans like Warren Buffett, Seth Klarman, and Bill Miller as well.

While I don’t agree with Warren Buffett’s “forever” time horizon, I do believe in the power of compounding he espouses, which requires a longer-term investment horizon. The power of compounding is accelerated not only by committing to a long-term horizon, but also by the benefits accrued from lower trading costs and taxes. What’s more, taking a long view lowers your blood pressure and creates fewer ulcers. Legendary growth manager, T. Rowe Price, captures the essence of this idea here:

“The growth stock theory of investing requires patience, but is less stressful than trading, generally has less risk, and reduces brokerage commissions and income taxes.”

 

The Science of Investing

As discussed earlier, successful investing is an endeavor that involves the practices of both art and science – too much of either approach can be detrimental to your financial health. Quantitative screening can be an excellent tool for identifying new securities for research along with streamlining the fundamental analysis process. However, many investment funds rely too heavily on the quantitative science. The adage that “correlation does not equal causation” is an important credo to follow when reviewing various quantitative models (see Butter in Bangladesh).

The collapse of the infamous, multi-billion Long Term Capital Management hedge fund should also be a lesson to everyone (see When Genius Failed ). If world renowned Nobel Prize winners, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes, can single-handedly bring the global market to its knees as a result of using inconsistent and unreliable quantitative models, then I feel validated for my fundamentally-based investment approach.

While there are some artistic facets to valuation techniques, in large part, the valuation science is a fairly straightforward mathematical exercise. Unfortunately, the market consists of emotional and unpredictable individuals who continually change their opinions. Eventually the financial markets prod prices in the right direction, but over shorter time intervals, proper investment analysis requires some imperfect estimation.

Emotions regularly result in individuals overpaying for stocks, and this tendency is a risky strategy for any investment. In many cases investors chase darling stocks highlighted in news headlines, but regrettably these pricy investments often end up performing poorly. When it comes to hot stocks, I’m on the same page as famed value investor Bill Miller,

“If it’s in the papers, it’s in the price. One needs to anticipate, not react.”

 

Usually a news event that makes headlines is already factored into the stock price. The financial markets are generally forward looking mechanisms, not backward looking.

The Art of Investing

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

-Yogi Berra

Investing is undoubtedly a challenging undertaking, but like almost any profession, the more experience one has, the better results generally achieved. Experience alone does not guarantee extraordinary performance, in large part due to emotional pressures. Investing would be much easier for everyone, if you didn’t have to worry about controlling those pesky emotions of fear and greed. The best investment decisions, and frankly any decision, are rarely made under these heightened emotions.

The most successful set of investors I have studied and modeled my investment process after are professionals who have married the quantitative science with the fundamental art of investing. At Sidoxia, we use a disciplined cash flow based valuation approach, along with thorough fundamental analysis to identify attractively valued, market leading franchises that can sustain above average growth. It sounds like a mouthful, but over time, it has worked well for the benefit of my clients and me.

The market leading franchises we invest in tend to have a competitive advantage, whether in the form of superior research and development, low-cost manufacturing, leading marketing, and/or other exceptional functions in the company that allow the entity to consistently garner more growth and more market share from its competitors. Quality franchises tend to also employ first-class management teams that have a proven track record, along with thoughtful, systematic processes in place to maintain their competitive edge. These competitive advantages are what allow companies to produce exceptional earnings growth for extended periods of time, thereby producing outstanding long-term performance for shareholders.

Finding sustainable growth in competitive niche markets is nearly impossible, and that is why I center my attention on large or emerging sectors of the economy that can support long runways of growth. When analyzing companies with durable, long runways of earnings growth, I concentrate on those developing, share-taking companies and dominant market leaders. In other words, disruptive companies that are entering new markets with vast potential and established companies that are gaining significant share in large markets. Well-known growth authority, Phil Fisher summarized the objective,

“The greatest investment rewards come to those who by good luck or good sense find the occasional company that over the years can grow in sales and profits far more than industry as a whole.”

 

I am privileged and honored to manage the hard earned investments of my clients. If this was a simple profession, everyone would do it, and I would not be employed as an investment manager. I have developed what I believe is a superior way of managing money, but I realize my investment process is not the only way to make money. If you were to assemble 10 different investment managers in the same room, and ask them, “What is the best way to invest money?,” you are likely to get 10 different answers. Having been in the investment industry and managed money for over 25 years, my experience has shown me that the vast majority of professional managers have underperformed the passive benchmarks. However, there are investment managers who have survived the test of time. For those veterans incorporating a disciplined, systematic approach that integrates the artistic and scientific aspects of investing, exceptional long-term returns can be achieved and have been achieved.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AMZN, GOOG/GOOGL, and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

June 18, 2017 at 7:25 pm Leave a comment

Head Fakes Surprise as Stocks Hit Highs

In a world of seven billion people and over 200 countries, guess what…there are a plethora of crises, masses of bad people, and plenty of lurking issues to lose sleep over.

The fear du jour may change, but as the late-great investor Sir John Templeton correctly stated:

“Bull markets are born on pessimism and they grow on skepticism, mature on optimism, and die on euphoria.”

 

And for the last decade since the 2008-2009 Financial Crisis, it’s clear to me that the stock market has climbed a lot of worry, pessimism, and skepticism. Over the last decade, here is a small sampling of wories:

With over five billion cell phones spanning the globe, fear-inspiring news headlines travel from one end of the world to the other in a blink of an eye. Fortunately for investors, the endless laundry list of crises and concerns has not broken this significant, multi-year bull market. In fact, stock prices have more than tripled since early 2009. As famed hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman noted:

“Bull markets don’t die from old age, they die from excesses.”

 

On the contrary to excesses, corporations have been slow to hire and invest due to heightened risk aversion induced by the financial crisis. Consumers have saved more and lowered personal debt levels. The Federal Reserve took unprecedented measures to stimulate the economy, but these efforts have since been reversed. The Fed has even signaled its plan to reduce its balance sheet later this year. As the expansion has aged, corporations and consumer risk aversion has abated, but evidence of excesses remains paltry.

Investors may no longer be panicked, but they remain skeptical. With each subsequent new stock market high, screams of a market top and impending recession blanket headlines. As I pointed out in my March Madness article, stocks have made new highs every year for the last five years, but continually I get asked, “Wade, don’t you think the market is overheated and it’s time to sell?”

For years, I have documented the lack of stock buying evidenced by the continued weak fund flow sales. If I could summarize investor behavior in one picture, it would look something like this:

Corrections have happened, and will continue to occur, but a more significant decline will likely happen under specific circumstances. As I point out in Half Empty, Half Full?, the time to become more cautious will be when we see a combination of the following trends occur:

  • Sharp increase in interest rates
  • Signs of a significant decline in corporate profits
  • Indications of an economic recession (e.g., an inverted yield curve)
  • Spike in stock prices to a point where valuation (prices) are at extreme levels and skeptical investor sentiment becomes euphoric

Attempting to predict a market crash is a Fool’s Errand, but more important for investors is periodically reviewing your liquidity needs, time horizon, risk tolerance, and unique circumstances, so you can optimize your asset allocation. There will be plenty more head fake surprises, but if conditions remain the same, investors should not be surprised by new stock highs.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

June 10, 2017 at 2:33 pm 2 comments

Political Showers Bring Record May Stock Flowers

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (June 1, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

There has been a massive storm of political rain that has blanketed the media airwaves and internet last month, however, the stock market ignored the deluge of headlines and focused on more important factors, as prices once again pushed to new record highs. Over the eight-year bull market, the old adage to “sell in May, and go away,” once again was not a very successful strategy. Had investors heeded this advice, they would have missed out on a +1.2% gain in the S&P 500 index during May (up +7.7% for 2017) and a +2.5% surge in the technology-driven NASDAQ index (+15.1% in 2017).

Keeping track of the relentless political storm of new headlines and tweets almost requires a full-time staff person, but nevertheless we have summarized some of the political downpour here:

French Elections: In the wake of last year’s U.K. “Brexit”, fears of an imminent “Frexit” (French Exit) resurfaced ahead of the French presidential. Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old former investment banker, swept to a decisive victory over National Front candidate Marine Le Pen by a margin of 66% to 34%.

Firing of FBI Director: President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey based on the recommendation of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, who cited Comey’s mishandling of Hillary Clinton’s private email server investigation. The president’s critics claim Trump was frustrated with the FBI’s investigation into the administration’s potential ties with Russian officials in relation to the 2016 presidential elections. Comey is expected to testify next week to Congress, where he will likely address reports that President Trump asked him to drop the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn during a February meeting.

Trump Classified Leak to Russians: Reports show that President Trump revealed classified information regarding the Islamic State (ISIS) to the Russian foreign minister during an Oval Office meeting. The ISIS related information emanating from Syria reportedly had been passed to the U.S. from Israel, with the provision that it not be shared.

Impeachment Talk and Appointment of Independent Special Prosecutor: Heightened reports of Russian intervention coupled with impeachment cries from the Democratic opposition coincided with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s announcement that former FBI director Robert Mueller III would take on the role as an independent special counsel in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Rosenstein had the authority to make the appointment after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself after admitting contacts with Russian officials. The White House, which has denied colluding with the Russians, issued a statement from President Donald Trump looking forward “to this matter concluding quickly.”

Kushner Under Back Channel Investigation: President Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, is under investigation over discussions to set up a back channel of communication with Russian officials. At the heart of the probe is a December meeting Kushner held with Sergey Gorkov, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of the state-owned Vnesheconombank, a Russian bank subject to sanctions imposed by President Obama. Back channels have been legally implemented by other administrations, but the timing and nature of the discussions could make the legal interpretation more difficult.

Trump’s First Foreign Trip: A whirlwind trip by President Trump through the Middle East and Europe, resulted in commitments to Middle East peace, multi-billion contract signings with the Saudis, pledges to fight Muslims extremism, calls for NATO members to pay their “fair share,” and demands for German President Angela Merkel to address the elevated trade deficit with the U.S.

Subpoenas Issued to Trump Advisors: The House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas to ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, as it relates to potential Russian interference in the presidential campaign. Flynn reportedly plans to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to a separate subpoena issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Repeal and Replace Healthcare: The Republican-controlled House of Representatives narrowly passed a vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act after prior failed attempts. The bill, which allows states to apply for a waiver on certain aspects of coverage, including pre-existing conditions, received no Democratic votes. While the House passage represents a legislative victory for President Trump, Senate Republicans must now take up the legislation that addresses conclusions by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO). More specifically, the CBO found the revised House health care bill could leave 23 million more Americans uninsured while reducing the federal deficit by $119 billion in the next decade.

North Korea Missile Tests: If domestic political turmoil wasn’t enough, North Korea conducted an unprecedented number of medium-to-long-range missile tests in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States. Due to the rising tensions, the U.S. and South Korea have been planning nuclear carrier drills off the coast of the Korean peninsula.

Wow, that was a mouthful. While all these politics may be provocative and stimulating, long-time followers of mine understand my position…politics are meaningless (see Politics-Schmolitics). While a terrorist or military attack on U.S. soil would undoubtedly have an immediate and negative impact, 99% of daily politics should be ignored by investors. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the stock market, which continues to make new record highs in the face of a hurricane of negative political headlines. What the stock market really cares most about are profits, interest rates, and valuations:

  • Record Profits: Stock prices follow the direction of earnings over the long-run. As you can see below, profits vacillate year-to-year. However, profits are currently surging, and therefore, so are stock prices – despite the negative political headlines.

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

  • Near Generationally Low Interest Rates: Generally speaking, most asset classes, including real estate, commodities, and stock prices are worth more when interest rates are low. When you could earn 15% on a bank CD in the early 1980s, stocks were much less attractive. Currently, bank CDs almost pay nothing, and as you can see from the chart below, interest rates are near a generational low – this makes stock prices more attractive.
  • Attractive Valuations: The price you pay for an asset is always an important factor, and the same principle applies to your investments. If you can buy a $1.00 for $0.90, you want to take advantage of that opportunity. Unfortunately, the value of stocks is not measured by a simple explicit price, like you see at a grocery store. Rather, stock values are measured by a ratio (comparing an investment’s price relative to profits/cash flows generated). Even though the stock market has surged this year, stock values have gotten cheaper. How is that possible? Stock prices have risen about +8% in the first quarter, while profits have jumped +15%. When profits rise faster than prices appreciate, that means stocks have gotten cheaper. From a multi-year standpoint, I agree with Warren Buffett that prices remain attractive given the current interest rate environment. To read more about valuations, check out Ed Yardeni’s recent article on valuations.
Overall, the political showers continue to come pouring down, but the economic flowers have been blooming. Politics are fun to talk about, but when it comes to your investments, do yourself a favor and pull out your umbrella, turn off the politics, and take advantage of the sweet smell of the flowers.

 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

June 3, 2017 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

Investors Slowly Waking to Technology Tailwinds

In recent years, investors have been overwhelmingly been distracted by geopolitical headlines and risk aversion caused by the worst financial crisis in a generation. In the background, the tailwinds of technological innovation have been silently gaining momentum. Although this topic is nothing new for Investing Caffeine followers, the outperformance of technology stocks has been pretty stunning in 2017 (see chart below), with the S&P 500 Technology sector rising almost +20% versus the Non-Tech sector eking out a little more than +1% return. Peered through the style lenses of Growth versus Value, technology’s contribution is also evident by the Russell 1000 Growth index’s 2017 outperformance over the Russell 1000 Value index by +11% (approximately +14% vs +3%, respectively).

Source: Bloomberg via The Financial Times

More specifically, what’s driving a significant portion of this outperformance? Robin Wigglesworth from The Financial Times highlighted a key contributing trend here:

“Facebook, Apple, Amazon and Netflix have all gained over 30 per cent this year, and Google is up 24 per cent. Their total market capitalisation now stands at $2.4 trillion. That makes them bigger than the French CAC 40 or Germany’s Dax, and nearly as large as the FTSE 100.”

 

Technology’s domination has been even more impressive since the cycle bottom of stock prices in 2009, if one contrasts the stark difference in the performance of the tech-heavy NASDAQ versus the more sector-balanced S&P 500. Over this timeframe, the NASDAQ has more than quadrupled in value and beaten the S&P 500 by more than +120%.

While the mass media likes to talk about technology bubbles, artificial money printing by global central banks, and imminent recessions, for years I have been highlighting the importance of the technology revolution and its beneficial impact on stock prices. Here are a few examples:

Technology Does Not Sleep in a Recession (2009)

Technology Revolution Raises Tide (2010)

NASDAQ and the R&D Tech Revolution (2014)

NASDAQ 5,000…Irrational Exuberance Déjà Vu? (2014)

The Traitorous 8 and Birth of Silicon Valley (2016)

As I have explained in many of my previous writings, the important factors of technology, globalization, and demographics have been the key driving forces behind the stock bull market and multi-decade decline in interest rates – not Quantitative Easing (QE) and/or rising debt levels.

Eventually, undoubtedly, euphoria and over-investment will lead to a cyclically-driven recession caused by excess capacity (supply exceeding demand). Regardless of the timing of future economic cycles, the continued multi-generational advance in new technological innovations will continue to drive economic growth, disinflation, improved standards of living, and higher stock prices. Until the animal spirits of the masses fully embrace this technological trend, Sidoxia and its clients will enjoy the tailwind of innovation as I continue to discover attractive investment opportunities.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own FB, AAPL, AMZN, GOOG/L, certain exchange traded funds, and short position in NFLX, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

May 27, 2017 at 11:55 am 1 comment

Predictions – A Fool’s Errand

Making bold predictions is a fool’s errand. I think Yogi Berra summed it up best when he spoke about the challenges of making predictions:

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

 

While making predictions might seem like a pleasurable endeavor, the reality is nobody has been able to consistently predict the future (remember the 2012 Mayan Doomsday?), besides perhaps palm readers and Nostradamus. The typical observed pattern consists of a group of well-known forecasters bunched in a herd coupled with a few extreme outliers who try to make a big splash and draw attention to themselves. Due to the law of large numbers, a few of these extreme outlier forecasters eventually strike gold and become Wall Street darlings…until their next forecasts fail miserably.

Like a broken clock, these radical forecasters can be right twice per day but are wrong most of the time. Here are a few examples:

Peter Schiff: The former stockbroker and President of Euro Pacific Capital has been peddling doom for decades (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes). You can get a sense of his impartial perspective via Schiff’s reading list (The Real Crash: America’s Coming Bankruptcy, Financial Armageddon, Conquer the Crash, Crash Proof – America’s Great Depression, The Biggest Con: How the Government is Fleecing You, Manias Panics and Crashes, Meltdown, Greenspan’s Bubbles, The Dollar Crisis, America’s Bubble Economy, and other doom-instilled titles.

Meredith Whitney: She made an incredible bearish call on Citigroup Inc. (C) during the fall of 2007, alongside her accurate call of Citi’s dividend suspension. Unfortunately, her subsequent bearish calls on the municipal market and the stock market were completely wrong (see also Meredith Whitney’s Cloudy Crystal Ball).

John Mauldin: This former print shop professional turned perma-bear investment strategist has built a living incorrectly calling for a stock market crash. Like perma-bears before him, he will eventually be right when the next recession hits, but unfortunately, the massive appreciation will have been missed. Any eventual temporary setback will likely pale in comparison to the lost gains from being out of the market. I profiled the false forecaster in my article, The Man Who Cries Bear.

Nouriel Roubini: This renowned New York University economist and professor is better known as “Dr. Doom” and as one of the people who predicted the housing bubble and 2008-2009 financial crisis. Like most of the perma-bears who preceded him, Dr. Doom remained too doom-ful as the stock market more than tripled from the 2009 lows (see also Pinning Down Roubini).

Alan Greenspan: The graveyard of erroneous forecasters is so large that a proper summary would require multiple books. However, a few more of my favorites include Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s infamous “Irrational Exuberance” speech in 1996 when he warned of a technology bubble. Although directionally correct, the NASDAQ index proceeded to more than triple in value (from about 1,300 to over 5,000) over the next three years. – today the NASDAQ is hovering around 6,100.

Robert Merton & Myron Scholes: As I chronicled in Investing Caffeine (see When Genius Failed), another doozy is the story of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund, which was run in tandem with Nobel Prize winning economists, Robert Merton and Myron Scholes. What started as $1.3 billion fund in early 1994 managed to peak at around $140 billion before eventually crumbling to a capital level of less than $1 billion. Regrettably, becoming a Nobel Prize winner doesn’t make you a great predictor.

Words From the Wise

Rather than paying attention to crazy predictions by academics, economists, and strategists who in many cases have never invested a penny of outside investor money, ordinary investors would be better served by listening to steely investment veterans or proven prediction practitioners like Billy Beane (minority owner of the Oakland Athletics and subject of Michael Lewis’s book, Moneyball), who stated the following:

“The crime is not being unable to predict something. The crime is thinking that you are able to predict something.”

 

Other great quotes regarding the art of predictions, include these ones:

“I can’t recall ever once having seen the name of a market timer on Forbes‘ annual list of the richest people in the world. If it were truly possible to predict corrections, you’d think somebody would have made billions by doing it.”

-Peter Lynch

“Many more investors claim the ability to foresee the market’s direction than actually possess the ability. (I myself have not met a single one.) Those of us who know that we cannot accurately forecast security prices are well advised to consider value investing, a safe and successful strategy in all investment environments.”

–Seth Klarman

 “No matter how much research you do, you can neither predict nor control the future.”

John Templeton

 “Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy or the elections.”

–Warren Buffett

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.”

–Warren Buffett

In the global financial markets, Wall Street is littered with strategists and economists who have flamed out after brief bouts of fame. Celebrated author Mark Twain captured the essence of speculation when he properly identified, “There are two times in a man’s life when he should not speculate: when he can’t afford it and when he can.” Instead of attempting to predict the future, investors will avoid a fool’s errand by simply seizing opportunities as they present themselves in an ever-changing world.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm 2 comments

Ignoring Economics and Vital Signs

As stock prices sit near all-time record highs, and as we enter year nine of the current bull market, I remain amazed and amused at the brazen disregard for important basic economic concepts like supply & demand, interest rates, and rising profits.

If the stock market was a doctor’s patient, over the last decade, bloggers, pundits, talking heads, and pontificators have been ignoring the improving, healthy patient’s vital signs, while endlessly predicting the death of the resilient stock market.

However, let’s be clear – it has not been all hearts and flowers for stocks – there have been numerous -10%, -15%, and -20% corrections since the Financial Crisis nine years ago. Those corrections included the Flash Crash, debt downgrade, Arab Spring, sequestration, Taper Tantrum, Iranian Nuclear Threat, Ukrainian-Crimea annexation, Ebola, Paris/San Bernardino Terrorist Attacks, multiple European & Chinese slowdowns and more.

Despite the avalanche of headlines and volatility, we all know the net result of these events – a more than tripling of stock prices (+259%) from March 2009 to new all-time record highs. With the incessant stream of negative news, how could prices appreciate so dramatically?

Over the years, the explanations by outside observers have changed. First, the recovery was explained as a “dead cat bounce” or a short-term cyclical bull market within a long-term secular bear market. Then, when stock prices broke to new records, the focus shifted to Quantitative Easing (QE1, QE2, QE3, and Operation Twist). The QE narrative implied the bull advance was temporary due to the non-stop, artificial printing presses of the Fed. Now that the Fed has not only ended QE but reversed it (the Fed is actually contracting its balance sheet) and hiked interest rates (no longer cutting), outsiders are once again at a loss. Now, the bears are left clinging to the flawed CAPE metric I wrote about three years ago (see CAPE Smells Like BS), and using political headlines as a theory for record prices (i.e., record stock prices stem from inflated tax cut and infrastructure spending expectations).

It’s unfortunate for the bears that all the conspiracy theory headlines and F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) over the last 10 years have failed miserably as predictors for stock prices. The truth is that stock prices don’t care about headlines – stock prices care about economics. More specifically, stock prices care about profits, interest rates, and supply & demand.

Profits

It’s quite simple. Stock prices have more than tripled since early 2009 because profits have more than tripled since 2009. As you can see from the Macrotrends chart below, 2009 – 2016 profits for the S&P 500 index rose from $6.86 to $94.54, or +1,287%. It’s no surprise either that stock prices stalled for 18 months from 2015 to mid-2016 when profits slowed. After profits returned to growth, stock price appreciation also resumed.

Source: Macrotrends

Interest Rates

When you could earn a +16% on a guaranteed CD bank rate in the early 1980s, do you think stocks were a more or less attractive asset class? If you can sense the rhetorical nature of my question, then you can probably understand why stocks were about as attractive as rotten milk or moldy bread. Back then, stocks traded for about 8x’s earnings vs. the 18x-20x multiples today. The difference is, today interest rates are near generational lows (see chart below), and CDs pay near +0%, thereby making stocks much more attractive. If you think this type of talk is heresy, ignore me and listen to the greatest investor of all-time, Warren Buffett who recently stated:

“Measured against interest rates, stocks are actually on the cheap side.”

 

Source: Trading Economics

Supply & Demand

Another massively ignored area, as it relates to the health of stock prices, is the relationship of new stock supply entering the market (e.g., new dilutive shares via IPOs and follow-on offerings), versus stock exiting the market through corporate actions. While there has been some coverage placed on the corporate action of share buybacks – about a half trillion dollars of stock being sucked up like a vacuum cleaner by cash heavy companies like Apple Inc. (AAPL) – little attention has been paid to the trillions of dollars of stock vanishing from mergers and acquisition activities. Yes, Snap Inc. (SNAP) has garnered a disproportionate amount of attention for its $3 billion IPO (Initial Public Offering), this is a drop in the bucket compared to the exodus of stock from M&A activity. Consider the trivial amount of SNAP supply entering the market ($3 billion) vs. $100s of billions in major deals announced in 2016 – 2017:

  • Time Warner Inc. merger offer by AT&T Inc. (T) for $85 billion
  • Monsanto Co. merger offer by Bayer AG (BAYRY) for $66 billion
  • Reynolds American Inc. merger offer by British American Tobacco (BTI) for $47 billion
  • NXP Semiconductors merger offer by Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) for $39 billion
  • LinkedIn merger offer by Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) for $28 billion
  • Jude Medical, Inc. merger offer by Abbott Laboratories (ABT) for $25 billion
  • Mead Johnson Nutrition merger offer by Reckitt Benckiser Group for $18 billion
  • Mobileye merger offer by Intel Corp. (INTC) for $15 billion
  • Netsuite merger offer by Oracle Corp. (ORCL) for $9 billion
  • Kate Spade & Co. merger offer by Coach Inc. (COH) for $2 billion

While these few handfuls of deals represent over $300 billion in disappearing stock, as long as corporate profits remain strong, interest rates low, and valuations reasonable, there will likely continue to be trillions of dollars in stocks being purchased by corporations. This continued vigorous M&A activity should provide further healthy support to stock prices.

Admittedly, there will come a time when profits will collapse, interest rates will spike, valuations will get stretched, sentiment will become euphoric, and/or supply of stock will flood the market (see Don’t be a Fool, Follow the Stool). When the balance of these factors turn negative, the risk profile for stock prices will obviously become less desirable. Until then, I will let the skeptics and bears ignore the healthy economic vital signs and call for the death of a healthy patient (stock market). In the meantime, I will continue focus on the basics of math and offer my economics textbook to the doubters.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own AAPL, ABT, INTC, MSFT, T, and certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in SNAP, TWX, MON, KATE, N, MBLY, MJN, STJ, LNKD, NXPI, BAYRY, BTI, QCOM, ORCL, COH, RAI, Reckitt Benckiser Group,  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 14, 2017 at 12:27 am Leave a comment

The Fallacy Behind Populism and Automation Fears

The rise of global populism and anti-immigration sentiments, coupled with the perpetual rising trend of automation and robotics has stoked the fear fires of job security. Many stories perpetuate erroneous stereotypes and falsehoods. The news reports and blog articles come in various flavors, but in a nutshell the stories state the U.S. is hemorrhaging jobs due to the thieves of illegal immigration and heartless robotics. The job displacement theory is built upon the idea that these two sources of labor (immigrants & robots) are cheaper and more productive than traditional blue collar and white collar American workers.

Although these logical beliefs make for great soundbites, and may sell subscriptions and advertising, unfortunately the substance behind the assertions holds little water. Let’s take a look at the facts. In the most recent April jobs report, nonfarm payrolls employment increased by 211,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Since early 2009 the unemployment rate has plummeted from 10.0% down to a historically low level of 4.4%. Over the similar timeframe, the economy has added over 15,000,000 new jobs. Does this sound like an environment in which immigrants and robots are killing all American jobs?

Sounds like a bunch of phoney-baloney, if you ask me. Just look at the employed person chart below, which shows a rising employment trend over the last seven decades, with the exception of some brief recessionary periods.

As I point out in a previous article (see Rise of the Robots), from the beginning of the United States, the share of the largest segment of the economy (agriculture) dropped by more than 98%, yet the standard of living and output in the agriculture sector have still exploded. There may not have been robots two and a half centuries ago, but technology and automation were alive and well, just as they are today. Although there were no self-driving cars, no internet, no biotech drugs, and no mobile phones, there were technological advances like the cotton gin, plow, scythe, chemical fertilizers, tractors, combine harvesters, and genetically engineered seeds over time.

Source: Carpe Diem

And while there most certainly were farmers who regrettably were displaced by these technologies, there were massive new industries fostered by the industrial revolution, which redeployed labor to new burgeoning industries like manufacturing, aerospace, transportation, semiconductors, medicine, and many more.

While it may be difficult to fathom what industries will replace the workers displaced by self-service kiosks at restaurants, airports, and retail stores, famed economist Milton Friedman summed it up best when he stated:

“Human wants & needs are infinite, and so there will always be new industries, there will always be new professions.”

As globalization and technology continue permeating through society, it is true, the importance of education becomes more critical. Billions of people around the globe in developing markets, along with automation technology, will be stealing lower-paying American jobs that require repetitive processes. Educating our workforce up the value-add food chain is imperative.

The bottom-line is that integration of technology and automation will improve the standard of living for the masses. Sure, immigration will displace some workers, but if legislative policy can be designed to cherry-pick (attract) the cream of the skilled foreign crop (and retrain displaced workers), skilled immigrants will keep on innovating and creating higher valued jobs. Just consider a recent study that shows 51% of U.S. billion-dollar startups were founded by immigrants.

The populist drum may continue to pound against immigration, and horror stories of job-stealing robots may abound, however the truth cannot be erased. Over the long-run, the fallacies behind populism and automation will be uncovered. The benefits and truths surrounding highly skilled immigrants and robots will be realized, as these dynamics dramatically improve the standard of living and productivity of our great economy.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in 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 6, 2017 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment

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