Posts tagged ‘bill gross’

Risk of “Double-Rip” on the Rise

Ripped Money

Okay, you heard it here first. I’m officially anointing my first new 2013 economic term of the year: “Double-Rip!” No, the biggest risk of 2013 is not a “double-dip” (the risk of the economy falling back into recession), but instead, the larger risk is of a double-rip – a sustained expansion of GDP after multiple quarters of recovery. I know, this sounds like heresy, given we’ve had to listen to perma-bears like Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, John Mauldin, Mohamed El-Erian, Bill Gross, et al shovel their consistently wrong pessimism for the last 14 quarters. However, those readers who have followed me for the last four years of this bull market know where I’ve stood relative to these unwavering doomsday-ers. Rather than endlessly rehash the erroneous gospel spewed by this cautious clan, you can decide for yourself how accurate they’ve been by reviewing the links below and named links above:

Roubini calling for double-dip in 2012 

Roubini calling for double-dip in 2011

Roubini calling for double-dip in 2010

Roubini calling for double-dip in 2009

If we switch from past to present, Bill Gross has already dug himself into a deep hole just two weeks into the year by tweeting equity markets will return less than 5% in 2013. Hmmm, I wonder if he’d predict the same thing now that the market is up about +4.5% during the first 18 days of the year?

Why Double-Rip Over Double-Dip?

Racing Car

How can stocks rip if economic growth is so sluggish? If forced to equate our private sector to a car, opinions would vary widely. We could probably agree the U.S. economy is no Ferrari. Faster growing countries like China, which recently reported 4th quarter growth of +7.9% (up from +7.4% in 3rd quarter), have lapped us complacent, right-lane driving Americans in recent years. But speed alone should not be investors’ only key objective. If speed was the number one priority, the only places investors would be placing their money would be in countries like Rwanda, Turkmenistan, and Libya (see Business Insider article). However, freedom, rule of law, and entrepreneurial spirit are other important investment factors to be considered. The U.S. market is more like a Toyota Camry – not very flashy, but it will reliably get you from point A to point B in an efficient and safe manner.

Beyond lackluster economic growth, corporate profit growth has slowed remarkably. In fact, with about 10% of the S&P 500 index companies reporting 4th quarter earnings thus far, earnings growth is expected to rise a measly 2.5% from a year ago (from a previous estimate of 3.0% growth). With this being the case, how can stock prices go up? Shrewd investors understand the stock market is a discounting mechanism of future fundamentals, and therefore stocks will move in advance of future growth. It makes sense that before a turn in the economy, the brakes will often be activated before accelerating into another fast moving straight-away.

In addition, valuation acts like shock absorbers. With generational low interest rates and a below-average forward 12-month P/E (Price-Earnings) ratio of 13x’s, this stock market car can absorb a significant amount of fundamental challenges. The oft quoted message that “In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine,” from value icon Benjamin Graham holds as true today as it did a century ago. The recent market advance may be attributed to the voters, but long-term movements are ultimately tied to the sustainable scales of sales, earnings, and cash flows.

If that’s the case, how can someone be optimistic in the face of the slowing growth challenges of this year? What 2013 will not have is the drag of election uncertainty, the fiscal cliff, Superstorm Sandy, and an end-of-the-world Mayan calendar concern. This is setting the stage for improved fundamentals as we progress deeper into the year. Certainly there will be other puts and takes, but the absence of these factors should provide some wind under the economy’s sails.

What’s more, history shows us that indeed stock prices can go up quite dramatically (more than +325% during the 1990s) when consensus earnings forecasts continually get trimmed. We have seen this same dynamic since mid-2012 – earnings forecasts have come down and stock prices have gone up. Strategist Ed Yardeni captures this point beautifully in a recent post on his Dr. Ed’s Blog (see charts below).

CLICK TO ENLARGE Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

CLICK TO ENLARGE – Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

What Will Make Me Bearish?

Am I a perma-bull, incessantly wearing rose-colored glasses that I refuse to take off? I’ll let you come to your own conclusion. When I see a combination of the following, I will become bearish:

#1. I see the trillions of dollars parked in near-0% cash start coming outside to play.

#2. See Pimco’s  Bill Gross and Mohammed El-Erian on CNBC fewer than 10 times per week.

#3. See money flow stop flooding into sub-3% bonds (Scott Grannis) and actually reverse. 

#4. Observe a sustained reversal in hemorrhaging of equity investments (Scott Grannis).

#5. Yield curve flattens dramatically or inverts.

#6.  Nouriel and his bear buds become bullish and call for a “triple-rip” turn in the equity markets.

#7. Smarter, more-experienced investors than I, á la Warren Buffett, become more cautious.  I arrogantly believe that will occur in conjunction with some of the previously listed items.

Despite my firm beliefs, it is evident the bears won’t go down without a fight. If you are getting tired of drinking the double-dip Kool-Aid, then perhaps it’s time to expand your bullish horizons. If not, just wait 12 months after a market rally, and buy yourself a fresh copy of the Merriam-Webster dictionary. There you can locate and learn about a new definition…double-rip!

Read Also: Double-Dip Guesses are “Probably Wrong”

New Normal is Old Normal 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

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

January 19, 2013 at 11:01 pm 7 comments

Equity Quicksand or Bond Cliff?

The markets are rigged, the Knight Capital Group (KCG) robots are going wild, and the cheating bankers are manipulating Libor. I guess you might as well pack it in…right? Well, maybe not. While mayhem continues, equity markets stubbornly grind higher. As we stand here today, the S&P 500 is up approximately +12% in 2012 and the NASDAQ market index has gained about +16%? Not bad when you consider 15 countries are offering negative yields on their bonds…that’s right, investors are paying to lose money by holding pieces of paper until maturity. As crazy as buying technology companies in the late 1990s  for 100x’s or 200x’s earnings sounds today, just think how absurd negative yields will sound a decade from now? For heaven’s sake, buying a gun and stuffing money under the mattress is a cheaper savings proposition.

Priced In, Or Not Priced In, That is the Question?

So how can stocks be up in double digit percentage terms when we face an uncertain U.S. presidential election, a fiscal cliff, unsustainable borrowing costs in Spain, and S&P 500 earnings forecasts that are sinking like a buried hiker in quicksand (see chart below)?

I guess the answer to this question really depends on whether you believe all the negative news announced thus far is already priced into the stock market’s below average price-earnings (P/E) ratio of about 12x’s 2013 earnings. Or as investor Bill Miller so aptly puts it, “The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not.”

Source: Crossing Wall Street

While investors skeptically debate how much bad news is already priced into stock prices, as evidenced by Bill Gross’s provocative “The Cult of Equity is Dying” article, you hear a lot less about the nosebleed prices of bonds. It’s fairly evident, at least to me, that we are quickly approaching the bond cliff. Is it possible that we can be entering a multi-decade, near-zero, Japan-like scenario? Sure, it’s possible, and I can’t refute the possibility of this extreme bear argument. However with global printing presses and monetary stimulus programs moving full steam ahead, I find it hard to believe that inflation will not eventually rear its ugly head.

Again, if playing the odds is the name of the game, then I think equities will be a better inflation hedge than most bonds. Certainly, not all retirees and 1%-ers should go hog-wild on equities, but the bond binging over the last four years has been incredible (see bond fund flows).

While we may sink a little lower into the equity quicksand while the European financial saga continues, and trader sentiment gains complacency (Volatility Index around 15), I’ll choose this fate over the inevitable bond cliff.

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 KCG or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

August 11, 2012 at 5:07 pm Leave a comment

Playing Whack-A-Mole with the Pros

Source: Flickr

Deciphering the ups and the downs of the financial markets is a lot like playing a game of Whack-A-Mole. First the market is up 300 points, then down 300 points. Next Greece and Europe are going down the drain, and then Germany and the ECB (European Central Bank) are here to save the day. The daily data points are a rapid moving target, and if history continues to serve as a guide (see History Often Rhymes with the Future), the bobbing consensus views of pundits will continue to get hammered by investors’ mallets.

Let’s take a look at recent history to see who has been the “whack-er” and whom has been the “whack-ee.” Whether it was the gloom and doom consensus view in the early 1980s (reference BusinessWeek’s 1979 front page “The Death of Equities) or the euphoric championing of tech stocks in the 1990s (see Money magazine’s March 2000 cover, “The Hottest Market Ever), the consensus view was wrong then, and is likely wrong again today.

Here are some of the fresher consensus views that have popped up and then gotten beaten down:

End of QE2The Consensus: If you rewind the clock back to June 2011 when the Federal Reserve’s $600 billion QE2 (Quantitative Easing Part II) monetary stimulus program was coming to an end, a majority of pundits expected bond prices to tank in the absence of the Fed’s Ben Bernanke’s checkbook support. Before the end of QE2, Reuters financial service surveyed 64 professionals, and a substantial majority predicted bond prices would tank and interest rates would catapult upwards.   Actual Result: The pundits were wrong and rates did not go up, they in fact went down.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher – bond values increased significantly as 10-year Treasury yields fell from 3.16% to a low of 1.72% last week.

Debt Ceiling DebateThe Consensus: Just one month later, Democrats and Republicans were playing a game of political “chicken” in the process of raising the debt ceiling to over $16 trillion. Bill Gross, bond guru and CEO of fixed income giant PIMCO, was one of the many pros who earlier this year sold Treasuries in droves because fears of bond vigilantes shredding prices of U.S. Treasury bonds .

Here was the prevalent thought process at the time:  Profligate spending by irresponsible bureaucrats in Washington if not curtailed dramatically would cascade into a disaster, which would lead to higher default risk, cancerous inflation, and exploding interest rates ala Greece. Actual Result: Once again, the pundits were proved wrong in the deciphering of their cloudy crystal balls. Interest rates did not rise, they actually fell.  As a result, bond prices screamed higher and 10-year Treasury yields dived from 2.74% to the recent low of 1.72%.

S&P Credit DowngradeThe Consensus: The S&P credit rating agency warned Washington that a failure to come to meaningful consensus on deficit and debt reduction would result in bitter consequences. Despite a $2 trillion error made by S&P, the agency kept its word and downgraded the U.S.’s long-term debt rating to AA+ from AAA. Research from JP Morgan (JPM) cautioned investors of the imminent punishment to be placed on $4 trillion in Treasury collateral, which could lead to a seizing in credit markets.  Actual Result: Rather than becoming the ugly stepchild, U.S. Treasuries became a global safe-haven for investors around the world to pile into. Not only did bond prices steadily climb (and yields decline), but the value of our currency as measured by the Dollar Index (DXY) has risen significantly since then.

Dollar Index (DXY) Source: Bloomberg

What is next? Nobody knows for certain. In the meantime, grab some cotton candy, popcorn, and a rubber mallet. There is never a shortage of confident mole-like experts popping up on TV, newspapers, blogs, and radio. So when the deafening noise about the inevitable collapse of Europe and the global economy comes roaring in, make sure you are the one holding the mallet and not the mole getting whacked on the head.

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 JPM, MHP, 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.

October 1, 2011 at 5:53 am Leave a comment

Bears Hibernate During Melt-Up

Source: Photobucket

Here we are 719 days from the market bottom of March 2009, and the S&P 500 has more than doubled from its index low value of 666 to 1343 today. Noticeably absent during the meteoric rise have been the hibernating bears, like economist Nouriel Roubini (aka “Dr. Doom”) or Peter Schiff (see Emperor Schiff Has No Clothes), who blanketed the airwaves in 2008-2009 when financial markets were spiraling downwards out of control. The mere fact that I am writing about this subject may be reason enough to expect a 5-10% correction, but with a +100% upward move in stock prices I am willing to put superstition aside and admire the egg on the face of the perma-bears.

Shape of Recovery

After it became clear that the world was not coming to an end, in late 2009 and throughout 2010, the discussion switched from the likelihood of a “Great Depression” to a debate over the shape of the alphabet letter economic recovery. Was the upturn going to be an L-shaped, V-shaped, square root-shaped, or what Roubini expected – a U-shaped (or bathtub-shaped) recovery? You be the judge — does six consecutive quarters of GDP expansion with unemployment declining look like a bathtub recovery to you?

Chart Source: Yahoo Finance

This picture above looks more like a “V” to me, and the recently reported Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) manufacturing index figure of 60.8 in January (the highest reading in seven years) lends credence to a stronger resurgence in the economy. Apparently the PIMCO bear brothers, Mohamed El-Erian and Bill Gross, are upwardly adjusting their view of a “New Normal” environment as well. Just recently, the firm raised its 2011 GDP forecast by 40-50% to a growth rate of 3-3.5% in 2011.  

The Bears’ Logic

Bears continually explain away the market melt-up as a phenomenon caused by excessive and artificial liquidity creation (i.e., QE2 money printing, and 0% interest rate policy) Bernanke has provided the economy. Similar logic could be used to describe the excessive and artificial debt creation generated by individuals, corporations, and governments during the 2008-2009 meltdown. Now that leveraged positions are beginning to unwind (banks recapitalizing, consumers increasing savings rate, state and government austerity and tax measures, etc.), the bears still offer little credit to these improving trends.

Are we likely to experience another +100% upward move in stock prices in the broader indexes over the next two years? Unlikely. Our structural government debt and deficits, coupled with elevated unemployment and fiercer foreign competition are all factors creating economic headwinds. Moreover, inflation is starting to heat up and a Federal Funds rate policy cannot stay at 0% forever.

The Shapes of Rebounds

To put the two-year equity market recovery in historical perspective, the Financial Times published a 75-year study which showed the current market resurgence (solid red line) only trailing the post-Great Depression rebound of 1935-1938.

Source: Financial Times

Although we are absolutely not out of the economic woods and contrarian sentiment indicators (i.e., Volatility Index and Put-Call ratio) are screaming for a pullback, the foundation of a sustainable global recovery has firmed despite the persisting chaos occurring in the Middle East. Fourth quarter 2010 corporate profits (and revenues) once again exceeded expectations, valuations remain attractive, and floods of itchy retail cash still remain on the sidelines just waiting to jump in and chase the upward march in equity prices. Although the trajectory of stock prices over the next two years is unlikely to look like the last two years, there is still room for optimism (as I outlined last year in Genesis of Cheap Stocks). The low-hanging equity fruit has been picked over the last few years, and I’m certain that bears like Roubini, Schiff, El-Erian, Gross, et.al. will eventually come out of hibernation. For those investors not fully invested, I believe it would be wise to wait for the inevitable growls of the bears to resurface, so you can take further advantage of attractive market opportunities.

Click Here for More on the PIMCO Downhill Marathon Machine

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.

February 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm Leave a comment

Strategist Predictions and MacGyver Credo

MacGyver: Resourceful dude with sweet mullet (Source: Photobucket).

“Only a fool is sure of anything, a wise man keeps on guessing.” – MacGyver

We have gotten to the part of the year when strategists gather for the annual dart throwing ritual of 2011 price targets. S&P projections get chucked around with the hopes of sticking – like cooked spaghetti to the wall.  MacGyver appreciates the fine art of guessing, and so do Wall Street strategists.

How the Game’s Played

You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how the Wall Street astrology game works. When in doubt, just say the market will be up +10% next year. Hmmm, why +10%?

1)      Well, first of all, these strategists work for employers who are in the business of hawking financial products and services to the masses, so if you want to generate revenues, you better attempt to line up some believers with some rosy scenarios.

2)      History is on the strategists’ side. Equity markets move up about 70% of the time, so why not make an optimistic bet. Data from Crestmont Research and Roger Ibbotson support the average return over the last 100 years or so has averaged approximately +10% (with a lot of peaks and valleys). Obviously, that hasn’t been the case over the last decade. The PIMCO bond brothers of Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian blame the “New Normal” environment despite recently raising their 2011 GDP forecasts to a “Less Sluggish New Normal.” More likely, the decade of the 2000s is more like theOld Normal of boom-busts like we experienced in the 1930s and 1970s.

3)      The other cardinal rule to be followed religiously: Forecasts made by any Wall Street type need to be made in tight packs like a herd. There is comfort in numbers, and why in the world would someone risk embarrassment or career risk. Fat paychecks abound for these strategists and hugging consensus views is OK, as long as a logical story can be patched together in explaining it.

With all this discussion about +10% average stock market returns, guess what type of returns this year’s Barron’s strategist survey is forecasting? You guessed it…+10% – what a shocker! Let’s hope this guess is more accurate than Barron’s +10% strategist return forecast for 2008 (S&P 500 was actually down -38.5% in 2008). Strategists don’t always get it wrong – the sanguine +12% outlook for 2010 is basically spot on with a few days left in the year. The sanguine 2002 outlook of +13%, however, was about -35% too sanguine (S&P plummeted about -23% that year).

Although most strategists feign absolute knowledge and precision, history shows these projections rarely prove accurate. Like predicting weather, guessers may get the long-term climate forecast fairly close, but the short-term estimates are generally pure speculation. In my book, 12 months is very short-term. Famed investor and author Charles Ellis captures the challenge of market forecasts:

“Predicting the stock market roughly is not hard, but predicting it accurately is truly impossible.”

 

I ascribe to the Peter Lynch view that speculating about the direction of the market is futile:

“If you spend more than 13 minutes analyzing economic and market forecasts, you’ve wasted 10 minutes.”

 

Kass Gets Hall Pass

Even though I may relish in flogging strategists, I provide certain professionals a hall pass under the following conditions:

  • The educated guesser is putting real, hard-earned money behind their assertions.
  • The guesses do not hug a tightly-knit herd.
  • Guesses are made transparent and guessers make themselves accountable for bold statements.
  • Those making guesses freely admit to the fallibility of making non-consensus suppositions.

One man whom embodies these principles is famed hedge fund manager Doug Kass, whom I have written about on several occasions (read more). Not only are Kass’s 2011 predictions provocative, they are also entertaining. His self proclaimed 40% batting average in 2010 may be a little higher than reality, but I will let you be the judge of his 2010 calls on the dollar, gold, Fed actions, Iran, Goldman Sachs, utilities, Warren Buffett, mutual funds, short-selling, New York Yankees, and more (read full 2010 Kass list).

The herd of strategists may continue having trouble making accurate market forecasts in the future, but perhaps resourcefully adding some duct tape and a Swiss Army knife to their repertoire like MacGyver will help improve accuracy. If not, rest assured, the strategists will sleep well making their +10% forecasts while continuing to collect big fat paychecks.

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 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.

December 29, 2010 at 1:56 am Leave a comment

PIMCO – The Downhill Marathon Machine

How would you like to run a marathon? How about a marathon that is prearranged all downhill? How about a downhill marathon with the wind at your back? How about a downhill marathon with the wind at your back in a wheelchair? Effectively, that is what a 30-year bull market has meant for PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Co.) and the “New Normal” brothers (Co-Chairman Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian) who are commanding the bond behemoth (read also New Normal is Old Normal). Bill Gross can appreciate a thing or two about running marathons since he once ran six marathons in six consecutive days.

This perseverance also assisted Gross in co-founding PIMCO in 1971 with $12 million in assets under management. Since then, the company has managed to add five more zeroes to that figure (today assets exceed $1.2 trillion). In the first 10 years of the company’s existence, as interest rates were climbing, PIMCO managed to layer on a relatively thin amount of assets (approximately $1 billion). But with the tailwind of declining rates throughout the 1980s, PIMCO’s growth began to accelerate, thereby facilitating the addition of more than $25 billion in assets during the decade.  

The PIMCO Machine

For the time-being, PIMCO can do no wrong. As the endless list of media commentators and journalists bow to kiss the feet of the immortal bond kings, the blinded reporters seem to forget the old time-tested Wall Street maxim:

“Never confuse genius with a bull market.”

The gargantuan multi-decade move in interest rates, the fuel used to drive bond prices to the moon, might have something to do with the company’s success too? PIMCO is not exactly selling ice to the Eskimos – many investors are scooping up PIMCO’s bond products as they wait in their bunkers for Armageddon to arrive. Thanks to former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker (appointed in 1979), the runaway inflation of the early 1980s was tamed by hikes he made in the key benchmark Federal Funds Rate (the targeted rate that banks lend to each other). From a peak of around 20% in 1980-1981 the Fed Funds rate has plummeted to effectively 0% today with the most recent assistance coming from current Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Although these west-coast beach loving bond gurus are not the sole beneficiary in this “bond bubble” (see Bubblicious Bonds story), PIMCO has separated itself from the competition with its shrewd world-class marketing capabilities. A day can hardly go by without seeing one of the bond brothers on CNBC or Bloomberg, spouting on about interest rates, inflation, and global bond markets. As PIMCO has been stepping on fruit in the process of collecting the low-hanging fruit, the firm has not been shy about talking its own book. Subtlety is not a strength of El-Erian – here’s what he had to pimp to the USA Today a few months ago as bond prices were continuing to inflate: “Simply put, investors should own less equities, more bonds, more global investments, more cash and more dry ammunition.”

If selling a tide of fear resulted in a continual funnel of new customers into your net, wouldn’t you do the same thing? Fearing people into bonds is something El-Erian is good at:  “In the New Normal you are more worried about the return of your capital, not return on your capital.” Beyond alarm, accuracy is a trivial matter, as long as you can scare people into your doomsday way of thinking. The fact Bill Gross’s infamous Dow 5,000 call never came close to fruition is not a concern – even if the forecast overlapped with the worst crisis in seven decades.

Mohamed Speak

Mohamed El-Erian is a fresher face to the PIMCO scene and will be tougher to pin down on his forecasts. He arrived at the company in early 2008 after shuffling over from Harvard’s endowment fund. El-Erian has a gift for cryptically speaking in an enigmatic language that could only make former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan proud. Like many economists, El-Erian laces his commentary with many caveats, hedges, and generalities – concrete predictions are not a strength of his. Here are a few of my favorite El-Erian obscurities:

  • “ongoing paradigm shift”
  • “endogenous liquidity”
  • “tail hedging”
  • “deglobalization”
  • “post-realignment”
  • “socialization losses”

Excuse me while I grab my shovel – stuff is starting to pile up here.

Don’t get me wrong…plenty of my client portfolios hold bonds, with some senior retiree portfolios carrying upwards of 80% in fixed income securities. This positioning is more a function of necessity rather than preference, and requires much more creative hand-holding in managing interest-rate risk (duration), yield, and credit risk. At the margin, unloved equities, including high dividend paying Blue Chip stocks, provide a much better risk-adjusted return for those investors that have the risk tolerance and time-horizon threshold to absorb higher volatility.

PIMCO has traveled along a long prosperous road over the last 30 years with the benefit of a historic  decline in interest rates. While PIMCO may have coasted downhill in a wheelchair for the last few decades, this behemoth may be forced to crawl uphill on its hands and knees for the next few decades, as interest rates inevitably rise. Now that is a “New Normal” scenario Bill Gross and Mohamed El-Erian have not forecasted.

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 PIMCO/Allianz, 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.

October 25, 2010 at 1:29 am 12 comments

Changing of the Guard

Over previous decades, there has been a continual battle between the merits of active versus passive management. Passive management being what I like to call the “do nothing” strategy, in which a basket of securities is purchased, and the underlying positions remain largely static. For all intents and purposes, the passive management strategy is controlled by a computer. Rather than solely using a computer, active management pays professionals six or seven figures to fly around to conferences, interview executive management teams, and apply their secret sauce tactics. Unlike passive managers, active managers do their best to determine which winning securities to buy and which losing ones to sell in their mutual funds and hedge funds.

Caught in the middle of this multi-decade war between passive and active management are Vanguard Group (founded in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in 1975 by John Bogle) and Fidelity Investments (founded in 1946 in Boston, Massachusetts by Edward C. Johnson II).  Currently John Bogle and Vanguard’s passive philosophy is winning the war. A changing of the guard, similar to the daily ceremony witnessed in front of Buckingham Palace is happening today in the mutual fund industry. Specifically, Vanguard, the company spearheading passive investing, has passed Fidelity Investments as the largest mutual fund company according to assets under management. Before 2010, Fidelity topped the list of largest firms every year since 1988, when it passed the then previous leader, Merrill Lynch & Co (BAC).

As of July 2010, Vanguard stands at the top of the mutual fund hill, managing $1.31 trillion versus Fidelity’s $1.24 trillion. Vanguard is sufficiently diversified if one considers its largest fund, the Vanguard Total stock Market Index Fund (VITSX), sits at around $127 billion in assets. The picture looks worse for Fidelity, if you also account for the $113 billion in additional ETF assets (Exchange Traded Funds) Vanguard manages – Fidelity is relatively absent in the ETF segment (State Street). Once famous active funds, such as Fidelity Magellan (now managed by Harry Lange – FMAGX) have underperformed the market over the last ten years causing peak assets of $110 billion in 2000 to decline to around $22 billion today. The $68 billion Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX), managed by Will Danhoff, has not grown sufficiently to offset Magellan’s (and other funds) declines.

The Proof is in the Pudding

Some in the industry defend the merits of active management, and through some clever cherry-picking and data mining come to the conclusion that passive investing is overrated. If you believe that money goes where it is treated best, then the proof in the pudding suggests active management is the discipline actually suffering the beating (see Darts, Monkeys & Pros). The differences among the active-passive war of ideals have become even more apparent during the heart of the financial crisis. Since the beginning of 2008 through August 2010, Morningstar shows $301 billion in assets hemorrhaging from actively managed U.S. equity funds, while passive equity-index funds have soaked up $113 billion of inflows.

On a firm-specific basis, InvestmentNews substantiated Vanguard’s gains with the following figures:

In the 10 years ended Dec. 31, Vanguard’s stock and bond funds attracted $440 billion, compared with $101 billion for Fidelity, Morningstar estimates. This year through August, Vanguard pulled in $49 billion while Fidelity had withdrawals of $2.8 billion, according to the research firm.

Vanguard is gaining share on the bond side of the house too:

Vanguard also benefited from the popularity of bond funds. From Jan. 1, 2008, through Aug. 31, 2010, the company’s fixed- income portfolios pulled in $134 billion while Fidelity’s attracted $33 billion (InvestmentNews).

Vanguard is not the only one taking share away from Fidelity. Fido is also getting pinched by my neighbor PIMCO (Pacific Investment Management Company), the $1.1 trillion assets under management fixed income powerhouse based in Newport Beach, California. Bond guru Bill Gross leads the $248 billion Pimco Total Return Fund (PTTAX), which has helped the firm bring in $54 billion in assets thus far in 2010.

Passive Investing Winning but Game Not Over

Even with the market share gains of Vanguard and passive investing, active management assets still dwarf the assets controlled by “do-nothing” products. According to the Vanguard Group and the Investment Company Institute, about 25% of institutional assets and about 12% of individual investors’ assets are currently indexed (2009). The analysis gets a little more muddied once you add ETFs to the mix.

Passive investing may be winning the game of share gains, but is it winning the performance game? The academic research has been very one-sided in favor of passive investing ever since Burton Malkiel came out with his book, A Random Walk Down Wall Street. More recently, a study came out in June 2010 by Standard & Poor’s Indices Versus Active Funds (SPIVA) division showing more than 75% of active fixed income managers underperforming their index on a five-year basis. From an equity standpoint, SPIVA confirmed that more than 60% domestic equity funds and more than 84% international equity funds underperformed their benchmark on a five-year basis. InvestmentNews provides some challenging data to active-management superiority, however it is unclear whether survivorship bias, asset-weighting, style drift, and other factors result in apples being compared to oranges. SPIVA notes the complexity over the last three years has increased due to 20% of domestic equity funds, 13% of international equity funds, and 12% of fixed income funds liquidating or merging.

Regardless of the data, investors are voting with their dollars and happily accepting the superior performance, while at the same time paying less in fees. The positive aspects associated with passive investment products, such as index funds and ETFs, are not only offering superior performance like a Ferrari, but that enhanced quality also comes at the low price equivalent of a Hyundai. On a dollar-adjusted basis, stock-index funds charge an average of 29 cents per $100, compared with 95 cents for active funds (almost a 70% discount), according to research firm Lipper. For example, Vanguard’s passive VITSX fund charges clients as little as 6 cents for every $100 invested (Morningstar).

There has indeed been a changing of the market share guard and Fidelity may also be losing the debate over active versus passive management, but you do not need to shed a tear for them. Fidelity is not going to the poorhouse and will not be filing for Chapter 11 anytime soon. Last year Fidelity reported $11.5 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in operating income. Those Fidelity profits should be more than enough to cover the demoted guard’s job retraining program and retirement plan benefits.

Read the Complete InvestmentNews Article

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 VITSX, PTTAX, BAC, FCNTX, FMAGX, 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.

October 3, 2010 at 11:18 pm 3 comments

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